Saudi Arabia has made progress in ridding its school textbooks teachings hostile toward other faiths, former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said last week in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. But, more needs to be done, including more steps to ensure teachers aren't promoting “a more radicalized version of Islam.”
Wolf expressed concern that educational material used by the Saudi government-funded Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia may have potentially been responsible for inspiring terrorism. He cited the example of Ahmed Abu Ali, a former valedictorian from the school, who is currently serving out his sentence in the supermax in Colorado for plotting to assassinate a former U.S. president.
“While it is impossible to say whether Mr. Abu Ali was directly radicalized by the textbooks used at the Islamic Saudi Academy, the use of books that promote religious discrimination and the justification of violence toward non-believers cannot be tolerated,” Wolf said.
He expressed frustration that the State Department never met with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to translate textbooks used at the school. It since has closed, replaced by the King Abdullah Academy, also funded by Saudi Arabia's government. No publicly available information is however available on textbooks taught at the new school.
During his House tenure, and since joining the Wilberforce Initiative in 2015, Wolf has been a leading voice against intolerance and incitement to violence promoted by Saudi Arabia's government-published textbooks.
Saudi Arabia's promotion and export of radical Wahhabism, including through its school textbooks, remains a concern. There's a reason more researchers aren't focused on the problem, Wolf said: “By funding top American university research centers, the Saudi government has been able to minimize the voices of those in academia who would otherwise have the best means of researching the effects of radical Wahhabism. In other countries such as Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Indonesia they have continued to promote radicalism.”
He urged the government to follow USCIRF recommendations to annually review Saudi education textbooks to see if passages that teach religious intolerance have been removed, and press the Saudi government to try to eliminate older versions of Saudi textbooks containing material that teaches hatred and intolerance of others.