Here, for example, is a multiple-choice question from a recent edition of a Saudi fourth-grade textbook, “Monotheism and Jurisprudence,” in a section that attempts to teach children to distinguish between “true” and “false” belief in God:
Q. “Is belief true in the following instances:
(a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
(b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
(c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers.”
The correct answer, of course, is (c): According to the Wahhabi imams who wrote this textbook, it isn’t enough to simply worship God or just to love other believers; it is important to hate unbelievers, too. By the same token, (b) is wrong as well: Even a man who worships God cannot be said to have “true belief” if he also loves unbelievers.
“Unbelievers,” in this context, are Christians and Jews. In fact, any child who attends Saudi schools until ninth grade will eventually be taught outright that “Jews and Christians are enemies of believers.”
These passages, it should be noted, are from new, “revised” Saudi textbooks, designed to be less harsh on the infidels. The promised revision — hailed at the time as a great diplomatic success — was supposed to be finished by the beginning of the 2008-09 school year and was accompanied by a Saudi public relations campaign.
Among other things, the Saudis sponsored an interfaith dialogue this week, one that all participants hailed as a great breakthrough, despite the fact that the meetings took place apparently because it would be too embarrassing for Saudi Arabia to host Christian and Jewish religious leaders on its own soil.
But now the beginning of the 2008-09 school year is nearly upon us, the only textbook revisions have been superficial and the most disturbing part of the books’ message — that faithful Muslims should hate Jews and Christians — remains.
Saudi schoolbooks are a special case. They are written and produced by the Saudi government and are distributed, free, to Saudi-sponsored Muslim schools as far afield as Lagos and Buenos Aires.
We also have two presidential candidates who are arguing hard about the best way to combat terrorism, the best way to deploy guns and aid, the best uses of power.
Here is a novel idea for both of them: Make sure that children in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and in Islamic schools all around the world have decent fourth-grade textbooks. Help persuade the Muslim world to write and distribute them. It might save a lot of trouble a few years later on.
A novel idea indeed.