Doing nothing about Saudi promotion of Islamic extremism
On July 9, 2010 the Gulf Institute issued a press release that read in part:
The Institute for Gulf Affairs has released a report comparing the current edition of Saudi textbooks to statements made by the regime, emphasizing the deception of Saudi officials and the failure of U.S. policy to adequately address this issue. The report, entitled "A State of Deception: The Continuation of Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Hate," investigates the Saudi government's refusal to alter its curriculum of intolerance and reform the hateful content of its textbooks.
Four years after a 2006 Saudi government agreement with the U.S. State Department to "remove all hateful and intolerant content" from the Saudi textbooks, a review conducted by IGA reveals that the current edition of Saudi textbooks remain rampant with the same hateful, intolerant, and extremist content as before. Saudi textbooks continue to convey virulent anti-Semitism, instill violent and hateful attitudes toward the other, and sanction the killing of "unbelievers."
The release went on to explain that based on the report, a Saudi ambassador's statement in 2006 (attesting to the kingdom's compliance with the agreement) "and many more like it, are not only patently false, but are also deliberately deceitful and misleading."
So we are we now, more than five months after that report? A State Department official authorized only to speak on background e-mails that there has "been no change since July."
A former Middle East hand tells me that the administration could certainly do more by publicly specifying the offending texts and denouncing the failure to remove the offending language. He says, "There is no reason we need to be silent, but everyone says, 'oh, the King's so old, and so nice, and a reformer, really.'" After all, before he thought better of it the Saudi King did promise to personally see to the scrubbing of Saudi textbooks. But, then, the King was also supposed to play a constructive role in the "peace process." Not so much on either count, it seems.
Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), tells me, "There has been no real progress in terms of Saudi Arabia cleaning up its Government-approved school textbooks, which contain numerous. . .hateful references against Christians and Jews. But without pressure coming to bear on the Saudis from the State Department, you won't see any."
Others are equally glum about the prospects for more serious action to stem the spread of Saudi textbooks peddling Islamic extremism. The problem extends beyond this administration. "This, unfortunately, is not surprising and is indicative of the double standards applied to abuses in the Middle East," Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, tells me via e-mail. "Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim to protect human rights generally ignore systematic ant-Semitism and incitement to violence, rather than demanding that Saudi Arabia remove them. Similarly, international institutions including the United Nations give a free pass to such abuses and sources of discrimination and violence." He continues:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently published a brief report on Saudi Arabia that supposedly detailed its human rights abuses, yet the vast majority of systematic abuses in Saudi Arabia, such as the absence of religious and sexual freedom, were largely ignored. In sharp contrast, HRW's publications targeting Israel include many more allegations, and are accompanied by major publicity campaigns. The leadership of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division use their resources against Israel rather than demanding the far overdue changes in Saudi Arabia, Libya, and elsewhere."
I spoke to Abe Foxman, head of the ADL, by phone this morning. As he explained, "The problem is that there are no consequences for the failure to live up to their commitments." He points out that King Abdullah tries to project an "image of a changing Saudi Arabia" and has, for example, sponsored interfaith conferences. But, then, he points out, "it is contradictory" for the Saudis to spread extremism through textbooks.
What, if anything, can be done? Most experts agree that a "name and shame" approach offers the most hope for improvement. Foxman argues, "The only impact, the only vehicle is exposure and embarrassment. They do care." But that would take some initiative by the administration.
The lack of serious action by the administration on this issue, however, is not an isolated event. Earlier this year the USCIRF issued a report documenting that religious freedom was of "shrinking importance" in the Obama foreign policy agenda. That has contributed, according to the USCIRF, to the "disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe."
For now, the administration's indifference continues. We've done nothing to cajole the Saudis into cleaning up their textbooks, which find their way into Muslim schools around the globe. We've seen bipartisan outrage over the treatment of Christians in Iraq. And what has the administration been doing? Aside from periodically throwing a rhetorical bone to human rights advocates, the Obama team shows little interest in doing something about the victims and potential victims of Islamic extremism. I suppose it gets in the way of its precious "Muslim outreach."
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