Hate speech in Saudi textbooks challenged
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The United States government and religious leaders should press the Saudi Arabian government to remove hate speech from its textbooks, a key congressman said in affirming an appeal from U.S. major publishers.
"It's an issue that people ought to be very, very concerned about," Rep. Frank Wolf, a leading congressional advocate for human rights, told Baptist Press. "[We are] finding anti-Semitic and anti-Christian literature in these books. ... For years people have been telling the Saudis to change and remove it. They say they are, and then they do not."
Seven current or former heads of major U.S. publishers -- including those for Amazon, Simon and Schuster, and Pantheon Books -- jointly appealed Oct. 17 for the Saudi government to remove hate speech from its textbooks.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America were products of the Saudi Arabian school system. In 2006, the U.S. State Department and the Saudi government enacted an agreement for the dangerous material to be removed by 2008. Little has changed over the years, however. Anti-Semitic material and religious minority hate speech is still taught as fact in many Saudi textbooks.
"Children who are indoctrinated with such hatred are susceptible to engage in bigotry and even violence," the publishers said in their appeal, which was published in The Daily Beast. "Hate speech is the precursor to genocide. First you get to hate and then you kill. This makes peaceful coexistence difficult, if not impossible."
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, cited examples of the radical content in the textbooks in a National Review Online article about the publishers' appeal:
-- "The Jews and the Christians are enemies of the believers, and they cannot approve of Muslims."
-- "The struggle of this [Muslim] nation with the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills."
-- "Fighting Infidels and the Polytheists has certain conditions and controls, including: That they be invited and they refuse to enter it and refuse to pay Jizya [a special tax]. That Muslims have the power and the capacity to combat, that this be with the permission of the guardian and under his banner, that there be no guarantee between them and the Muslims not to combat."
-- "In Islamic law, [jihad] has two uses: 1. Specific usage: which means: Exerting effort in fighting unbelievers and tyrants."
-- "As was cited in Ibn Abbas, and was said: The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians."
The Saudi government has not removed the hate speech because it is not being pressured to remove it, said Wolf, R.-Va., noting that Saudi Arabia must have an incentive to change the curriculum.
"Our government is very, very silent. Leaders in the church have been very, very silent. So I was pleased to see these seven publishers speak out and raise this issue," Wolf said.
The Obama administration opposed a bill that Wolfe proposed to the House of Representatives that would deal with issues like hate speech in textbooks. Although the House passed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 440, with a vote of 402-20 last year, the Senate has not acted upon it.
The Saudi government claims to be working on textbook reform and plans to have it completed by about 2014, said Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Saudi Arabia has been working on such changes for more than 10 years, and there is still a lot of "questionable content," Bashir told Baptist Press.
The material in these textbooks is dangerous for young people. "It can be traumatic; it can be confusing for children, because they are taught to hate [non-Muslims]," Bashir said.
The publishers' appeal to the Saudi government is important, Bashir said. Their action will maintain awareness of the issue of hate speech in the textbooks and will give the State Department more incentive to apply pressure, he said.
Controversial material in the textbooks stems from a more literal interpretation of the Koran and is adopted primarily by the Wahhabism, a branch of the Sunni Muslim sect in Saudi Arabia that has spawned terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. It has promoted violent extremism throughout many parts of Saudi Arabia and other countries, Bashir said.
This small faction has taken the teaching of Islam and distorted it, turning it into something that it is not, Bashir said. The Wahhabi have also influenced other countries' mosques and clerics, trying to promote their brand of Islam, he said.
Teaching about religion takes up about 30 to 40 percent of the Saudi Arabian curriculum, which is much larger than many countries throughout the world, Bashir said. The overwhelming saturation of violent material causes children to have a "demonizing view of the rest of the world," he said.
Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).