SAUDI ARABIA – ISLAM Riyadh: fight against fundamentalism, promote coexistence with Jews and Christians in schools

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The Israeli NGO Impact-reports that the Saudi authorities are continuing their work of “moderation and openness” in textbooks. The definitions of “infidels” and “enemies of God” have been removed. Society remains traditional, gender discrimination and the knot of Zionism remain, but the change is “extraordinary”.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – School curricula in Saudi Arabia are moving towards more “moderation and openness”, confirming a trend that has been going on in recent years, although some critical areas remain on the subject of gender, Israel, jihad and Zionism.

This is what emerges from an updated study of the first and second grade textbooks used in educational establishments in the Wahhabi kingdom, by the Institute for the Monitoring of Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. (Impact-se). Society, the authors explain, remains “traditional” but there is a “substantial attenuation” of hate speech towards “internal and external actors”, namely Christians, Jews, the issue of jihad (holy war), Zionism, Israel and Iran, a historic rival in the region.

The results were published a few days ago by Impact, an apolitical NGO founded in 1998 by Yohanan Manor and based in Ramat Gan, in the eastern suburbs of Tel Aviv, Israel. The main objective of the organization is to examine the content of textbooks used in the Middle East, in order to determine whether children learn to accept and recognize the rights of “others” to “exist”, by encouraging “the tolerance, pluralism and democracy ”. Among the countries closely watched are Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Iran.

A first assessment had examined the years 2016-2020, already showing an improvement in textbooks, also thanks to the “Vision 2030” program printed on the country by the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (Mbs). A new update, covering the second half of last year and the first half of 2021, has confirmed that – in a kind of pendulum swing between improvements and setbacks – the situation is moving positively towards increasing “moderation” and “it will be more and more difficult to turn around”.

Human rights activists and movements emphasized this revision of textbooks, which led, among other things, to the ban on derogatory terms such as monkeys and pigs to label believers of other religions. The authors of the report, updated from the first study titled “The Winding Road to a New Identity,” explain that textbooks have been cleansed of the ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist diktats that characterize certain elements, both state and non-state. state, in the region. The role of educators who have slowly but surely guided the nation “away from radicalism towards a society which truly embraces international standards of peace and tolerance” is highlighted.

The report praises where it should be, but does not spare criticism of problematic factors which in some cases border on “hostility” towards non-Muslims. The same is true of the “general attitude” towards women, homosexuals and transgendered people in a society whose mold remains “conservative” and “deeply anti-Semitic”, with a marked “emphasis” on jihad and martyrdom. However, even in these areas there has been “significant” progress, so much so that between the two reports at least 22 anti-Christian and anti-Semitic references in textbooks have been removed or changed.

Some texts blaming “Jews” for collective attacks on Muslims or Muhammad have been changed, attributing them instead to Arab tribes or removing content altogether. Passages calling Christians and Jews “infidels” [Grade 10-12, level 5 in science and administration texts] , or “enemies of God” were also removed, along with the epithet “negligent” for the Jewish faith and “excessive” for Christians. From a book devoted to Islamic studies, the passage claiming that Christians and Jews took “rabbits and monkeys as their gods” has been deleted.

Yet even today, the Impact The report concludes, there are problematic references, controversial passages and little has been done for true gender equality. There are still “a handful of examples of anti-Semitism” and elements of religious “intolerance”, as well as “(at least) questionable historical statements about Israel.” The changes in the Saudi curriculum “will not happen overnight”, but the change that has taken place over the past year is “an extraordinary leap forward”.


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