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US Lawmakers Urge Obama to Press Saudis on School Book Hate Content

Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress say Saudi Arabia has failed to remove offensive material from textbooks used in the kingdom's schools, including language promoting hatred of and violence against Jews. Three House Democrats used a news conference coinciding with U.S. President Barack Obama's stop in Saudi Arabia to draw attention to the problem and urge the president to press Saudi leaders on the issue.

Congress has complained for years about hate-promoting language in textbooks used in Saudi Arabia's schools, and about books used in other countries in the Arab world, notably Egypt, as well as in schools in the Palestinian territories.

Where Saudi Arabia is concerned, the issue has been raised repeatedly by the U.S State Department in its annual religious freedom report, and by the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In a news conference, lawmakers said that despite assurances from various Saudi officials over the years that offensive and inaccurate material would be removed from textbooks, it appears little has been done.

Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, displayed a 10th grade textbook, smuggled out of Saudi Arabia and translated by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, and he read one extract. "This is to be taught to children age 15: "The Prophet said, "the hour [of judgment] will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. . . "O Muslim! O Servant of God! There is a Jew Behind Me. Come and kill him." This is the language that is being taught to students as young as age 15," he said.

A report prepared by Congressman Weiner's office, with assistance from the Institute for Gulf Affairs, examined seven textbooks in circulation in Saudi Arabian public schools and used in the 6th through 12th grades in 2008 and 2009.

Among portions translated for the report are those inciting hatred of Jews and Zionism, encouraging jihad against Jews and Christians, endorsing punishment for homosexuality, demeaning women, and affirming the right of parents to force children into marriages against their will.

Representative Shelley Berkeley, a Democrat from Nevada, says Saudi Arabia, which wants to be seen as a leader in the Arab world, must take the lead in eliminating intolerant, hateful material from its textbooks.

"Until they change their textbooks and help educate the younger generation of Saudis that are in their elementary schools and in their secondary schools, and take these hateful teachings out of the textbooks and substitute what we would consider appropriate, tolerant language in teaching for these kids, I am afraid we are just going to see a perpetuation of what we see now, cycle after cycle of hatred and intolerance," she said.

Congressman Weiner says the Saudi government must decide which side of the debate over tolerance it wants to be on. "Do they want to be on the side where President Obama and the American people are, where we want to reduce the tensions and stop passing hate from generation to generation, or do they want to continue their age-old ways of exporting the worst type of hate, which unfortunately leads to terrorism, misunderstanding and distrust all over the world," he said.

In its report this past April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom named Saudi Arabia a Country of Particular Concern, saying promises and Saudi commitments to the U.S., including pledges to reform textbooks, remain unfulfilled.

The report issued by Congressman Weiner's office quoted a pledge in 2006 by Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki Al-Faisal, that the government had removed intolerance from old textbooks, and implemented a comprehensive internal revision and modernization plan.

Saying patience in Congress with Saudi Arabia has worn out, Weiner said President Obama has an opportunity to prod Saudi Arabia to take action once and for all on the issue.