News Articles

CULTURE DIGEST: Saudi Arabian textbooks still promote hatred, religious discord; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite repeated assertions to the contrary by Saudi Arabian officials, the Middle Eastern nation still has not reformed its government-sanctioned textbooks to end the promotion of hatred toward religions other than the orthodox Wahhabi teaching of Islam.

A study released May 23 by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom found that the textbooks used by an estimated 5 million students in Saudi Arabia’s 25,000 public schools instruct students not to greet, befriend, imitate, show loyalty to, be courteous to or respect non-believers — those who do not subscribe to the country’s sect of Islam.

“What is being taught today in Saudi public school textbooks about how Muslims should relate to other religious communities will poison the minds of a new generation of Saudis,” Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and principal author of the report, said in a news release. “Whatever changes have been made in the Saudi educational system, clearly more needs to be done.”

Concern over indoctrination in Saudi schools rose in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans noticed anew the impact such teachings can have on national security — 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The textbooks, after all, assert that the spread of Islam through jihad is a “religious duty.”

The Freedom House report was prepared in conjunction with the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, which collected a set of 12 current Saudi Ministry of Education religion textbooks from teachers, administrators and families with children in Saudi schools. Freedom House translated and analyzed the books.

Students in Saudi Arabia are taught that “every religion other than Islam is false” and teachers are instructed to provide children “examples of false religions, like Judaism, Christianity, paganism, etc.”

“It is not hate speech here and there, it is an ideology that runs throughout,” Shea told The New York Times. “It adds up to an argument, an ideology of us versus them.”

Religious instruction can amount to one-quarter to one-third of class time in Saudi schools, The Times noted.

The Freedom House report contradicts statements by Saudi government officials, such as the claim by Saudi embassy spokesman Adel al-Jubeir a year ago: “We have reviewed our educational curriculums. We have removed materials that are inciteful or intolerant towards people of other faiths.”

Freedom House drew attention to another remark, this one by the new Saudi ambassador to the United States, who said earlier this year, “We eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from old textbooks that were in our system.”

Even as recently as May 18, the Saudi Foreign Minister asserted that “the whole system of education is being transformed from top to bottom. Textbooks are only one of the steps that have been taken by Saudi Arabia.”

WEDGWOOD BAPTIST MARKS SUCCESS — Readers in an online survey by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas chose the “Wedgwood Baptist Church Massacre” as the No. 1 Tarrant County crime of the past 100 years, but the church’s pastor offered a look at the good God has brought from the tragedy in a piece carried by the paper.

“I do not deny the significant impact of that terrible day on Fort Worth,” Al Meredith wrote May 26. “Nor would I say or do anything to weaken the importance of a free press in our society. I would just seek to inform people about ‘the rest of the story.’”

Wedgwood has defied statistics about the negative consequences that follow church tragedies as 475 people have come to faith in Christ since Sept. 15, 1999, Meredith noted. Also, about $4.5 million has been given for missions causes in Tarrant County and around the world since the day seven people were killed at the church by a gunman who then killed himself.

The church has completed a Community Life Center and is close to finishing another building for preschool and youth, Meredith said, and resident membership has grown from 1,485 to 2,067.

“Jeff Laster, the janitor who was wounded in the vestibule, has finished his master’s degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is now our minister to adults,” Meredith wrote. “Kevin Galey, who also was wounded, has finished his Ph.D. in counseling and heads our counseling ministry, community missions and Christian 12-step program, ‘Celebrate Recovery.’”

Though significant litigation followed the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, not one lawsuit stemming from the Wedgwood shooting has been filed, Meredith said. Mayors of Fort Worth since the shooting have worked hard to secure millions of dollars in grants for juvenile counseling in the county and hours of counseling have been donated to youth and their families.

“During Sunday’s services, we recognized 26 graduating high school seniors,” Meredith wrote in the Star-Telegram. “There were student council presidents, honor students, athletes and musicians, all of whom have grown and been nurtured at the site of ‘Fort Worth’s Greatest Crime.’

“Fort Worth’s greatest crime scene is also the site of her greatest miracles,” Meredith added. “The Darkness sought to shut us down, but the Light shines ever brighter and ever stronger and will not be extinguished.”

1 IN 5 KIDS UNDER AGE 2 HAS A TV — A generation of parents raised with regular exposure to television is now raising a crop of youngsters who can sing the McDonald’s jingle at 15 months old or imitate CPR based on the drama “ER” while in preschool.

Nearly one in five children under age 2 has a television set in their own room, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released May 24.

“Electronic media is a central focus of many very young children’s lives, used by parents to help manage busy schedules, keep the peace, and facilitate family routines such as eating, relaxing, and falling asleep,” the foundation said in a news release. “… Many parents also express satisfaction with the educational benefits of TV and how it can teach positive behaviors.”

All this despite a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 years old should not be allowed to watch television.

The following testimony from the mother of a toddler in Irvine, Calif., who lets her child watch “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” is an example of some current parental standards for TV watching among children.

“She sits down and watches with me,” the mother, who was not named, told researchers. “I don’t know how harmful it is to her. It’s something gory, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She hasn’t had any nightmares from it.”

Kaiser said that in many homes, “parents have created an environment where the TV is a nearly constant presence, from the living room to the dining room and the bedroom.”

In a typical day, more than 83 percent of American children under the age of 6 watch some sort of media, averaging about two hours a day, the study found. The most common reason parents gave for letting their children have a television in their bedroom is to free up other TVs in the house so parents or other family members can watch the shows of their choice, Kaiser found. Other reasons were so that parents would be free to accomplish household tasks, so the child would fall asleep, and so the child could be rewarded for good behavior.

“Parents have a tough job, and they rely on TV in particular to help make their lives more manageable,” Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health, said. “Parents use media to help them keep their kids occupied, calm them down, avoid family squabbles, and teach their kids the things parents are afraid they don’t have time to teach themselves.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach