It isn't yet known whether President Obama raised the issue of educational reform when he sat down with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah this week. Those who monitor Saudi textbooks say the President should have used the opportunity to press Abdullah to work faster in fulfilling a promise to rid schools of books teaching Saudi schoolchildren to hate the West and to engage in violence towards Christians and Jews.
Such textbooks are used in every school within Saudi Arabia four years after the Saudi government assured the U.S. that it would initiate a policy of educational reform. Those reforms were meant to erase the passages promoting violence and hatred from the curriculum.
That was supposed to take two years. In 2008, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that only minor reforms had been made to the textbooks for the previous school year. Even today, the situation remains largely unchanged. It appears that while the Saudi government has removed many overt references to violence and jihad, the texts still remain largely intolerant.
In a letter to the President, Commission Chair Leonard Leo praised a recent Saudi fatwa against terror financing. For that to take hold, though, the Saudis need to do more to prevent radicalization. It noted the government's pledge on textbook reform "remains unfulfilled." Leo wrote:
"The Saudi government's ideology of extreme religious intolerance, including violence, is propounded in Saudi textbooks and other educational materials … the most recent State Department reports on human rights and religious freedom confirm that inflammatory content remains in the textbooks."
The National Review Online reported that the State Department's 2010 report on human rights "concluded, with diplomatic understatement, that Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks continued to contain 'some overtly intolerant statements' against various religious groups, that they 'provided justification for violence against non-Muslims,' and that reforms remained 'incomplete.'"
The Institute for Gulf Affairs translated and analyzed the 2009-2010 editions of the textbooks. It found an array of intolerant and violent lessons. The 12th grade textbook teaches, "It is part of God's wisdom that he made the clash between truth and falsehood continues until the Day of Resurrection. As long as this clash endures, jihad continues." The 9th grade textbook teaches, "The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them… There is a Jew behind me come and kill him." It also says, "God will help Muslims… The Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers." Similar messages appear in books used by first graders.
These textbooks are used throughout the Muslim world, reaching as far as the Saudi Islamic Academy in Fairfax County, VA. As of 2008, the Saudi government directly ran 19 international schools. These schools receive funding and Wahhabi extremist education, identical to the education that students in Saudi Arabia receive.
Elementary and high school education in Saudi Arabia remains intolerant, and inspires violence and extremism. It shouldn't take four years to fix the problem.