Analysis: Saudi Arabia’s troubling educational curriculum

(Photo credit FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY DAVID ANDREW WEINBERG, July 20, 2017:

Editor’s Note: Below is Dr. David Andrew Weinberg’s testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Trade Subcommittee on July 19, 2017. Dr. Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A version of his testimony with footnotes can be read here.

Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Keating, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for the opportunity to testify before you today about incitement in Saudi Arabia’s government-published textbooks for school children. It is an honor to be back, particularly because I first engaged with Saudi Arabia on this issue as a staff member for this body’s full committee.

Half a decade after 9/11, Nina Shea wrote in an outstanding Freedom House report that Saudi officials accepted their textbooks had problems but “have repeatedly pledged that reform is underway or completed.” That is still the case today.

Yet as the author of the most recent published study on incitement remaining in Saudi textbooks today, I can vouch that over a decade later Riyadh still has not persuasively shown that this problem has been resolved.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy has not been up to the task of convincing our Saudi allies to remove this incitement with greater urgency.

For example, I exposed in a 2014 monograph that the State Department appeared to have allocated half a million dollars in taxpayer funds to commission a two-part study on Saudi textbooks that was intended for public release but was instead withheld to avoid embarrassing the Saudis or the U.S. administration. Its detailed findings were hidden from public scrutiny for years and only raised with the Saudis at a senior level after the textbooks it had evaluated were already out of date.

In the testimony that follows, I will argue that this is particularly disturbing because incitement of this sort is not just a moral issue or a human rights issue, it is a national security issue. While Saudi textbooks are not the only significant source of incitement from the Gulf – or even in Saudi Arabia – they are an important bellwether and concern for U.S. policy.

I will then endeavor to present everything we know about incitement in the latest edition of Saudi Arabia’s official textbooks. Examples of such incitement include: (1) directives to kill people in response to their non-violent personal life choices, (2) messages that are undoubtedly anti-Semitic or anti-Christian, (3) lessons that are intolerant toward adherents of non-monotheistic religions as well as implicitly toward Shiite and Sufi Muslims, and (4) several other passages encouraging violence.

I will explain how Riyadh regularly oversells the success of its textbook reforms. I will then argue for why U.S. policy in this regard needs to change urgently. Next, I will refute some common counterarguments by those who claim that U.S. pressure cannot have a positive impact on the Saudi curriculum. Finally, I will conclude by offering a list of policy recommendations for Congress which could help encourage the Saudi government to address this issue in a more effective and timely manner.

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Saudi Arabia’s Troubling Educational Curriculum

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