Until the 2008-09 academic year, ISA’s religious textbooks used Saudi government textbooks that teach that it is permissible, or even required, to kill those who leave Islam (which includes the majority of Muslims who reject Saudi Wahhabi doctrine), polytheists (which includes Shiite Muslims), Jews, homosexuals and others, and that militant jihad to spread the faith is a sacred duty. The State Department, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a top counter-terrorism official at the Treasury Department, Undersecretary Stuart Levey, and Congressman Frank Wolf have all recognized the link between such extremist education and violence and terror. Even a Saudi government panel concluded that the Saudi Ministry of Education’s Islamic curriculum promotes violence. In fact, one of the academy’s valedictorians, American born Ahmed Abu Ali, was convicted of giving material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to assassinate Pres. George W. Bush and in 2009 was sentenced to life imprisonment.
For the school year beginning in fall 2008, after my reports and those of the Gulf Institute, USCIRF, the Washington Post, Slate magazine and others demonstrated the extremist content of its Islamic Studies textbooks, ISA began using Saudi textbooks in its Islamic studies curriculum that were heavily redacted, as well as other material that is not publicly known. (Regarding the textbooks used within Saudi Arabia itself, the State Department itself, in its 2010 annual report on human rights, concluded, with diplomatic understatement, that Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks continued to contain “some overtly intolerant statements” against various religious groups, that they “provided justification for violence against non-Muslims,” and that reforms remained “incomplete.”)
We wish we could celebrate the deletions in the texts at ISA that we helped catalyze, but we are not persuaded that the problem is solved. The books have simply removed the previous lessons, but they have put no other written content in their place. The texts do not offer an alternative, they are simply silent, they contain no significant discussion of jihad and make few references to the religious “other.” The silence is deafening. It raises the question – a question ISA has yet to satisfactorily answer – of what supplemental material the academy is using.