June 8, 2006

Saudi royal defends textbooks over militant charge

RIYADH (Reuters) - A leading Saudi royal on Thursday
defended the ultraconservative Islamic state's education
system, saying that Muslim militancy blamed on Saudi school
textbooks had its roots elsewhere.

The Saudi curriculum came under intense scrutiny after the
September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001 since 15 of the 19
attackers were Saudis acting in the name of al Qaeda, which is
led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

But a report issued last month by U.S. think-tank Freedom
House and U.S.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs said material
currently taught at primary and secondary school level shows
that reforms to root out fundamentalism are far from complete.

"All they are is educational syllabuses, Islamic education
syllabuses. As for deviancy, anyone can have that in him. But
it doesn't come from their education, it comes from outside --
from bad people who spread their sick ideas," Interior Minister
Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz told reporters.

In the remarks carried by the state news agency SPA, the
minister also defended the strong Islamic element in Saudi

"We are a Muslim people, our faith is Islam and our values
are those of Muslims, and that's something we will always stick
to. We reject the idea that progress is contrary to Islam," he
said at a graduation ceremony for police recruits.

Authorities in the absolute monarchy say the results of the
reforms to tone down the kingdom's puritanical Wahhabi form of
Islam in school textbooks and mosques will take time to appear.

The report said school books describe Christians and Jews
as the "enemies" of Muslims, who are depicted as true
believers, and condemns most mainstream Sunni Muslims as lax in
practicing their faith and says minority Shi'ite Muslims are

Some Arab commentators have said the report exaggerates and
that Christians and Jews are often not referred to directly,
with words like "unbelievers" and "polytheists" used instead.

Among key royals, Prince Nayef is one of the strongest
backers of the Wahhabi religious establishment, which has been
the backbone of the Saudi state since its inception in 1932.