Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive
September 4, 2008
by Nina Shea
Continuing yesterday's discussion on the role of Saudi funding in British mosques, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom sets Saudi Arabia's program of Wahhabi indoctrination into a global context following the Center's pioneering work examining the Kingdom's textbooks. Among the tens of thousands of schools using these textbooks worldwide is the Islamic Saudi Academy, run by the Saudi Embassy, in Fairfax, VA.
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education publishes and disseminates teachings that Muslims are to hate and treat as "enemies" other religious believers, including other, non-Wahhabi Muslims. Those were our findings in a 2006 study of Saudi government textbooks. And despite the media outcry that followed, our most recent investigation shows that Saudi textbooks, now available on the Saudi Ministry of Education website, have not been cleaned up. The same violent and intolerant lessons remain.
These textbooks assert that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an "apostate," an "adulterer," those practicing "major polytheism," and homosexuals. They promote global jihad as an "effort to wage war against the unbelievers," including for the purpose of "calling [infidels] to the faith." They continue to teach that "the hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them," that Shiite practices amount to "polytheism" (see above), that the Christian Crusades never ended, and that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are historical fact.
In these lessons, the Saudi government discounts or ignores passages in the Qur'an and in the accounts of the life of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad that support tolerance.
After the 9/11 attacks at the hands of largely Saudi terrorists, the King convened a panel of Saudi professionals who concluded that the religious textbooks "legitimiz[e] the violent repression of the 'other' and even his physical elimination because of his views on disputed issues...." Now noxious Saudi texts are being spread to Muslim communities on every continent.
Saudi Arabia has long sought to be the leading Islamic power and the protector of the faith, a claim asserted in the Saudi Basic Law. With its vast oil wealth and the religious legitimacy derived from its custodianship of the two Islamic holy shrines and control of the pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia's long-term ambitions are now within reach. Even as its official doctrine and school books remain rooted in Wahhabism, the blend of the harsh desert traditions and severe Islamic interpretations of its past, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself to be the authoritative voice of world Islam, with the King as a type of Islamic pope.
Since 1979, the year when Islamic terrorists laid siege to Mecca and threatened Saudi rule, and when a Shi'a regime seized control of Iran, Saudi Arabia has poured enormous sums into foreign evangelism, funding mosques, schools, libraries, and academic centers in the United States and many other countries. Some analysts estimate that over the past quarter century, Saudi Arabia has expended over $75 billion for spreading Wahhabism, roughly three times more a year than what the Soviet Union spent annually in exporting its ruling ideology during the height of the Cold War. The Congressional Research Service states that Wahhabism is now "arguably the most pervasive revivalist movement in the Islamic world." According to Lawrence Wright in his book Looming Tower, the Saudis, constituting one per cent of the world's Muslims, support through the Wahhabis "90 per cent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions of Islam."
The Saudi ideological export is having an effect. Saudi Wahhabi extremism threatens to become a mainstream or even the dominant expression of Islam among the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. Wahhabi thought and customs are taking root in Muslim communities from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, to Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and elsewhere. As Abdurrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia and ex-director of the world's largest Muslim organization lamented, it is making "inroads" even in his famously tolerant part of the world.
The beginning of the school year marks the deadline for Saudi Arabia to demonstrate it has removed intolerant teachings from all Saudi textbooks. This Saudi commitment resulted from extensive bilateral negotiations with the U.S., concluded and hailed by the United States State Department in July 2006. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department has annually designated Saudi Arabia as one of the world's most intolerant states but it has forestalled imposing the sanctions specified in the Act. It resists Congressional and other appeals even to translate for review the textbooks used at Islamic Saudi Academy, a Washington metropolitan area academy run by the Saudi Embassy.
It is time to hold Riyadh to its promises to reform its educational materials. Western security depends on it.
Additional comments by Nina Shea, September 8, 2008
· The Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute's 2006 and 2008 studies (www.hudson.org/religion) analyze Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks on religion used in Saudi public schools and disseminated internationally, including through the Saudi government's website(http://www2.moe.gov.sa/ebooks/index.htm). In past years, the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) claimed to use such texts and continues to post on its website that "The Islamic Saudi Academy is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Education for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hence, it follows the Islamic Studies curriculum which has been set forth by the Kingdom. The Islamic Studies curriculum is one of the most important subjects taught at the Academy…." http://www.saudiacademy.net/html/Curriculum-HighSchool.html.
· Whether or not this means that the curriculum continues to include the Saudi Ministry of Education religious books -- perhaps for certain segments of the student body, such as those who are planning to return to Saudi Arabia and must pass tests in Wahhabism to be placed at grade level, for example -- remains to be seen. Prof. Doumato states that the new ISA textbooks for the school year that started three days ago have been completely revised and that she has reviewed the texts personally. Similar assurances about last year's textbooks were given by ISA's director to the Washington Post on Jan. 10, 2008 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/09/AR2008010903338.html). Such past deception by Saudi officials raises the possibility that in the U.S.- based academy there may now be more than one curriculum and that Prof. Doumato may not have been shown all the books. The Islamic Saudi Academy should post all its textbooks online so that such claims can be independently verified. What we do know (from the Ministry of Ed website) is that Saudi textbooks still being officially disseminated have not been thoroughly revised, something the Saudi government has made explicit commitments to the US State Department to do.
· Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) -- the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the State Department -- has repeatedly requested the State Department to provide a complete translation of the schools' textbooks and issue an official assessment of the content on the books. His three letters to Sec. Rice can be found on his website (http://wolf.house.gov/).
· The U.S.Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, government agency established by Congress on which I serve, requested Saudi government textbooks repeatedly during and following its trip to Saudi Arabiain May-June 2007, including to the Saudi Ambassador, to no avail. The Commission made such requests because the academy is chaired by the Ambassador, operated by the embassy and calls itself a "subsidiary" of the Saudi Ministry of Education. Shortly after the Commission raised the issue publicly, the Saudi government turned over textbooks used at the ISA to the State Department, but as of this writing and despite requests, the Department has not made them available either to the public or to the Commission, nor has it released any statement about the content of the books that it received. In Appendix B of my July study is a January 2, 2008 response of the State Department to Senator Jon Kyl essentially refusing to turn the ISA books over to USCIRF. The State Department misleadingly wrote in that letter that ISA has offered to make the books available to USCIRF. ISA invited USCIRF to "visit" the school, but translating and analyzing the texts required months of work that could not be accomplished in a short visit. The State Department wrote to S. Kyl that it was "premature" at that time to judge the Saudi government's efforts at textbook reform, and that "in July of 2006, the Saudi Government confirmed to us its policy to undertake a program of textbook reform to eliminate all passages that disparage or promote hatred toward any religion or religious groups. This process is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2008 school year." That deadline is now upon us. A good summary of the State Department and the Saudi textbooks can be found in a Heritage Foundation research brief at: http://www.heritage.org/Research/MiddleEast/wm2042.cfm.
· Although it was unable to obtain the entire collection, during the last school year the Commission managed to acquire and review 17 ISA textbooks in use then from the Institute for Gulf Affairs (www.gulfinstitute.org) , which is a Washington-based research group that acquired some religious texts through unofficial means, and a congressional office. While the texts represent just a small fraction of the books used in this Saudi government school, the Commission's review confirmed that these texts did, in fact, include passages justifying violence toward, and even the killing of, apostates and so-called polytheists. Last year's texts also include highly intolerant passages about non-Sunni Muslims, such as Shi'a, Ismailis, and Ahmadis, and non-Muslims, such as Jews and Baha'is. The Islamic Saudi Academy is operated by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and is not a private or parochial school. The government of Saudi Arabia as a Member State of the United Nations is obliged to uphold fundamental human rights and such passages do not conform to international human rights norms. The June 11, 2008 Commission report on the ISA textbooks can be found at http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2206&Itemid=46.
· In October 2007, the Commission called for the ISA to be closed under the terms of the Foreign Missions Act until the official Saudi textbooks used at the school were made available for comprehensive public examination. Soon afterwards, the ISA dropped the language on its web site stating that its Arabic-language and Islamic studies curriculum "is based on the Curriculum of the Saudi Ministry of Education." (Though it now as of this writing is again posted, as described above.) In the months following the Commission's report, the Saudi government has also posted copies of the official 2007-2008 Saudi textbooks on the Internet, which texts were the subject of my July 2008 study.
Because fundamental human rights to religious freedom are at stake, as well as U.S.national security interests, the U.S. State Department should ensure that the Saudi government thoroughly revises all its textbooks and that all the Saudi government schools, including the one outside Washington, D.C., are complying with the government's commitments and repeated promises to do so. Given the record, transparency about the textbooks – and all Saudi government textbooks wherever and to whomever they are disseminated -- is required. Transparency is not an end in itself, as the Saudi government's Ministry of Education web site demonstrates, but it will expose some of the problems we face from our ally.
Nina Shea is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
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