A Textbook Case of Intolerance

Changing the world one schoolbook at a time.

Published on Slate.com, by Anne Applebaum, July 21, 2008.

Because they are so clearly designed for the convenience of large testing companies, I had always assumed that multiple-choice tests, the bane of any fourth grader’s existence, were a quintessentially American phenomenon. But apparently I was wrong. According to a report put out by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom last week, it seems that Saudi Arabians find them useful, too. Here, for example, is a multiple-choice question that appears in a recent edition of a Saudi fourth-grade textbook, Monotheism and Jurisprudence, in a section that attempts to teach children to distinguish “true” from “false” belief in god:

Q. Is belief true in the following instances:
a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers.

The correct answer, of course, is c). According to the Wahhabi imams who wrote this textbook, it isn’t enough just to worship god or just to love other believers—it is important to hate unbelievers as well. By the same token, b) is also wrong. Even a man who worships god cannot be said to have “true belief” if he loves unbelievers …

… Normally, the contents of another country’s textbooks would be of no interest to us. Indeed, I’ve no doubt that there are plenty of U.S. textbooks that contain insane, incorrect, or otherwise unacceptable information. Saudi school textbooks are a special case, however. They are written and produced by the Saudi government and subsequently distributed, free of cost, to Saudi-sponsored schools as far afield as Lagos, Nigeria, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Americans are not the only ones who worry about their influence. In Britain, a small political storm began last year when British mosques were found to be distributing Saudi books that called on Muslims to kill all apostates …

… Of course, we are not a Muslim nation, and Americans cannot, by themselves, orchestrate a meaningful Muslim response to Saudi extremism. But we do have a large Muslim population, we do have friends in the moderate Muslim world, and we do have some money, much of which is wasted, to spend on public Diplomacy.

We also have two presidential candidates who are arguing hard this week about the best ways to combat terrorism, the best way to deploy guns and aid, the best uses of American military power. Here is a novel idea for both of them: Make sure that children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Islamic schools all around the world have decent fourth-grade textbooks. It might save a lot of trouble later on. (full text).

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