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Qatar is cleaning up its school textbooks. Less anti-Semitic, jihad no longer ‘peak’ of Islam

Israeli institute IMPACT-se report shows a positive trend as Qatar’s govt-published textbooks drop passages blaming Jews for murdering prophets but praise for jihad remain.

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Researching antisemitic incitement in the Middle East can get rather gloomy, given how prevalent it is in that part of the world. As such, it can be a real delight to welcome positive developments to report when they do occur, especially in places where one might not necessarily have expected them. To some degree, that appears to be what is going on with Qatar’s latest government-published textbooks for school children.

Looking back, it was not too long ago when IMPACT-se’s CEO Marcus Sheff and I wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek that “Qatar’s textbooks are on par with those issued by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority as the worst in the region, and perhaps the world, with regard to government-published anti-Semitism and other forms of hate.” But since then, Qatar’s books have somewhat improved. They still have a long way to go when it comes to removing hateful content and consistently teaching tolerance, and yet the improvements that have occurred over the last two academic years in Qatar are still a pleasant surprise. For example, while Egypt and Kuwait are still using textbooks this fall semester which explicitly claim that Jews are inherently treacherous, in the last few months Qatar and Jordan each have excised similar passages from their government-published textbooks for the fall of 2021.

Geostrategically, Qatar is the Arab State that is most supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, and as such it seems a rather unlikely place for government-published textbooks to be moving in a relatively more tolerant direction. Indeed, Qatar’s state-owned television network Al Jazeera remains a routine source of anti-American and antisemitic vitriol across the region. Senior preachers at Qatar’s state-run grand mosque have a long record of antisemitic bigotry, and the Middle East’s most antisemitic major union of imams is headquartered in Doha and reportedly funded by the State. The terribly antisemitic terrorist organisation Hamas routinely looks to Doha as its strongest backer in the Arab world.

So it’s remarkable and somewhat encouraging that Qatar has started to excise some of the antisemitic passages in its textbooks. For example, it has removed a passage which taught that Zionism “strives to rule the world and control it.” And it has reduced problematic passages with regard to martyrdom and violent jihad — such as removing a passage that referred to jihad as “the peak” of Islam.

However, such progress remains incomplete at best. For example, an eighth-grade Islamic Education textbook still teaches that the people of Moses “preferred falseness over truth and deviated from their righteous path.” An eleventh-grade textbook from the same subject defines Palestine as the entire territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, forbids Muslims from conceding any inch of that land, and calls for its forcible “liberation.” Another suggests that the “sublime purpose of jihad” is to convert non-Muslims or to conquer them. And another current textbook alludes to Judaism and Christianity as “divine religions [which] became corrupted” and purportedly allow the worshipping of idols.

Also read: India’s anti-Muslim fake news factories are following the anti-Semitic playbook

Furthermore, it is currently impossible to determine the status of many of the antisemitic passages that Sheff and I previously highlighted because those were from spring semester textbooks that have yet to be published for the present academic year. That is why it is so important that this IMPACT-se report also includes an appendix identifying the problematic passages from Qatar’s spring 2020-21 textbooks that should ideally be eliminated from the upcoming term’s textbooks. By doing so, this report provides the most comprehensive picture so far of Qatar’s textbooks this school year, including what has changed, what has not, and what remains to be determined.

As such, this report is an outstanding representation of IMPACT-se’s distinctive methodology. Despite the enormous logistical burden of doing so, they always strive to show the most comprehensive picture of peace and tolerance issues in a given country’s curriculum, even if it means studying dozens — and in some cases hundreds — of textbooks in order to do so. Journalists, scholars, and policymakers interested in understanding the incomplete positive change in Qatar’s textbooks today have no more thorough resource in English or in Arabic than this very IMPACT-se report. They would do well to read it closely — as would officials in Doha.

This review details many changes in Qatar’s first semester’s curriculum (examples that were removed, altered, or remained). We are left with the impression that the trend is mostly positive. There are, however, some qualifications. In comparison to last year’s fall semester textbooks for 2020-21, three of the problematic examples presented in this review in relation to Jews and antisemitism were removed, while six remained. In relation to the presentation of jihad, two problematic examples were removed while six remained. In the case of discussion about infidels and polytheists, two examples were removed, and eleven remain. In problematic descriptions of Israel and Zionism, two examples were removed while the other seven remain.

Troubling examples such as blaming the Jews for lying and murdering prophets were removed, as were antisemitic tropes, such as Jewish global domination and Jews bearing responsibility for the rise of the Nazi party. Particularly problematic examples regarding Israel were also removed. Furthermore, some examples attacking Christians, infidels and polytheists were removed.

Teachings about jihad and martyrdom are somewhat toned down, but they are still encouraged in some cases. One particular case, an example that described jihad as the “peak” of Islam, was removed altogether. Cases of praising modern-day jihadists around the world were also removed.

While all the removed examples cited in this review are indeed no longer taught, that does not mean that the problematic content represented by these examples has been altogether removed.

A call not to resemble the Jews and other theological attacks remain. Religious studies continue to spread false information and criticise Jews against the backdrop of early Islamic history. Jews are still blamed for preferring life over death. Direct praise for jihad and martyrdom remains as well. Many examples criticising infidels and polytheists remain. Specific mention of Heavenly Faiths (Judaism and Christianity) corrupting holy texts remain. Other textbooks continue to foment hatred toward Israel or deny its existence on maps. To effectively meet the standards of cultural tolerance, all problematic content needs to be removed.

In addition, some of the removed content is survived by identical or similar content, which is taught in second semester textbooks that have not yet been revised for the 2021-22 school year, which carry the same messages, themes, or rhetoric. We provide an appendix of the selected problematic examples from the second semester (not covered by this review), with the clear caveat that new upcoming-semester textbooks have not yet been published. We hope the new books will be improved. If indeed, textbooks for the second semester will show similar improvement and the remaining troubling material in the first semester is also removed, the overall picture may indicate significant change, but this is too early to determine.

David Andrew Weinberg is Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s Washington Director for International Affairs. He has contributed in the foreword to the report compiled by members at IMPACT-se (Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education), an Israeli non-profit organisation.

This edited excerpt from the Foreword to the IMPACT-se report has been republished with permission from the IMPACT-se team. The original report can be accessed here.

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