The Saudi government has been accused of failing to reform textbooks that direct violence and hatred towards other religious groups, including Jews and converts to Christianity. (Photo: Open Doors International)

An American expert has accused Saudi Arabia of “obfuscation” and of breaking its promises to reform textbooks that pump out an “ideology of hatred” that threatens Western security and Middle Eastern stability.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, was addressing the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week (19 July).

She recommended that the US halt its recently approved multi-billion dollar defence contracts with Riyadh “as long as the Saudi government publishes, posts, approves, finances or distributes textbooks that direct violence and hatred against any religion or group that may include American citizens”.

She said that textbooks, which are revised yearly, have in the last ten years stated that Hindus, Muslim converts to Christianity, and Shia and Sufi Muslims are to be fought and killed, as well as Christians – unless they have a protection contract with Muslims. Jews, meanwhile, receive the greatest vilification, and are “demonised, dehumanised, and targeted for violence”, she added.

Citing a New York Times report, she added that Saudi textbooks had been found in use in Mosul during its occupation by the Islamic State group, and said that senior US Treasury counter-terrorism officials had described the Wahhabi Islam promoted in the textbooks as “kindling for Bin Laden’s match”.

‘Toned down’

The USA’s First Lady, Melania Trump, stands next to Saudi Education Minister Ahmad al-Issa during a visit to the American International School in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on 21 May.

Shea acknowledged that textbooks for early school years had been addressed, although “critical thinking and ideas that conflict with the government-approved ones are banned”. Some passages for older pupils had been supposedly “toned down”, she noted: “For example, last year’s textbooks instruct only one way, by stoning, to kill a homosexual, instead of three, as before.”

She said reform efforts by Riyadh were “largely distractions that served to pull the wool over our eyes”, aided by “a powerful public relations effort in Washington”.

These included: “the appointment of a woman director to the Saudi education department; the appointment of purported liberals as education ministers; a textbook pilot programme; the opening of a dialogue centre in Vienna, Austria; teacher-training programmes; tolerance workshops; and a ‘de-radicalisation’ re-education programme.”

Earlier this week, Saudi intellectual Tawfiq Al-Sayf said that in the modern state, all citizens are equal in rights and obligations, regardless of their religion and social affiliation, and called for the “abandonment of ancient perceptions, which are no longer useful and are unrealistic”.