January 06, 2005

Saudi Arabia : Public Debate on Extremism in the School System


January 5, 2005 No.840

Public Debate in Saudi Arabia on Extremism in the School System

Recently, some senior Saudi education officials have called for a ban
on the dissemination of extremist views in schools, and launched
activities to increase teacher awareness of the issue. At the same
time, education ministry officials, editors, columnists and TV critics
insist that the Saudi government is not doing enough to eradicate
extremism in the schools. The following are excerpts from discussions
about the issue:
New Guidelines for the Educational System as School Begins

With the beginning of the Saudi school year in September 2004, senior
Saudi officials called upon teachers not to disseminate extremist
views among their pupils, and warned that any teacher found doing so
would be fired.

On September 5, 2004, Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd Al-'Aziz told
senior education officials: "Watch your teachers. We want to serve the
religion and the homeland, not terrorism…" [1]

Saudi Education Minister Muhammad Ahmad Al-Rashid said in a September
10, 2004 address marking the opening of the school year: "The criminal
and insane events to which our country has been witness will not in
any way shake our trust in Allah and our belief in the skills and
worthiness of the security personnel… Saudi Arabia will not in any way
be defeated by apostasy, going astray, and deviance from the righteous
path that threaten the security and stability of society…

"Criminal deeds are the result of criminal thoughts… Teachers must
understand the great difference between the teacher and the mufti.
They must teach the pupils, in the best possible way, what is in the
curricula, without issuing religious rulings [ fatwas ] and without
deviating from the curriculum and force-feeding the pupils with issues
that have nothing to do with them…

"The school is an enterprise [for creating] a human being, and nothing
is more important than it except the home. Everyone must oppose every
deviation, because most fires break out from the smallest of sparks,
and thus every deviation must be taken care of and eliminated before
it appears." [2]

On another occasion, Al-Rashid said that: "the Education Minister will
in no way accept a teacher who holds misguided views that influence
the younger generation," [3] and that "any element implementing an
extremist policy will be uprooted from the educational system." [4]

During a September 7, 2004 visit to the General Education
Administration, Prince Jalawi bin Abd Al-'Aziz said: "There is no room
for personal commentary by a teacher who sets the curriculum aside. He
must not deviate from it – even if he has spare time during the
lesson." [5]

Tabouk District Governor Prince Fahd bin Sultan said in a September
12, 2004 speech to members of the Tabouk Educational Council: "The
teachers are responsible for preserving the way of thought of the
young generation at the beginning of its crystallization… It is
unacceptable for one of us to disseminate extremism, fanaticism,
terrorism, and apostasy. We must not allow anyone who identifies with
the group holding a dangerous and deviant view to [remain] among us…
The weapon to which we must cling in fighting the deviant view is
faultless adherence to faith, free of extremism." In his speech, he
also called upon teachers to encourage the pupils to implement the
principle of dialogue and to accept the view of the "other." [6]

The Fourth National Forum, organized by the King Abd Al-'Aziz Center
in Zaharan and focusing on "Problems of Youth… What is Desirable and
What Exists," recommended "developing the curricula" so as to
cultivate among the pupils "a capacity for critical thought and
creativity, [and] to educate them to good behavior and inculcate in
them the values of moderation, the middle path, and respect for others
– and to make them accustomed to conducting discussion and debate." [7]
Guidance and Punishment in Saudi Education

A number of measures have been enforced in the Saudi educational
system to prevent extremism in the schools and to increase awareness
of the issue among teachers.

Some Saudi schools have held awareness activities. The "Homeland
Security – Everyone's Responsibility" project was initiated, with the
aim of "emphasizing the teacher's role in protecting the homeland and
its security, protecting the younger generation from destructive
views, and rectifying mistaken ways of education." [8]

The Mecca Education Administration organized information campaigns in
all the city's schools, with the aim of "increasing awareness
regarding the danger of terrorism and the extremist view, and [for
encouraging] the middle path in Islam." [9]

According to a report in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, the Al-Ta'if Region
Education Ministry fired an English teacher after it is revealed that
he had deviated from the curriculum and had devoted classroom time to
reading from the Koran instead of to English studies. The special
committee that investigated the matter determined that the teacher
could no longer be allowed to teach, and that the decision was made
"in order to protect the pupils from [the teacher's] dubious views." [10]

Deputy Education Minister Dr. Muhammad Bin Sa'd Al-Asimi sent a memo
to all Education Administrations in Saudi Arabia, in which he
instructed the removal of the Commentary and Exegesis of Koranic Words
textbook, written by Hasanein Muhammad Makhlouf, from the school
curricula and from the school libraries. According to an educational
source, the instruction was given in order "to protect the pupils'
thoughts." [11]

Education Ministry Official to Columnist: There's Extremism in the Schools

Former editor of the Saudi daily Al-Watan,Qeinan Al-Ghamdi, quoted in
an article a letter sent to him by a senior Education Ministry
official: "In my capacity as a senior Education Ministry official who
is adopting the idea of change in the curricula in accordance with the
interests of the state, I confirm to you that there is an organized
ideological stream that includes key [Education] Ministry members, and
that it poses a concrete danger to the ideological security in the
educational environment. The danger of this extremist stream lies in
its distortion of the perception of nationalism, in its dissemination
of ideas supporting violence, and in its sabotage of the plans of the
moderate national leadership within the ministry."

In the same article, Al-Ghamdi referred to Prince Abdallah's
statements to educators on September 5: "We all know what 'this thing'
is to which Prince [Abdallah] is referring with such heavy bitterness
and sorrow. 'This thing' is the extremism of some teachers and
officials in the Education Ministry, and perhaps among those present
here there is someone to whom the Crown Prince was referring.

"[In his speech Abdallah used the word 'some' in reference to teachers
who disseminate extremist views.] The word 'some' means 'a minority' –
but this minority is influential. The extremist teacher influences a
large number of pupils; the extremist instructor supports this kind of
teacher; the extremist director supports such instructors and
teachers; and the extremist school principal supports, promotes, and
encourages all of them, and gives them authority. Their extremism, and
not their skill, becomes the first and perhaps the only criterion for
their promotion… Thus, the 'minority' becomes the most influential –
not only in the Education Ministry, but also in the [other] ministries
and in the universities. Although the Education Ministry is not the
only elements responsible for uprooting this disease that exists in
our midst, it is one of the most important elements." [12]

In another article, Al-Ghamdi wrote: "Extremism is the incubator from
which the ideology of Takfir [accusing other Muslims of
apostasy]emerges, which leads to terrorism… Extremism is more
dangerous than armed terrorism, because the latter is carried out by
known individuals or groups that can be resisted by force and quickly
uprooted. But when the extremism remains, similar groups quickly
appear, because the incubation continues." [13]

Saudi TV Program on Extremism in the Schools

For years, during the month of Ramadhan Saudi television has broadcast
the Tash Ma Tash comedy series, which deals primarily with domestic
Saudi affairs. [14] This year, one episode dealt with extremism in the
Saudi state schools: The program talks about a teacher of religion who
teaches tolerance and acceptance of the other and another teacher of
religion who brainwashes pupils and teaches them Takfir [accusing
Muslims of apostasy] and hatred of non-Muslims – and even calling for
harming them when possible. The principal is aware of the latter
teacher's extremist views but does nothing to stop him. Further, when
it becomes known to the principal that the moderate teacher is
educating his pupils to tolerance, he goes berserk and calls in
Education Ministry superintendents to investigate the teacher –
knowing all the while that they too hold extremist views.

When the moderate teacher decides to complain about the extremism, he
is surprised to discover that the official committee that is meant to
discuss the matter includes these same superintendents, as well as the
school principal and the extremist teacher of religion. Here the
episode ends. [15]

This episode prompted many reactions by senior Saudi education
officials and by Saudi columnists. The Central Committee for the
Ideological Security Program in the Riyadh district, which is headed
by Abdallah bin Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Mueili, director of the Riyadh
Educational Administration, discussed this episode of the series. The
committee members concluded: "After discussing this episode, it was
found that it was far from reality and that [extremism] is not a
phenomenon that is spreading in the schools, and that it was presented
[in this episode] in an exaggerated manner."

Committee head Al-Mueili noted, "The Riyadh Education Administration
makes efforts to monitor those under the influence of extremist views,
whether teachers or pupils. Many situations have been handled
according to a particular program, with the cooperation of all
concerned." [16]

Following the committee's decision, columnist Hamoud Abu Taleb wrote a
harsh op-edtitled "Why Are We Misleading?" He criticized the
committee's flawed handling of extremism in the schools: "This is the
first time that I have heard of a so-called Central Committee for the
Ideological Security Program in the educational system. Had it not
been for the item published in the Al-Riyadh newspaper, I would never
have known of this committee's existence, as not one of the
educational officials in the other districts whom I asked had ever
heard of it.

"It's good that there is a committee dealing with a sensitive matter
such as ideological security in the educational institutions. Had
there been no concerns about flawed [thinking] taking over, there
would not be [a need for] such a committee…

"However, the honorable committee of the educators decided that there
is no ideological and religious extremism in the schools. In one short
sentence, it denied the existence of something that millions of
residents and the [entire] country know about.

"After this total denial, the committee's tone suddenly changed, and
it said that this episode [on television] is far from reality and does
not reflect a phenomenon that is spreading in the schools.

"Although views are divided regarding the phenomenon and its
significance, how can we come to terms with [the committee's] flat-out
denial of any form of religious and ideological extremism [in the
schools]?

"What is also surprising is that in the final part of the news item
[published in Al-Riyadh ], the committee contradicted its own denial,
by saying that it was monitoring teachers and pupils influenced by
deviant opinions and that many [such] situations had already been handled.

"In the name of Allah, how can such a contradiction be resolved?...
Obviously this denial is not strange, since we are a nation of denial,
and [this] committee is nothing new, since we are a people of
committees. But [perhaps we should] giving ourselves a new title,
stating that we are a people of blatant, shameful contradictions.

"This connects to an important matter that is no longer a secret [i.e.
extremism in the schools], whether a television series discussed it or
not, because this matter is as clear as day. Moreover, we as a society
… are already suffering from the regrettable damage and consequences
[of this phenomenon].

"What is happening is dedication to and continuation of disasters that
occurred in the past because of us. Now we are dealing with their
results. We are beautifying matters – or, at best, making excuses for
them, defending them, and praising those who caused them." [17]

Former Saudi Newspaper Editor: 'The Schools Brainwash Youth'

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the Saudi-based London
Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and director of Al-Arabiyya
television, wrote: "I saw in one of the Saudi papers an item about two
youths who wrote slogans supporting Saddam [Hussein] and bin Laden on
the walls of homes in [one of the] neighborhoods, [and who were
punished by] flogging…

"We are fighting bin Laden on the walls, while someone else is
disseminating propaganda for him in the papers, claiming that there is
a conspiracy against Islam, and that Saddam Hussein and bin Laden and
others are innocent and that the Western media are conspiring against
them so as to accuse Muslims of [things] that they have nothing to do
with.

"Bad pupils cannot be countered before we counter bad ideas and those
who disseminate them in the schools, in the media, on the Internet, in
the Da'wa [Islamic propagation] circles, and in the youth camps. These
[places] are the source of [these] ideas, and they brainwash the youth.

"When a youth scribbles [slogans] on a wall in a neighborhood, he is
instinctively expressing the culture he has learned." [18]

[1] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), September 6, 2004.

[2] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), September 11, 2004.

[3] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), September 11, 2004.

[4] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), September 7, 2004.

[5] Al-Yawm (Saudia Arabia), September 8, 2004.

[6] Al-Yawm (Saudia Arabia), September 13, 2004.

[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 10, 2004.

[8] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), October 10, 2004

[9] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), October 16, 2004.

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 29, 2004.

[11] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 21, 2004.

[12] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 9, 2004.

[13] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 11, 2004.

[14] Al-Riyadh translates the title of the show as "Make It or Break It."

[15] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), November 3, 2004.

[16] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), November 12, 2004.

[17] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 16, 2004.

[18] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 11, 2004.

SOURCE: http://www.memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD84005

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