What Children in Saudi Arabia Are Taught

Saudi Arabia is infamous for its repressive and quasi-theocratic regime, and its vast human rights abuses. Indeed, it is one of the world’s few absolute monarchies (it’s called Saudi Arabia after all, denoting ownership of the state by the ruling Saud family). The Saudi government imposes and enforces an extremely conservative and rigid form of Islam known as Wahhabism, which among other things relegates women to the role of second-class citizens (though many of them are well-educated), criminalizes homosexuality and blasphemy with death, imposes harsh punishments such as public floggings and beheadings, and stifles any criticism of Islam or the authorities.

While there’s been an effort for reform and moderation (including from within some elements of the government), and while many Saudi Arabians are far from pleased with the state of their country or this extremism, the religious and political authorities (who are often one and the same) retain a strong grip on security forces, the media, the judiciary, and – perhaps most damaging – education.

The following are excerpts from a twelfth-grade textbook from Saudi Arabia, Studies From the Muslim World, which is standard across every school in the nation. It covers many of the subjects you’d find in any other textbook, but also includes virulently anti-Semitic propaganda, especially in a chapter devoted to Palestine and the Palestinian cause.

The struggle with the Jews is not political but religious. (Page 91):

Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it. This is a deeply rooted enmity, a conflict between truth and falsehood, between monotheism and polytheism, between heresy and faith.

There has in fact been a growing religious dimension between Arabs and Jews involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was initially more of a territorial and ethnic dispute. It’s hotly debated as to whether religion is just another instrument of furthering each side’s cause, or whether it is actually a catalyst in and of itself. I’m honestly undecided, as I’ve seen convincing arguments for both propositions. Perhaps it’s a mix of the two?

The Jews spread corruption, fitna (chaos, conflict) and conspiracies. (Pages 91-92)

In modern times, Jewish influence has cut deeply into several Western countries, and [the Jews] have taken control of their economies and media. These countries were exploited for the Jews’ benefit, and the two sides [i.e., the Jews and the West joined forces and] combined their interests in order to wipe out Islam. . . .”[After] the Jews strayed from the correct religion brought [to them] by Moussa [Moses], peace be upon him, they did not take root in any land, nor did they legally own any land. They wandered in [various] regions, for wandering from place to place and being divided is in their nature. The Jews lived as oppressed minorities throughout the world, and caused corruption in every land they entered. In every country where they settled, they were a source of trouble and fitna [struggle or conflict]. They build up their confidence by frightening others, which is why the peoples hated them and why they came to be known for their deceit and cunning.

The well-known special relationship between the United States and Israel no doubt comes to mind. Many Muslims (and non-Muslim Arabs for that matter) view a perverse nexus between Jews and the Western world; most actions undertaken unilaterally by either Israel or America are commonly viewed as having the support of the other – the actions of each state are almost indistinguishable.

Again, there’s a debate about causality here: did Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia already view the Jewish people as pernicious influencers and power-brokers (an age-old stereotype long prevalent in the West as well), or did this emerge ipso facto as an explanation for the political and military alliance that has bounded the two states, and presumably their strategic interests, together?

The Qur’an describes the corruption of the Jews (Pages 92-94)

The noble Koran is the best source to acquaint us with the [Jews’] personality and psychological makeup. The expressions ‘Jews’ and ‘Children of Israel’ appear more than 63 times in the book of Allah, may He be exalted. They were the nation charged with ruling the earth, but Allah took their [role of] leadership away from them due to their corruption and destructiveness, and because they killed the prophets. The following are a few brief descriptions of some of their traits, as they appear in the noble Koran…

You can read the link for more details, but among the traits and condemnations listed are the attacking of Allah, the killing of the prophets, lying, deception, sinning, bigotry, deviousness, cowardice, envy, and a “lust for life,” which I’ve interpreted to be reference to the lack of emphasis on martyrdom in Judaism (though the concept does indeed exist, albeit not to the degree that extreme Islamists no doubt would prefer).

Such deep-seated hostility towards Jews is curious, given the Koran’s many positive pronouncements about the Jewish people (often regarded as fellow “People of the Book). Of course, there are also less-than-flattering lines about them as well, which goes back to a common problem among many religions: the existence of contradictory, ambivalent, or ambiguous teachings that are codified within a presumably inerrant text. As in Christianity, both liberal and fundamentalist religious people can draw justification for their respective theological view from the same source, even if it contradicts. But that’s for a different post.

After reviewing just a sample of this, is it any surprise that Saudi Arabia churns out so many murderous Jihadists, from the masterminds to the foot-soldiers? I imagine many of these people would never have ended up as fanatical killers were it not for this sort of perverse propaganda being regularly drilled into them throughout childhood. We’re at our most impressionable in youth.

It disgusts and saddens me to know that millions of children are being indoctrinate this way, ingrained with bigotry and closed-mindedness that they otherwise wouldn’t develop without such teaching drills. Of course, Saudi Arabia is hardly the only offender in corrupting the minds of youth – arguably, there are tens of millions of young people the world over who are being taught similar inanity and hate.

My only consolation is that more and more young people, even in some of the more intellectually blighted areas, are becoming savvy enough in their utilization of communications technology, namely the internet. It’s hard to know for sure, given their obvious secrecy, but I’d like to image that more and more of these young people see through this and other horrible teachings, and know better than to take it seriously.

Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that a good number don’t, and are lost after years of imprinting that often costs their lives, and possibly other’s.

Note: My attention to Saudi curriculum is strictly a matter of practicality, since I happened to stumble upon this sample textbook. I’m in no way singling out or “picking on” Saudi Arabia or Islam for this sort of thing, as it’s obvious that other ultra-fundamentalist faiths and political ideologies engage in similar practices (I just don’t have the material on hand to discuss it). I also know that propaganda comes in various forms and degrees – even the so-called developed world no doubt engages in subtle but pervading forms of intellectual manipulation. I’d be interested in finding textbooks from other countries, rich and poor, democratic or authoritarian, to see other examples for myself.




Atheists Most Disliked Group in America

Various polls and surveys, as well as a cursory look at our public discourse, continue to bear out the fact that the average American (especially on the Right) is deeply distrustful of non-Christians, especially atheists and Muslims. Granted, this is information is hardly shocking or new, but it is nonetheless disheartening to see the trend continue and well-supported by actual data.  The latest study by the Public Religion Research Institute arrived at the following conclusion:

This is only the most recent research on the subject, and it focuses specifically on the presidency. Previous studies have reached similar conclusions. A comprehensive one done by the University of Minnesota widened the demographic options to include Jews, Homosexuals, Hispanics, and other minorities, and it dealt with general attitudes towards these and other groups. The results were as follows:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society:

Atheist: 39.6%

Muslims: 26.3%

Homosexuals: 22.6%

Hispanics: 20%

Conservative Christians: 13.5%

Recent Immigrants: 12.5%

Jews: 7.6%

I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group:

Atheist: 47.6%

Muslim: 33.5%

African-American 27.2%

Asian-Americans: 18.5%

Hispanics: 18.5%

Jews: 11.8%

Conservative Christians: 6.9%

Whites: 2.3%

An article  by Austin Cline in About.com compiles more evidence of this prejudice from studies beginning in the late 1990s. No matter what it pertains to or how it is phrased, the responses are the same: atheists are disliked, distrusted, and outright despised. From a 1999 Gallup Poll:

Here are the percentages of people saying they would refuse to vote for “a generally well-qualified person for president” on the basis of some characteristic; in parenthesis are the figures for earlier years:

Catholic: 4% (1937: 30%)

Black: 5% (1958: 63%, 1987: 21%)

Jewish: 6% (1937: 47%)

Baptist: 6%

Woman: 8%

Mormon: 17%

Muslim: 38%

Gay: 37% (1978: 74%)

Atheist: 48%

And here is a Newsweek finding, also cited by Cline:

 A March, 2007 survey done by Newsweek shows that 62% of people would refuse to vote for any candidate admitting to being an atheist. Republicans were, predictably, the most bigoted at 78%, followed by Democrats at 60% and independents at 45%. Among those surveyed, 47% claimed that America is more accepting of atheists than in the past. I wonder where they got that idea? The only positive results from this survey were that 68% of the people felt that atheists could be moral — but this begs the question of why people won’t vote for atheists.

Interestingly, people seem to be somewhat more forgiving of general non-religiousness compared to outright atheism, at least according to one poll (excerpted below). I was a bit surprised at this, considering that, by my experience, many religious people seem to think of non-believers as all the same – they’re equally damned, be they friendlier agnostics or more “hardline” atheists.

In 2003, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll on “religion and public life” which asked people about their attitudes towards a variety of groups, including atheists. People’s opinions of atheists break down:

      Very Favorable: 7%
      Mostly Favorable: 27%
      Mostly Unfavorable: 19%
      Very Unfavorable: 33%

So, only 34% of Americans have at least a mostly favorable attitude towards atheists; 52% have a mostly unfavorable or worse attitude. Opinions about people who are not religious are better:

      Very Favorable: 9%
      Mostly Favorable: 41%
      Mostly Unfavorable: 19%
      Very Unfavorable: 14%

So, 50% of Americans have at least a mostly favorable attitude towards the irreligious and just 33% have a mostly unfavorable (or worse) attitude towards them

I think I’ve made my case clear enough. Atheists, and to a lesser degree the irreligious as a whole, are the last minority group that someone can be publicly and acceptably bigoted against (though Muslims and Homosexuals are still up there). Even minority belief systems share in this negative disposition, and it’s hardly controversial to share it openly, as many pundits, politicians, and street preachers do.

After reading all this, one wonders from where the religious derive the audacious notion that this country is falling under the nefarious sway of anti-Christian secular elites? Where do they get off claiming to be victims of persecution and decline in light of this overwhelming negativity towards their cultural competitors? While the numbers of the non-religious have grown, atheism – at least in an avowed form – has remained small, and secular Americans are hardly as politically and socially organized as their religious counterparts.

Given historical trends, I have no doubt that this sort of prejudice will be eroded with time and public consciousness, especially since the younger generations are far more secular than their predecessors. In the meantime, more atheists and their fellow “nones” must make their voices heard and assert that they’re not morally or ethically deficient, nor are they some vile underclass to be feared and detested. As in many cases, it is only ignorance that feeds bigotry.