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Saudi schools teach hatred of the West

THE SCHOOL YEAR is in full swing. Across the United States children are learning civics fundamentals -- democracy, pluralism, and mutual respect. These are all key values underlying our multiracial, multicultural society.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, however, children are taught contempt for anyone who is Christian or Jewish, and the West as a whole is denigrated. The daily teaching of hatred is taking place, as it has for many years, in a nation long purported to be America's closest ally in the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, amid reports about tensions in US-Saudi relations, one issue largely neglected is education. That is a pity. The pervasive denigration of the West in Saudi schools is essential to grasping the root of the long dormant fissures in the US-Saudi relationship, and, of course, understanding why 15 of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were products of the Saudi educational system.

Saudi children are taught intolerance and contempt for the West and non-Muslims in a wide range of subjects, from literature to math. This is the central finding of a study, co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Education books used in grades 1 though 10.

For example, eighth-graders are taught, in a geography book, that "Islam replaced the former religions that replaced it" and that "a malicious Crusader-Jewish alliance is striving to eliminate Islam from all the continents."

In a ninth-grade language exercise, Saudi youth are instructed to use the sentence, "The Jews are wickedness in its very essence," when learning the rules of the Arabic language.

Saudi schoolbooks implore Muslims not to befriend Christians or Jews. "Emulation of the infidels leads to loving them, glorifying them and raising their status in the eyes of the Muslim, and that is forbidden," states a ninth-grade jurisprudence book.

Saudi spokespeople have dismissed the indisputable fact that the demonizing of Christians, Jews, and the West is pervasive in official books used throughout the government-controlled school system.

When the American Jewish Committee raised the education issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, he told us, as he has stated in interviews with American media, that the problematic passages are limited to about "five percent of the schoolbooks."

Faisal and other Saudi spokespeople have grossly underestimated the problem. And, though the foreign minister and others have asserted that steps are being taken to rewrite them, there is no evidence as yet to support these claims.

Moreover, Saudi schoolbooks and curriculum are actively exported to other Arab and Muslim countries, where Saudi largess funds many schools. Indeed, several Muslim schools in the United States have been built and staffed with Saudi money, opening the door to the spread of Saudi-sponsored hate on American soil. Probing which of the books published in Saudi Arabia might also be used here in the United States is vital.

Thus far, our government has downplayed the issue of Saudi education reform. Members of Congress, though, are recognizing that education is at the root of the long dormant problems in the US-Saudi partnership. Resolutions calling for Saudi education reform are pending in the both the House and Senate.

To continue to ignore the hate that is integral to Saudi education can no longer be tolerated, all the more so given Saudi demography. More than half of the Saudi population is under the age of 20. What can we expect from these youngsters after years of indoctrination? The answer should be obvious.

The United States must press Saudi Arabia, which claims friendship with our country, to excise the hatred that permeates their schoolbooks. Until a new chapter, both literally and figuratively, is written in the American-Saudi relationship, truly amicable ties will be difficult to achieve.

David A. Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

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