November 26, 2010
In the face of hatred
The curriculum that teaches young people across the Arab and Muslim world to hate is being exported to the West, according to a documentary that aired earlier this week on the BBC’s Panorama series.
It is not really news, in a way, that the peculiar Saudi interpretation of Islam, called Wahabbism, is a bigger export from that peninsula than oil. Since the 1970s, indigenous Islam in places from Morocco to the Balkans to Indonesia has been supplanted by an extremist ideology of intolerant Saudi theology. And there have been fears, supported by occasional good evidence like the Panorama program, that this ideology is being exported to democratic Western states as well. The radical imams who have recruited extremists in Britain and elsewhere in Europe are overwhelmingly funded by Saudi money to spread Saudi theology.
Panorama determined that more than 40 part-time Islamic schools and clubs with 5,000 students have been using a Saudi Arabian government curriculum that seeks to inculcate the most contemptible antisemitic and homophobic attitudes.
A textbook tasks children with listing the “reprehensible” qualities of Jews. For those who need a hint, the textbook explains that Jews look like “monkeys and pigs.” Children also learn the not-so-original trope that Zionists aim for “world domination.” (This nugget is particularly ironic, given the context of spreading Wahabbism.)
In the spreading Saudi approach to pluralism and diversity, children as young as six are taught that anyone who is not a believer in Islam at the time of death will spend eternity in “hellfire.” (To be fair, the same message is used by some Christian Sunday schools right in your neighborhood.)
Saudi officials, of course, contend that the texts are being taken out of context. Presumably, a better understanding of cultural norms and the Arabic language would help one understand that Jews actually look like pigs and monkeys. Is it blasphemous to ask: do the same Jews look like both pigs and monkeys, as in hairy simian bodies with porcine snouts and curly tails? Or does context clarify that, say, Ashkenazim look like monkeys and Sephardim look like pigs, or vice versa? Clearly, context is irrelevant in this case.
Then there is the approach to sexual diversity. Saudi kids, and now some Brits too, are taught that people who participate in gay sex are deserving of death, but, if that seems a facile lesson for intellectually emerging young people, there is a scholarly component to this curriculum module. Students are asked to weigh the validity of varying Wahabbi viewpoints on the method of punishment: should the offending gays meet their end by (a) stoning, (b) immolation by fire or (c) being thrown off a cliff.
The traditionalist lesson plan provides a highly predictable, if not so appealing, overview of Shariah law. When visiting Saudi Arabia, if you see a person whose hands and feet have been amputated, you should pay careful attention to your wallet, because you will be in the presence of a thief. Of course, you should be in a comparatively good position to fend off any recidivist tendencies. One thing to be said for this sort of punishment: repeat offences are probably rare.
So that students will know that Saudi law is not the unenforced variety like, say, Canada’s marijuana possession prohibition, the textbook illustrates the precise location on the hand and foot where the incision is to start, should students ever be faced with a citizen’s arrest.
The concern that extremist foreign theology is being exported along with the blossoming of Saudi-funded mosques worldwide in the past three decades is not new. In a way, even the specifics of the hateful, violent lesson plans uncovered by Panorama are not that surprising. What should perhaps be most notable about these stories is that it has taken this long to get to the level of detail the BBC uncovered this week. Outside observers (and some insiders, like Irshad Manji) have been warning for years that the lesson plans of some mosques do not conform to Canadian or Western standards of tolerance and goodwill.
This is just one of the many reasons why it is so important that people come out to hear what author Tarek Fatah has to say when he speaks at Temple Sholom on Monday night. His book, The Jew is Not My Enemy, attempts to debunk some of the ancient and recent aspects of Muslim tradition that justify, or seem to justify, Jew-hatred. The information he imparts is invaluable, but even more so is his message against hate. For that, he deserves all our support.