Nearly four years ago, Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed and author Stephen Schwartz conducted a study for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. They examined textbooks and other publications distributed by the Saudi government and by Saudi-funded organizations. They found such messages as these:
“Judaism and Christianity are deviant religions.”
“The unbelievers, idolaters and others like them must be hated and despised.”
“We say to every Christian and every Jew and all those outside Islam, ‘your children are born into Islam, but you and their mother take them away from Islam with your corrupt rearing.'”
Since then, Saudi spokesmen, assisted by high-priced Washington public relations professionals, have claimed that such intolerant views were no longer being promoted by the rulers of Arabia.
Saudi advisor Adel al-Jubeir -- recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of North Texas – stated last year: “We have reviewed our educational curriculums. We have removed materials that are inciteful (sic) or intolerant towards people of other faiths.”
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the new Saudi ambassador to the United States, said recently: “Not only have we eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from old textbooks that were in our system, we have implemented a comprehensive internal revision and moderation plan.”
But these spokesmen are misinformed. Ali al-Ahmed, now head of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, obtained a dozen textbooks used during the current academic year by the Saudi Ministry of Education. He turned them over to Freedom House which then had the materials translated by two independent Arabic speakers. Among the messages included:
“The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.”
“The clash between this [Muslim] community and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills.”
“Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives.”
“This indoctrination,” wrote Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, “begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year. By the 12th grade, students following the Saudi curriculum will be instructed that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to ‘spread the faith.'”
What's more, such ideas are being taught not only to Saudi students but also to children in Saudi-funded schools in Pakistan, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy – and the United States as well.
In response to the Freedom House study, Prince Turki issued a statement insisting that the Saudi government “has worked diligently during the last five years to overhaul its education system.” This is a “massive undertaking,” he added, that “remains ongoing.”
Yet even as the ambassador was making that argument, the Saudi-owned satellite television carrier, Arabsat, was broadcasting al-Manar, Hezbollah's television station. Al-Manar was recently named by the U.S. government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity. By the admission of its own officials, al-Manar attempts to “help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission.”
Prince Turki might let us know: How massive an undertaking would it require to turn off the switch on al-Manar's terrorist incitement?
The truth is that what is written in Saudi textbooks reflects the world view of Wahhabism, an extremist movement launched 250 years ago by Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. A grand bargain between the Wahhab family and the House of Sa'ud eventually gave rise to modern Saudi Arabia and established Wahhabism as its state religion.
In recent decades, oil revenues have extravagantly enriched the Saudi royal family, and much of that money has been spent in an attempt to make Wahhabism the dominant interpretation of Islam around the world. The growth of Militant Islamism and catastrophic terrorism has been one result. If you preach that “infidels” are vermin, eventually volunteers will come forward to serve as exterminators.
For Wahhabis to embrace religious tolerance would represent an historic reform. So far, there is no evidence such change is being seriously contemplated. If Saudi leaders truly believed in interfaith respect they'd invite leaders of other religions to establish houses of worship on Saudi soil – as mosques have been constructed from Washington to London to Tel Aviv.
To a devout Saudi Wahhabi, however, such a notion is unthinkable and repugnant. We fail to acknowledge this reality at our peril.