Qatar has started cleaning up its textbooks of supremacist, racist or derogatory references as well as celebrations of violent jihad and martyrdom, according to a recently published study.
The revision of textbooks in the last year before Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup is designed to keep the Gulf state in the lighthouse beauty pageant of moderate Islam. Qatar’s main competitors are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, unlike other contenders for religious soft power and leadership in the Muslim world, such as Turkey and Iran, have already significantly revised their textbooks, although analysts suggest that problems remain.
Recognition of Qatari efforts to clean textbooks takes on increased importance, with the World Cup shining a light on the problematic human rights record and the country’s migrant labor system.
Critics admit that Qatar has made significant progress in improving the legal environment for workers, but lag behind in implementation.
The Institute for the Monitoring of Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (Impact-se) concluded in an 85-page report that “substantial improvements were recorded in the new textbooks prepared for the first semester of the current school year.
Impact-se is an Israeli NGO that focuses on analyzing textbooks to prevent radicalization of schoolchildren.
Writing in the introduction, David A. Weinberg, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League, warned that Qatar still has “a long way to go in removing hateful content and systematically teaching tolerance, and yet improvements. which have occurred over the past two academic years in Qatar remain a pleasant surprise.
Mr Weinberg, whose writings focus on state-sponsored incitement to anti-Semitism in the Middle East, noted that the latest Qatari textbooks, unlike Kuwaiti and Egyptian documents which are still in use, no longer describe the Jews as “traitors”.
Despite an established experience in identifying trends and problematic content, Impact-slips into delicate political territory by essentially assimilating in its report to Qatar all the anti-American and anti-Israel texts with the supremacism and racism of the Middle East.
Likewise, the report follows the policy of the Israeli government in blurring the lines between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli policies.
Nonetheless, Qatar’s report is important for reasons that go beyond the rivalry for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world.
The long-awaited overhaul of school books in Qatar, as elsewhere, is raising awareness among the populations of the concepts of tolerance and equality. It also helps to eliminate stifling and repressive ultra-conservative social mores that complicate economic diversification and job creation and frustrate young people’s aspirations for greater control over their lives and more individual, less ritualistic religious experiences.
Textbooks are a measure of a country’s degree of religious tolerance. Lobbying for regional organizations to set standards is another. It is in the latter case that the rivals of the religious soft power of the Middle East falter.
With textbooks in countries like Turkey and Kuwait now or even developing supremacist, racist and intolerant content, none of the contenders for religious soft power have sought to persuade regional organizations like the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which brings together the six Gulf monarchies or the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 57 countries will adopt resolutions calling for the revision of textbooks.
These groups have also failed to establish as a standard the elimination of discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-pluralist language and content in educational texts.
To be fair, the Marrakech Declaration of 2016, which affirmed the rights of minorities in Muslim-majority countries, urged “educational institutions and Muslim authorities to undertake a courageous review of educational programs that address honestly and effectively any material that incites aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies.
Co-hosted by the King of Morocco Mohammed VI and Abdallah bin Bayyah, a Moroccan Islamic scholar supported by the United Arab Emirates, the conference brought together hundreds of government officials, religious figures and academics whose names do not have been made public.
Human rights scholars Marie Juul Petersen and Osama Arhb Moftah noted that the declaration lacked mechanisms for implementation and follow-up. They also suggested that the statement did not embrace freedom of religion.
“Religious freedom is not only about the collective rights of religious minorities, important as they are, but also the right of the individual to criticize religion, to change religion or even to quit religion and these rights do not part of the Marrakesh Declaration, ”said Ms. Petersen and Mr. Moftah.
As a result, whatever pressure is exerted on Muslim-majority states to revise textbooks, it emanates from Western pressures as well as demands related to geopolitical goals, competition for religious soft power, and efforts at reform and reform. diversification of economies. This is what led to changes in Qatari, Saudi and Emirati textbooks.
Moreover, the absence of an enforcement mechanism and the failure of regional organizations like the GCC and the OIC to set standards has enabled countries like Kuwait not to be held responsible for racist and sectarian content. in textbooks.
A Kuwaiti eighth grade textbook on Islamic education explains that one of its purposes is to teach that “the enmity of the Jews towards Islam and Muslims is old and deeply rooted” and that “to stir up conflict, breaking covenants and wickedness are among the characteristics inherent in the Jews.
The book advocates the boycott of Jewish products. He warns that the afterlife will only come with “the victory of Muslims over Jews” when “Muslims fight Jews and kill them,” including those “who hide behind rocks and trees.”
Jews are not the only target of venom in Kuwaiti textbooks. The same goes for Christians and Baha’is. Echoing the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan, “Islamic Issues”, a grade 12 textbook, alleges that “the English government embraces this faith… taking officers away from them for its secret intelligence service”. The book features an image of an Ahmadi hugging a Jew. The international headquarters of the Ahmadis, a messianic movement founded in the 19th century, is in London.
To be fair, the same book published a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. It also refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, honors religious freedom and recognizes that “people are equal in dignity and enjoy equal rights to protection under the law without discrimination”.
The failure to set standards that would test Kuwaiti, Turkish and other textbooks is a missed opportunity for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to strengthen their demands for leadership and lead reform of the world. religious education and jurisprudence.
Even if they set standards adopted by regional groupings, countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar’s notion of moderation would remain problematic. They interpret Islamic law as stipulating the duty to obey absolutely the sovereign, which contrasts sharply with the concepts of religious tolerance that they put forward.
When Ryan Bohl taught at an Emirati state school ten years ago, religion played a minor role in relation to the notion of national identity and authority.
One of many Westerners hired by the UAE to replace Arab teachers suspected of being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr Bohl described Emirati classrooms as “following the autocratic method, very similar to the ruler and the ruler. “.
It is in the classrooms, said Mr Bohl, “that these political attitudes are formed, reinforced, in some cases prevailing if children, like them, decide to stray from the line.” They understand the consequences long before they become a political threat or a militant threat to the regime. It’s about creating a chill effect.
Religion may play a larger role in Qatari and Saudi schools, but imbibing young people with the notion of obedience is similarly woven into the UAE fabric of public education.
Comparing his experience of teaching in an Emirati public school to that of teaching young people in a Qatari private school, Mr Bohl noted that “Qataris cannot criticize their own, but they are more willing to criticize their neighbors. “.