Blotting Out Hatred in the Middle East

(Beirut Daily Star) William Fisher - The recent Arab Human Development Report 2003 recommends the encouragement of "free critical thinking" rather than "submission, obedience, subordination, and compliance." Yet the report ignores an issue that should be of great concern if "free critical thinking" is ever to occur: religious and ethnic bigotry in primary and secondary education. Arab history and religious textbooks are not only anti-Israel, they are openly anti-Semitic. In Saudi Arabia, religious studies make up about 40% of the school curriculum. The textbooks used in schools declare that God's wisdom mandates continuing the struggle between Muslims and Jews until the Day of Judgment. In Egypt, despite the country's peace treaty with Israel, school texts contain much the same anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric as elsewhere in the Arab world. The Palestinian Authority has introduced its own texts, curious for their omissions: Israel's right to exist is nowhere acknowledged, and in history and geography books containing maps of the Middle East, Israel is not shown. In these maps, the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is called "Palestine." Towns in Israel such as Jaffa, Nazareth, and Beersheba are mentioned as Palestinian towns only. Pictures of Jerusalem nearly always exclude the western part of the city. When Israelis are shown at all, they appear as soldiers. The large donors to Middle East educational reform ­ the World Bank, EU, USAID, UN agencies and others ­ sponsor endless workshops and conferences on how educational reforms can be achieved. They suggest changes in syllabi and curricula, train teachers, introduce computers and access to Internet in classrooms. The response from most of the official recipients of this help comes in the form of lofty, idealistic speeches, followed by virtually nothing.

2003-11-12 00:00:00

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