Tunisia: A Beacon of Hope in the Arab World?

Yesterday, the North African nation of Tunisia, which overthrew its autocratic ruler in 2011 and served as a catalyst for the Arab Spring, passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, with only 12 out of its 216 legislators voting against.

The new constitution explicitly guarantees women’s rights and gender equality; mandates environmental protection and water conservation (only the third country in the world to do so); declares healthcare a human right; reaffirms the democratic, secular, and civil nature of its government; officially respects freedom of religion; establishes a right to due process and protection from torture; and promotes workers’ rights. Needless to say, they were keen on celebrating:

Credit: Aimen Zine / AP.

Furthermore, the government has agreed to step down in favor of a technocratic caretaker administration that will be in place until proper elections can be held later this year. I can only hope that after two years of instability and tenuous peace, this historic achievement will amount to long-term change for both the country and the wider region.

Show your support for these brave reformers here, and let’s wish them well.

Behind the Veil: Visions of the Islamic World

The Economist’s cultural columnist, Prospero, recently reported on a fascinating new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that seeks to offer a nuanced and intimate view of the Islamic world as presented by its own denizens. The premise had already piqued my interest, but the review is even more encouraging.

“She Who Tells A Story” collects the work of 12 contemporary female photographers and film-makers from the Middle East. At a time when American and European views of the Islamic world tend to be filtered through a lens of fear and anxiety, these images offer a more nuanced portrait of a culturally complicated place.

Take for example the giant triptych that opens the show. “Bullets Revisited #3” (pictured top, 2012) by the Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi depicts an olive-skinned woman draped across a sumptuously bejewelled bed against an ornately tiled wall. The image recalls the sensuous odalisque paintings of Western art history—a clichéd view of Eastern opulence that Said railed against in his 1978 book “Orientalism”. But closer inspection reveals that the bed in the photograph is made from shimmering bullet casings; the tiles are too. The woman’s body is covered in scar-like calligraphy. This enticingly exotic subject of Western fantasy may well be a corpse.

In the “Today’s Life and War” (2008) series by Gohar Dashti, an Iranian photographer, a couple pursues a relationship amid the detritus of a battlefield. They eat supper in front of a tank. Their laundry is strung along barbed wire. Their wedding car has been reduced to a burned out shell. Shadi Ghadirian’s “Nil Nil” (2008) series features still lifes that juxtapose combat boots with red stilettos, a grey helmet and a colourful head scarf, a grenade and a bowl of fruit. These works suggest not so much the atrocity of war but the day-to-day reality of living with it.

Largely narrative-driven and eschewing strict realism, these photographs are measured in their anger and melancholy. Newsha Tavakolian’s “Listen” (2010) series, for example, features portraits of professional Iranian singers who are forbidden to perform in public. She photographs each of them mid-song; with their eyes shut, their faces filled with tenderness and passion, these singers look a bit like classical busts articulating an ancient, nameless pain. Few photographers have used the silence of the medium more gracefully, and to such powerful effect.

The following are some of the samples of the exhibit:

As the writer concludes, this showcase does a great job of humanizing much-maligned and poorly understood group, as well as giving Muslim women a much bigger voice than they’re often credited with. I for one have learned by experience that indulging in the culture of other people — their music, cuisine, film, literature, and art — erodes much of the anxiety and distrust with which we reflexively respond to them. Culture is humanizing, it gives us a common ground to understand one another, and it allows us to see the value in groups or societies for which we have little or no understanding of.

As an agnostic atheist and secular humanist, I of course have disagreements about the Islamic view of the world (as I would with any religion). But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its cultural and scientific contributions, or that I can’t connect with the raw human element that makes up any given ideological, social, or cultural group. It’s important to see the nuance in all things, and part of that begins by opening our minds to something as simple as an art piece, musical composition, or conversation with the “other” in question.

For those who won’t be able to see the exhibit in person (I being one of them), you can purchase a book that compiles these works here. I’ll definitely be saving up for it.

Random History Fact: Welfare

One of the first comprehensive welfare programs in history was introduced by Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s senior companion and father-in-law) of the Rashidun Caliphate (632 to 634), who established an annual guaranteed income to each man, woman, and child. Special taxes were also used to provide assistance to the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and those with disabilities. The government further decreed that food must be stored up and supplied for all citizens in the event of an emergency. 

Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD), the founder of the Roman Empire, established the “congiaria” for citizens who could not afford to buy food, while Emperor Trajan (98 to 117) further enlarged the program. 

The Song Dynasty of China (960 to 1279) supported an extensive and sophisticated social welfare program that included the establishment of retirement homes, public clinics, and cemeteries for the poor.

Book Recommendation: “The Great Siege: Malta 1565” by Ernle Bradford

This 260-page tome is tells the amazing story of one of the most decisive but understated military battles in the history of Europe — pitting the ascendent Ottoman Empire, the region’s greatest power, against the declining Knights of St. John, Europe’s finest but most beleaguered warriors.

At stake was the tiny and dusty speck of an island known as Malta, which not only allowed control over much of the trade-rich Mediterranean, but could be used to invade Italy and from there the rest Europe. Arguably, the fate of these seemingly insignificant islands thus influenced the destiny of an entire continent, if not Western Civilization.

Even if you don’t buy the hype, the 1565 siege of Malta was nonetheless an amazing conflict with a cinema-worthy cast of characters and events. Like any good historian, Bradford provides a detailed and comprehensive account of the background of this conflict, giving fair weight to each side’s motivation’s and perspectives (although the Knights are clearly the main focus, perhaps due to there being more information on them).

Overall, I found it to be an informative, balanced, and engaging book, and it will no doubt appeal to those who particularly enjoy military and Medieval history.

Mansa Musa: History’s Richest Person

Above is a depiction of Mansa Musa (1280 – 1331), ruler of the Mali Empire, from a 1375 Catalan Atlas drawn by Abraham Cresques. Musa, who was the tenth mansa or “King of Kings” of Mali, is shown holding a gold nugget and wearing a European-style crown, signifying his status as one of the richest and most powerful rulers in the world.

The Mali Empire, which covered much of West Africa, once produced half of the world’s gold and salt, becoming a major economic and trading power in and beyond the continent. In fact, that’s why the Malian city of Timbuktu, which was a major center in the empire, remains prominent in our vernacular to this day.

By some accounts, Emperor Musa — also known as the Emir of MelleLord of the Mines of WangaraConqueror of Ghanata, Futa-Jallon, and at least another dozen titles — amassed around $400 billion during his reign from 1312 to 1337, which would make him the richest man in human history.

A devout Muslim, he built mosques, universities, observatories, and other public works throughout his empire, often hiring Europeans and Arabs as architects. At its height, the empire encompassed 400 sophisticated cities which drew in visitors and students from Africa, Europe, and the Middle-East.

During his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, the pious Musa donated his money freely to the poor, and reportedly built mosques every Friday wherever he went. In fact, he spent and gave away so much gold that he reportedly (and inadvertently) triggered economic inflation in the region. This is the only instance in recorded history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the region. His gold even indirectly financed the Italian Renaissance.

Pakistan’s Artsy and Psychedelic Trucks

It’s always refreshing to hear something nice coming out of Pakistan for a change. Far too often, these culturally-rich countries only enter into our national psyche through tragedies or negative events — war, natural disaster, terrorism, and the like. But even the most seemingly blighted nations in the world offer much depth and beauty, often in the most unexpected places.

Case in point: check out this Foreign Policy slideshow displaying Pakistan’s uniquely flamboyant trucks, and the skilled and courageous people who drive them.

The creaking trucks that ply Pakistan’s treacherous highways form a vibrant tapestry in the country’s often bleak and rugged landscape. Showcasing the Pakistani tradition of painting vehicles elaborately, the trucks are covered with everything from detailed arabesques and Urdu calligraphy to portraits of Pakistani pop icons — or some combination of all three. Often, drivers hang chains of bells from their vehicles’ bumpers, giving them their common English name: “jingle trucks.”

Due to the way the article is formated, I can’t copy and past a sample of photos to share here, but I can share some of the pictures I’ve found on the web. These mobile works of art need to be seen to believed.

The article offers an explanation for this interesting and unique practice:

Last fall, Matthieu Aikins rode one such truck, a 1993 Nissan cargo hauler with a decorated cabin, along the U.S. and NATO supply route into Afghanistan — a journey he chronicles in his new Foreign Policy ebook: Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber. (The title refers to Urdu writing painted on the truck’s mud flaps.) Starting in the port city of Karachi and then winding through Pakistan and its borderlands all the way to Kabul, Aikins observed countless example of these rolling canvases. While painted trucks are also found across Indonesia, the Philippines, and much of Latin America, the practice is at its most flamboyant in Pakistan. The origins of Pakistani truck art are unclear, but the first trucks driven in the country, when it was still part of British India, were Bedfords, imported after World War I. Over time these simple, stalwart machines were affixed with wooden prows and bumpers that grew increasingly lavish, as Aikins writes. Today, some drivers spend thousands of dollars adorning their vehicles.

Noting the lack of commercial logic to all this fanfare, Aikins suggests the tradition may have other, more spiritual roots. One theory, he says, is that the art might stem from the Sufi practice of decorating holy sites as “a way of accumulating spiritual blessings.” Durriya Kazi, a Pakistani artist and professor, told Aikins: “The idea is, if we don’t honor the truck, it won’t give back to us.” For a taste of Aikins’ colorful — and dangerous — journey, check out these images depicting some of Pakistan’s more colorful tankers — and read his new book, available here.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, often called the the “Muslim Gandhi,” was an Afghan political and spiritual leader known for his nonviolent opposition to British Rule in India. A devout Muslim and dedicated pacifist, he worked with Gandhi to put an end to the British Raj and bring unity among the divided people of South Asia. He once said it is “better [to] be poisoned in one’s own blood then to be poisoned in one’s principle.”

Khan was also a reformer and social activist who sought to alleviate the poverty, violence, and hatred of his society. To that end, he formed the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement, in which members would take an oath of honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice, and the serving of others without regard to faith or ethnicity. The success of this group led to a harsh crackdown by the British, though Khan remained committed to nonviolence.

He opposed the partition of India, and because of this – as well as his lifelong opposition to authoritarian rule – he was frequently arrested, exiled, and harassed by the Pakistani authorities. Despite this, he never wavered in his values and remained a pacifist for the rest of his life.

The Problem With Profiling

To this day, there are still arguments being made in support of implementing ethnic and religious profiling at airport security. As tempting as that might seem given our visceral fear of terrorism (particularly the Islamic kind), there are many reasons why this is a bad idea. In fact, aside from the obvious moral and ethical dilemmas that such discrimination would pose, many of the arguments against it are practical:

The right way to look at security is in terms of cost-benefit trade-offs. If adding profiling to airport checkpoints allowed us to detect more threats at a lower cost, than we should implement it. If it didn’t, we’d be foolish to do so. Sometimes profiling works. Consider a sheep in a meadow, happily munching on grass. When he spies a wolf, he’s going to judge that individual wolf based on a bunch of assumptions related to the past behavior of its species. In short, that sheep is going to profile…and then run away. This makes perfect sense, and is why evolution produced sheep—and other animals—that react this way. But this sort of profiling doesn’t work with humans at airports, for several reasons.

First, in the sheep’s case the profile is accurate, in that all wolves are out to eat sheep. Maybe a particular wolf isn’t hungry at the moment, but enough wolves are hungry enough of the time to justify the occasional false alarm. However, it isn’t true that almost all Muslims are out to blow up airplanes. In fact, almost none of them are. Post 9/11, we’ve had 2 Muslim terrorists on U.S airplanes: the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. If you assume 0.8% (that’s one estimate of the percentage of Muslim Americans) of the 630 million annual airplane fliers are Muslim and triple it to account for others who look Semitic, then the chances any profiled flier will be a Muslim terrorist is 1 in 80 million. Add the 19 9/11 terrorists—arguably a singular event—that number drops to 1 in 8 million. Either way, because the number of actual terrorists is so low, almost everyone selected by the profile will be innocent.  This is called the “base rate fallacy,” and dooms any type of broad terrorist profiling, including the TSA’s behavioral profiling.

Second, sheep can safely ignore animals that don’t look like the few predators they know. On the other hand, to assume that only Arab-appearing people are terrorists is dangerously naive. Muslims are black, white, Asian, and everything else—most Muslims are not Arab. Recent terrorists have been European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern; male and female; young and old. Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was British with a Jamaican father. One of the London subway bombers, Germaine Lindsay, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Both Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were white Americans. The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female. Focusing on a profile increases the risk that TSA agents will miss those who don’t match it.

Third, wolves can’t deliberately try to evade the profile. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is just a story, but humans are smart and adaptable enough to put the concept into practice. Once the TSA establishes a profile, terrorists will take steps to avoid it. The Chechens deliberately chose female suicide bombers because Russian security was less thorough with women. Al Qaeda has tried to recruit non-Muslims. And terrorists have given bombs to innocent—and innocent-looking—travelers. Randomized secondary screening is more effective, especially since the goal isn’t to catch every plot but to create enough uncertainty that terrorists don’t even try.

And fourth, sheep don’t care if they offend innocent wolves; the two species are never going to be friends. At airports, though, there is an enormous social and political cost to the millions of false alarms. Beyond the societal harms of deliberately harassing a minority group, singling out Muslims alienates the very people who are in the best position to discover and alert authorities about Muslim plots before the terrorists even get to the airport. This alone is reason enough not to profile.

I too am incensed—but not surprised—when the TSA manhandles four-year old girlschildren with cerebral palsypretty womenthe elderly, and wheelchair users for humiliation, abuse, and sometimes theft. Any bureaucracy that processes 630 million people per year will generate stories like this. When people propose profiling, they are really asking for a security system that can apply judgment. Unfortunately, that’s really hard. Rules are easier to explain and train. Zero tolerance is easier to justify and defend. Judgment requires better-educated, more expert, and much-higher-paid screeners. And the personal career risks to a TSA agent of being wrong when exercising judgment far outweigh any benefits from being sensible.

The proper reaction to screening horror stories isn’t to subject only “those people” to it; it’s to subject no one to it. (Can anyone even explain what hypothetical terrorist plot could successfully evade normal security, but would be discovered during secondary screening?) Invasive TSA screening is nothing more than security theater. It doesn’t make us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. Even more strongly, security isn’t our society’s only value. Do we really want the full power of government to act out our stereotypes and prejudices? Have we Americans ever done something like this and not been ashamed later? This is what we have a Constitution for: to help us live up to our values and not down to our fears.

Simply put, security profiling is at best ineffective, and at worst counter productive. There’s more than enough empirical and rational evidence to back that up. I’ve yet to see a similarly well-founded basis for instituting any sort of profiling.

An Islamic Art Exhibit at the Met

I may be an (agnostic) atheist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the beauty and cultural output produced by religious societies. For all its modern troubles, especially with the West, the Islamic world was one of history’s greatest civilizations, rich in artistic, scientific, and intellectual progress.

The innumerable achievements that emerged during the Golden Age of Islam – in areas ranging from medicine and agriculture to architecture and literature – cannot be understated. Indeed, the West owes much of its development to the contributions of Medieval Islamic scholars and thinkers, who were also the keepers of ancient philosophy that would have otherwise been lost.

It is for this reason, and my overall love of world culture, that I’m very excited to see one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious museums create a permanent gallery devoted to Islamic art, known by the unwieldy but descriptive title, The New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

Since November, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has established a 15-room venue featuring some 1,200 works across 13 centuries of Islamic civilization. Among the materials provided are manuscripts, textiles, glass, ceramics, jewellery, military equipment, paintings, scientific instruments and carvings (from wood, stone, or ivory). Even the rooms themselves are genuine works of art, designed to accentuate the aesthetic of the displays:

The attention to detail in these rooms is remarkable. Architectural elements help to convey the sensibility of different eras and regions. The Introductory Gallery, for example, is paved with a design of white and gold marble inspired by decorations at the Taj Mahal, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. For the Moroccan courtyard the museum commissioned carvings by craftsmen from Fez. Among their creations during months on scaffolding at the Met are replicas of 14th-century wooden doors, and geometrically patterned cornices and capitals. The space itself is opulent and serene, complete with a burbling fountain—one of several in these galleries. It is not surprising to learn that the construction budget alone for these rooms was $40m. But given the results, it doesn’t seem profligate.

Multiple entrances are provided, which nicely suggests there is no one way to approach the art within. But use the main one the first time. Here visitors are greeted with a large and arrestingly modern earthenware bowl. Made in Nishapur, Iran in the tenth century, this creamy, white piece is decorated with a seemingly abstract design on its perimeter, in fact a Kufic script that reads: “Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace”. Like much of the Met’s Islamic collection, the bowl was intended for secular not sacred use. As a result, the works on view are more accessible to those unfamiliar with Islamic practices.

… The Greater Ottoman World gallery seems vast. Its domed ceiling, a later-Ottoman inspired, Spanish wood-lattice affair, rises to 23 feet. The walls and mottled marble floor are the colour of claret. The almost 30-foot-long “Simonetti Carpet” (made in Cairo around 1500) is unfurled in the centre of the room. Like the many carpets hanging on the walls, its dominant colour is red. For all its luxury there is something transcendently cosy about this room, which seems to hug viewers as it glows and pulsates with richly textured reds. It is easy to imagine the sight of it driving Mark Rothko into an envious rage.

It seems that merely passing through it could be a breathtaking experience. I can see why the Met took eight years to set all this up, whereas originally it intended for a much smaller and temporary gallery. The Economist article I hyperlinked provides a view highlights, as well as a mini-slideshow of featured works.

Calligraphy and the arabesque—a continuous leaflike design—dominate Islamic art, yet there are many figurative works here as well. One of the first and most striking examples is a three-foot high, bronze lion with pussycat ears (pictured above). This 12th-century incense burner is incised with calligraphy that identifies its maker and first owner. Figurative art is not prohibited by Islam, as is commonly supposed. A few discreet depictions of the Prophet Muhammad may distress some Muslims, who object to any images of the prophet. But here—and as with everything else in these galleries—the museum has handled the presentation with sensitivity.

When travelling in a counter-clockwise path from the main entrance, the layout is broadly chronological, with galleries arranged by region. The route takes the visitor through the spread of Islam from Arab Lands and Iran under the Umayyads and Abbasids (seventh to 13th centuries) all the way to Later South Asia (16th to 20th centuries). The wall texts are informative, but the revelation is how powerfully the works speak for themselves, and how varied Islamic art is. The arrangement reveals stylistic differences as well as interactions across regions and over time. Chess, for example, began in India before the sixth century. On display is one of the earliest surviving chess sets, made from a type of pottery in Iran in the 12th century.

…The marvels keep coming, from astrological and medical texts to a richly embellished 18th-century Damascus reception room. Also on view are a dozen pages from the magnificently painted Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. This reviewer never imagined that carpets—and there are many here—could be so moving. (No reference to magical airborne travels intended.)

I would love to see all this for myself, for it sounds like it would be an unforgettable experience. When I visit New York City, I’ll definitely spend a day, if not more, at the Met.

I encourage you all to check out the gallery’s dedicated webpage, which includes a ton of photos and information. The display offers a rare glimpse into a poorly understood and underrated culture. As the article rightly concludes:

The Met’s Islamic galleries offer a grand voyage to faraway times and places, and an eye-opening display of art. If these rooms do anything to replace fear and suspicion about Islam with a sense of wonder and curiosity, then there is all the more reason to celebrate.

Though I have my personal reservations towards religion, I still value the magnificent ingenuity and creativity of our species, whatever their belief system.

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.