US President Barack Obama stands poised to visit Saudi Arabia later in the month, to discuss "countering violent extremism" among other things. However, a report has revealed the US has kept secret an extensive study of Saudi textbooks, traditionally rife with Islamic extremism, since the end of 2012 - casting doubts over the seriousness of the administration to tackle the root causes of Islamic extremism.
The study, commissioned in a reported $500,000 State Department contract in 2011, was the most comprehensive ever commissioned. Completed in late 2012, the findings with their implications on radical indoctrination and anti-Semitism have been kept hidden from the public.
However, a new report published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think-tank, quoting sources familiar with the hidden study, notes Saudi textbooks still “create a climate that fosters exclusivity, intolerance, and calls to violence that put religious and ethnic minorities at risk.”
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in Obama's first term when the study was commissioned, told The Daily Beast that the option was always open to publish the study, even if that wasn't the original intention.
“We commissioned the study to assess and evaluate the content of the textbooks with the intention of sharing our findings with the Saudi government and with the option, depending on the findings, of making it public if the problems persisted,” Posner remarked.
Posner noted the security dangers associated with Saudi Arabia's traditionally hateful textbooks, given that such learning materials radicalize the next generation. Alarmingly, the textbooks aren't only used in Saudi schools; they are sent free of charge to Muslim schools worldwide, including in the US.
"Jews are pigs and monkeys"
“Among the references that were most offensive were commentaries that linked Christians and Jews to apes and pigs,” Posner revealed. “If those references are still in some textbooks then the problem hasn’t been solved.”
An example of the anti-Semitic content in Saudi textbooks was revealed in a 2006 cable from the US embassy in Riyadh. Disclosed on WikiLeaks, the cable reports that an eighth grade textbook reads "God will punish any Muslim who does not literally obey God just as God punished some Jews by turning them into pigs and monkeys.”
This is not the first time that the standards of the Saudi education system have been brought up in a questionable light; in February it was revealed that education departments in several regions banned female employees and visitors who do not wear a face veil from entering girls’ schools.
More recently, Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, claimed on Saudi TV that the sun revolves around the earth, quoting the Koran as his source.
A possible factor behind US reservations in exposing Saudi textbooks could be attempts to avoid exacerbating the growing rift between the two countries. The widening gap in relations is seen in part as stemming from Obama's spoken support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is opposed by the Saudis, and Obama's limited response to the ongoing Syrian war.