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Major Publishers Protest Saudi Textbook Content

Nina Shea

An appeal to the government of Saudi Arabia to stop publishing hate-filled textbooks was issued today by seven current and former heads of major American publishing houses. Leading it was Robert Bernstein, formerly chairman of Random House and founder of Human Rights Watch, who is now the chairman of Advancing Human Rights. He was joined by the publisher at Amazon, the publisher of Simon and Schuster, a Reuters editor-at-large, the editorial director of Broadside Books (HarperCollins), and other prominent publishers.

I have researched and written about the toxic content of school textbooks published by the Saudi Ministry of Education for almost a decade and have found that little has changed in them over this period. Last year, I had the opportunity as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to travel to Riyadh and meet with the Saudi minister of education, who is King Abdullah’s nephew and son-in-law, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Bin Muhammad al-Saud. The education minister acknowledged that 1–12 textbook reform was needed but indicated it was not a governmental priority. I also met with the Saudi justice minister Muhammad al-Issa and asked him why the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamously anti-Semitic fabrication at the time of the Russian revolution, is included in the textbook on Hadiths (traditions of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed) where it continues to be taught as historical fact. The Saudi justice minister said that the Protocols is treated as part of Islamic culture because it is a book that has long been found in plentiful supply in Saudi Arabia (one of the relatively few non-Muslim books to be so), and was a book that his father had in his home.

Muslims in many countries have reported that over the past 20 to 30 years, local Islamic traditions have been transformed and radicalized under the growing influence of Saudi Salafist Islam, known as Wahhabism. The late president of Indonesia Abdurraham Wahid wrote that Wahhabism was making inroads even in his famously tolerant nation. Journalists have documented this spread — and the sometimes desperate local Muslim efforts to thwart it — in Somalia, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Algeria, the Balkans, and the U.K., among many other places.

Unfortunately, the U.S. State Department has not held Saudi Arabia to its 2006 pledge to reform Saudi textbooks within two years.

Examples from the Saudi textbooks, some of which are included in the publishers’ appeal, follow:

1. “The Jews and the Christians are enemies of the believers, and they cannot approve of Muslims.”

2. “The struggle of this [Muslim] nation with the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills.”

3. “Do not kill what God has forbidden killing such as the Muslim or the infidel between whom and the Muslims there is a covenant or under protection, unless for just cause such as unbelief after belief, just punishment or adultery.”

4. “The apostate has two punishments; worldly and in the hereafter. Punishment in this life: Death if he does not repent.”

5. “Major polytheism is a reason to fight those that practice it.”

6. “Fighting the Infidels and the Polytheists has certain conditions and controls, including: That they be invited to Islam and they refuse to enter it and refuse to pay Jizya [a special tax] That Muslims have the power and the capacity to combat, That this be with the permission of the guardian and under his banner, That there be no guarantee between them and the Muslims not to combat.”

7. “The punishment of homosexuality is death. . . . Ibn Qudamah said: “The companions (of the Prophet) agreed unanimously on killing. Some of the Companions argued that he (a homosexual) is to be burned with fire. It has been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place. Other things have also been said.”

8. “In Islamic law, (jihad) has two uses: 1. specific usage: which means: Exerting effort in fighting unbelievers and tyrants.”

9. “In the general usage, Jihad is divided into the following categories: . . . Wrestling with the unbelievers by calling them (to the faith) and fighting them.”

10. “As was cited in Ibn Abbas, and was said: The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.”

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