Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

“Modernization” only goes so far:

In 2018, Saudi women took to the streets around the country, permitted to drive cars themselves for the first time. That same year, unrelated men and women were allowed to mix at a Formula-E car race and concert extravaganza, listening to DJ David Quetta and the Black Eyed Peas—unthinkable not long ago in a country where religious police used to enforce a strict separation of the sexes.

That’s part of the raft of highly visible social reforms that Saudi Arabia has launched in recent years as the Kingdom tries to reposition itself as a modern global economic powerhouse. But you don’t have to look far to see a very different country, where officials plotted the violent murder of The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi, where a young Saudi Air Force officer studied before deploying for training in Florida where he shot three U.S. Navy Airmen last fall, and where millions of children go to school every day and read state-sanctioned hate speech in their text books.

For a White House that seems to have given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a wide berth on the first two incidents, the Trump Administration has been pushing hard behind the scenes for the last one to change. Since 2017, when President Donald Trump marked Saudi Arabia as a key regional ally, the Administration has seen the state’s textbooks — which teach a version of fundamental Islam so extreme it was used by the Islamic State — as a security threat and a key part of its efforts to fight terrorism.

Two new reviews of Saudi government textbooks show not much has changed, despite these efforts. In 2019, Saudi students were still being instructed to keep westerners at a distance, to consider Jews “monkeys” and “assassins” bent on harming Muslim holy places, and to punish gays by death. All those sentiments are included in text books that are required reading for Muslim children in Saudi Arabia from kindergarten through high school, according to a review by Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT SE, a nonprofit whose research has been cited by the UN and the Anti-Defamation League.

A second organization highlighted similar disturbing material. “Students are being taught that Christians, Jews and other Muslims are ‘enemies’ of the true believer, and to befriend and show respect only to other true believers, specifically the Wahhabis,” the strict sect of Islam upon which Saudi Arabia was founded, says Ali Al-Ahmed of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Studies, in a preview for TIME of his own meticulous review of the 2019 textbooks due out in March. The two groups have shared their results with U.S. government officials.

Both reviews acknowledge there have been some changes to the Saudi curriculum, designed to appease the Kingdom’s western critics. Al-Ahmed notes that in one passage, the phrase “Christians and Jews” has been replaced with phrase “the enemies of Islam,” but says other parts of the same textbook make clear that Christians and Jews remain in the ‘enemies’ camp. Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT SE, says some of the most notable changes in the curriculum fit in the Crown Prince’s ambitious modernization plan for the country, called Vision 2030, such as depicting women as entrepreneurs. “But they are encouraged to be entrepreneurs while not befriending westerners they would do business with,” Sheff adds.

The slow pace of change and the Saudi government’s refusal to do more has been a source of disappointment to Trump, a senior administration official tells TIME. Trump joins a long line of U.S. leaders, UN bodies and human and civil rights groups that have been pressuring the Saudi government for decades to stop proselytizing its harsh version of Wahhabi Islam, spread inside and outside the Kingdom by its clerics’ sermons online or given in mosques that Saudi money built. The government freely distributes hundreds of thousands of Wahhabi Qurans around the world, and makes its school textbooks freely available on the internet. Since the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., largely by Saudi-born jihadists, every administration that has occupied the White House has asked the Saudi government to revise what it teaches its children, with only glacial change as a result.

Trump Administration officials say they’ve been working in private to point out the dangers of this kind of hateful language to Saudi officials, but they are reluctant to publicly criticize Riyadh’s foot-dragging. “We can’t just demand from a sovereign nation ally an immediate fix,” a second senior administration official told TIME. “The Saudis are crucial to our national security efforts in the region, mainly those in places like Yemen… They have provided us a lot of support in those fights that we share.”

The Bush and Obama Administrations also kept similar critiques behind closed doors, according to Farah Pandith, who served in both administrations and was appointed first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities. “They were our partners in the post-9/11 context in fighting al Qaeda. We wanted to do this in a way that allowed them to keep a little bit of dignity but also show leadership,” she told TIME. “It should not be others forcing them to do the right thing.” She says the Saudi government has dismissed some of the more extreme preachers and taken some of their most hate-filled sermons off the internet, but much of the material is still accessible, including in the national curriculum. “It’s a question of scale. I traveled to 80 countries as representative to Muslim communities. None has more influence than the Saudis.”

Saudi critics like say the curriculum is perpetuating extremist violence, including the actions of Saudi Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, who is accused of opening fire on U.S. personnel at Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6th, killing three Navy Airmen and injuring eight. Alshamrani, an officer of the Royal Saudi Air Force, had armed himself with a legally purchased 9mm Glock handgun, only days after reportedly showing videos of mass shootings to other Saudi students training at the base as part of a longstanding U.S. military training program.

Terrorism expert Mia Bloom says the material Alshamrani would have ingested at school back home was so extreme that the State Department found it was used by the Islamic State during its reign of terror in Iraq and Syria. “Until ISIS started publishing their own ‘Al-Harouf’ series of children’s textbooks, ISIS used Saudi textbooks in their schools to train the cubs of the caliphate,” Bloom told TIME, a subject she detailed in her 2019 book, Small Arms: Children and Terrorism. “The Saudi textbooks promoted a view of the world that was virtually indistinguishable from ISIS ideology: hatred of the west; hatred of other Muslims, that are not Sunni; hatred of Jews and antagonism towards women.” Al-Ahmed says the Saudi officer would have had to prove mastery of such malevolent material to rise in the military ranks.

None of the Trump Administration officials would go so far as to blame such lessons for the Saudi officer’s alleged actions, but they concede if the education had been reformed shortly after 9/11 in 2001, when Alshamrani would have been around two years old, it may have helped. “Unfortunately, Pensacola is a reminder — a harsh one — of work left undone,” an administration official said.

“You could go back to 2001,” a second senior official added, referring to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. “If they had changed their textbooks in 1975, we’d be in a better spot.” The administration officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to brief TIME on their sensitive discussions with the Saudi Kingdom over the issue.

Among the gradual changes IMPACT SE notes in the 2019 Saudi textbooks include striking several references of Christians as “pure infidels” or unbelievers, and removing the statement that “Christianity in its current state is an invalid and perverted religion.” The Christian faith is no longer defined as a “colonial religious movement that subjected Muslims to Western ideas and stopped the spread of Islam,” the report said, all of which are positive changes if your number one supporter is President Trump, whose base is largely made up of evangelical Christians.

Also deleted is the claim that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are “a secret Jewish plan to take over the world,” and that Jews believe the world was promised to them and that it’s their right to control it. But Zionism is still described as a racist movement that uses money, the media, drugs, and women to achieve its goals, according to IMPACT SE’s review.

A Saudi official told TIME that the Kingdom “is implementing a comprehensive program to reform and improve all its educational institutions,” which include “ongoing” reforms to the textbooks. The official declined to comment on an advance copy of IMPACT-SE’s report made available to him by TIME.

Amb. Nathan Sales, the State Department’s Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, asked the Saudi government to make further changes to the textbooks, but was rebuffed, a senior administration official told TIME. The State Department declined to comment on Sales’ interaction, but a senior State Department official said that “the Saudi government has worked to modernize the educational curriculum in public schools” but that “some textbooks containing derogatory and intolerant references to Shia and non-Muslims remained in use.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the friction with the Kingdom.

Administration officials are still hoping for bigger reforms this summer, when the government publishes the 2020 edition of the K through 12 textbooks.

Pandith says the textbooks aren’t the only thing that needs changing, as the hundreds of thousands of Saudi Korans distributed around the world also portray Wahhabism as the only true version of Islam. “If you want to demonstrate that you see the folly of what you did before…let’s do a buyback program,” she says, an idea she outlines in her 2019 book, How We Win.

“If MBS (the Crown Prince) wanted to overhaul the viewpoint that they are the only Muslims that matter, he could do it in a minute with the kind of government they have,” she says. “The choice to do it piecemeal means their heart isn’t in this endeavor.”

Source: Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.

Would be interesting to see a Quebec and Ontario comparison, and an Alberta and Ontario one, although the small size of the Canadian market likely means less variation in texts for English Canada:

The textbooks cover the same sweeping story, from the brutality of slavery to the struggle for civil rights. The self-evident truths of the founding documents to the waves of immigration that reshaped the nation.

The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

All the members of the California panel were educators selected by the State Board of Education, whose members were appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. The Texas panel, appointed by the Republican-dominated State Board of Education, was made up of educators, parents, business representatives and a Christian pastor and politician.

McGraw-Hill, the publisher whose annotated Bill of Rights appears differently in the two states, said it had created the additional wording on the Second Amendment and gun control for the California textbook. A national version of the pages is similar to the Texas edition, which does not call attention to gun rights, the company said in a written statement.

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

How Textbooks are Produced
1Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
2Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
3State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
4Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

Still, recent textbooks have come a long way from what was published in past decades. Both Texas and California volumes deal more bluntly with the cruelty of the slave trade, eschewing several myths that were common in textbooks for generations: that some slave owners treated enslaved people kindly and that African-Americans were better off enslaved than free. The books also devote more space to the women’s movement and balance the narrative of European immigration with stories of Latino and Asian immigrants.

“American history is not anymore the story of great white men,” said Albert S. Broussard, a history professor at Texas A&M University and an author of both the Texas and California editions of McGraw-Hill’s textbooks.

Here is how the politics of American history play out in California and Texas textbooks, on subjects like race, immigration, gender, sexuality and the economy.

White resistance to black progress is covered differently in the two states.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 505

California notes the suburban dream of the 1950s was inaccessible to many African-Americans.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 436

Texas does not.

California and Texas textbooks sometimes offer different explanations for white backlash to black advancement after the Civil War, from Reconstruction to housing discrimination in the 20th century.

Southern whites resisted Reconstruction, according to a McGraw-Hill textbook, because they “did not want African-Americans to have more rights.” But the Texas edition offers an additional reason: Reforms cost money, and that meant higher taxes.

Whole paragraphs on redlining and restrictive deeds appear only in the California editions of textbooks, partly as a result of different state standards. Texas’ social studies guidelines do not mention housing discrimination at all.

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Texas says that white Southerners opposed Reconstruction because of tax increases as well as racial resentment. California instead includes primary-source quotations from black historical figures about white resistance to civil rights.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 586; McGraw-Hill, “United States History to 1877,” Texas, P. 555

Both states say that breaches of “racial etiquette” led to lynchings after Reconstruction. But only California, whose edition was written more recently, makes clear that the perpetrators of lynchings also hoped to discourage black political and economic power.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 245; HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 288

Nevertheless, Kerry Green, a high school social studies teacher in Sunnyvale, Tex., a small town east of Dallas, said she discussed redlining with her 11th graders, adding it as a counterpoint to lessons about postwar prosperity — the optimistic story of consumerism, television and the Baby Boom that is emphasized by her state’s standards.

Ms. Green said she preferred to assign primary sources that “encourage students to explore history on their own.” But she said she would welcome textbooks that contain more historical documents and a greater diversity of voices and themes from the past.

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

On gender and sexuality, California textbooks include history that is not in Texas editions.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 624

California states that the federal government failed to recognize nonbinary gender identities and female leaders in its early relations with Native Americans.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 111

Texas does not mention gender roles or gender identity in its discussion of efforts to “Americanize” Native Americans.

In Texas textbooks, mentions of L.G.B.T.Q. issues tend to be restricted to coverage of events in recent decades, such as the Stonewall uprising, the AIDS crisis and debates over marriage rights.

But for recent California editions, publishers wrote thousands of words of new text in response to the FAIR Education Act, a law signed by Governor Brown in 2011. It requires schools to teach the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and disabled Americans.

Peppered throughout California books are passages on topics like same-sex families under slavery and early sex reassignment surgery in the 1950s — text that does not appear in Texas versions.

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California states that enslaved women faced sexual violence from owners and overseers.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 449; McGraw-Hill, “United States History to 1877,” Texas, P. 443

California mentions the “lavender scare” that targeted thousands of gay men and lesbians.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 486; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 456.

California states that Alfred Kinsey’s research and early sex reassignment surgeries challenged “the postwar ideal” on gender.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 498; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 470.

Both states focus on women’s fight against discrimination in the workplace. Only California says birth control played a role, by “allowing women to exert greater control over their sexuality and family planning.”

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 627; McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 525.

Stephanie Kugler, an eighth-grade history teacher in West Sacramento, Calif., said she had expanded an idea mentioned briefly in her classroom’s textbook, about women who dressed as men to fight in the Civil War and continued to live as men, into an entire lesson on troops who today would be considered transgender. The students read accounts of those soldiers’ lives alongside more traditional sources, such as letters written by a black Union soldier and a Confederate soldier.

Her goal, Ms. Kugler said, was to “make it really authentic” to talk about diversity in the context of each historical period.

While both states devote many pages to the women’s movement, Texas books, in general, avoid discussions of sex or sexuality.

Immigration and nativism are major themes in American history textbooks.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 736

California includes an excerpt from a novel about a Dominican-American family.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 609

In the same place, Texas highlights the voice of a Border Patrol agent.

Michael Teague, a Border Patrol agent, is featured in the Texas edition of McGraw-Hill’s 11th grade textbook. He discusses his concerns about drug trafficking and says, “if you open the border wide up, you’re going to invite political and social upheaval.”

Mr. Teague’s story is featured at the end of a chapter on recent immigration, alongside accounts from a Vietnamese immigrant and a second-generation Mexican-American.

That section in the California edition of the same book is devoted to a long excerpt from the novel “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” by Julia Alvarez. It deals with intergenerational tensions in a Dominican-American family.

In a written statement, McGraw-Hill said the full-page Border Patrol narrative was not included in the California edition because it would not fit beside the literary excerpt. And at the time the Texas edition was produced, six years ago, state standards called for students to analyze both “legal and illegal immigration to the United States.”

In contrast, California textbooks are more likely to note when a historical figure was an immigrant. And they include more detail on the role immigrants such as Japanese and Filipino farmworkers played in labor movements.

California is one of many states to ask teachers and textbooks in recent years to cover the contributions of specific immigrant groups, including Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, European-Americans and Mexican-Americans.

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Only California states that Levi Strauss was a German Jewish immigrant.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 416; McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 417

California tells the story of Wong Kim Ark, whose 1898 Supreme Court case established birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants; Texas’s edition, which is older, does not mention this case, but does cover the Chinese Exclusion Act.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 247; HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 289

These additions are part of the reason California books are almost always longer than their Texas counterparts.

California’s Board of Education adopted an expansive 842-page social studies framework in 2016. Two years later, Texas’ school board streamlined its social studies standards, which are now laid out in 78 tightly compressed pages.

Critics of California’s approach say that making state standards and textbooks longer and more inclusive can be overwhelming to teachers trying to move quickly through hundreds of years of material.

Both states emphasize the role of big businessfrom the Gilded Age to the present.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 160

California is critical of wealth inequality and the impact of companies like Standard Oil on the environment.

HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 235

Texas is more likely to celebrate free enterprise and entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie.

Texas policymakers feel strongly about giving students a positive view of the American economy; since 1995, state law has required that high school economics courses offer an “emphasis on the free enterprise system and its benefits.” That emphasis seems to have made its way into the history curriculum as well.

California’s curriculum materials, by contrast, sometimes read like a brief from a Bernie Sanders rally. “The yawning gap between the haves and have-nots and what is to be done about it is one of the great questions of this time,” says the state’s 2016 social studies framework.

As a result, California textbooks are more likely to celebrate unionism, critique the concentration of wealth and focus on how industry pollutes the environment.

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California refers to “the income gap” and explains that “changes in tax structures and safety-net programs” and “higher costs for education, child care, and housing” played a role. Both state editions discuss economic inequality in reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the decline of labor unions.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 728; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 687.

The older Texas edition highlights additional Republican critiques of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies, while the California book discusses the threat of rising sea levels.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 749; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 709.

Both the California and Texas 11th-grade textbooks from Pearson state, “The main argument against environmental legislation is that it hurts the economy and the nation’s industries.”

The Texas edition goes further to highlight criticism of federal efforts to subsidize the green energy industry: “Republicans accuse the government of wasting taxpayers’ money, for example by supporting the failed solar manufacturer Solyndra.” The Solyndra controversy was a fixation for conservatives in 2011, when the company went bankrupt after accepting half a billion dollars in federally guaranteed loans.

The Texas book also states that American action on global warming may not make a difference if China, India, Russia and Brazil do not also act.

The California edition does not mention Solyndra or the other nations. However, it does include a section on the threat to American states and cities from rising sea levels, noting that the impact on tourism in Florida could hurt that state’s economy, and that transportation networks and buildings could be threatened.

Pearson said in a written statement that the differences between the books could be attributed mostly to the fact that the California book was published several years later, and that concerns over coastal flooding have become “more heightened in recent years.”