Friday, May 26, 2006
If her allegations are true, I applaud Nina Shea and Freedom House for exposing the intolerance found in Saudi school textbooks ["This is a Saudi textbook. (After the intolerance was removed.)" Outlook, May 21]. The bigotry directed at Jews and Christians, driven by the puritanical Wahhabi movement and financed by petrodollars, has no place in an enlightened society and is antithetical to the classical Islamic tradition, which has embraced diversity for centuries.
Perhaps it would be too naive to hope that Ms. Shea and Freedom House also will tackle the hateful rhetoric spewed on our own shores. I am referring to the vitriolic Islamophobic remarks launched daily by influential right-wing evangelical ministers.
If Freedom House abhors the stereotyping and demonization found in Saudi Arabia, then it similarly should condemn the Rev. Franklin Graham for his statement that Islam is "a very evil and wicked religion." Will Freedom House turn a blind eye when the Jerry Falwells of the world announce that Muhammad "was a terrorist" or when the Rev. Jerry Vines characterizes the prophet as a "demon-possessed pedophile"?
When one considers the sway these charismatic hatemongers hold at home and the inflammatory impact they register abroad, it behooves Freedom House to shame them for their prejudice and respond with calls for understanding.
"Promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" is a founding tenet of the United Nations. Nina Shea's Outlook article highlighted a depressing example of the world body's abdication of its intended role.
In January 2005, U.N. Watch, a nongovernmental organization that monitors U.N. compliance with the principles of its charter, submitted detailed letters complaining about state-sponsored, hate-filled Saudi schoolbooks (and similar Egyptian ones) to the General Assembly's expert on racism, Doudou Diene, and to its expert on religious freedom, Asma Jahangir, urging them to take action.
Despite writing again last May and raising the matter with a senior U.N. human rights official in March, we have yet to receive any reply. The matter is not mentioned in any of the experts' official reports or statements.
By contrast, numerous U.N. officials, including Mr. Diene, Ms. Jahangir and Secretary General Kofi Annan, criticized the Danish government for being insufficiently quick to condemn a newspaper's one-time publication of the Muhammad cartoons.
Governments that have official schoolbooks promoting religious hatred also should merit a strong rebuke from the United Nations. The U.N. charter ideals of tolerance mandate evenhanded promotion of respect for religions, not appeasement of one religion's violent extremists.
HILLEL C. NEUER