Learning to H8: BBC Finds Anti-Semetic, Homophobic Material in Textbooks

Over 5,000 children in part-time Islamic schools and clubs across Britain have been learning anti-Semitic and homophobic views from textbooks in a Saudi Arabian government curriculum.

According to researchers for BBC’s Panorama, a weekly current affairs documentary show, a textbook recovered from a west London building owned by the Saudi Arabian government says that Jewish people “looked like monkeys and pigs” and Zionists want “world domination.” A separate text states that the penalty for gay sex is execution but that there is debate between whether it should be carried out through stoning, burning, or throwing the accused over a cliff. Another discussed Sharia law and punishments for theft, including diagrams for amputating hands and feet. Part of the curriculum meant for six-year-olds says that someone who dies and is not a believer in Islam is condemned to “hellfire.”

Panorama sent a young student undercover into a school, and then into a center in London, on the pretext of collecting textbooks for his younger sister. An official in London told him his sister would have to study the entire book.

The episode, which was called “British Schools, Muslim Rules,” said that the Saudi Arabian embassy described the content of the program as taken out of context and referred to historical descriptions. The embassy has also formally denied a connection to the schools or the curriculum, however, the Saudi Cultural Bureau, which is part of the embassy, has authority over both.

Neal Robinson, a Leeds University theology professor with extensive knowledge of the Koran and Islamic teachings, said the context the material is presented in is important, and could be risky: “To present it cold, as it is here, as part of the teaching of Islam, is not wise. In the wrong hands, yes, I think it is ammunition for anti-Semitism.”

Michael Gove, the education secretary, responded to the findings with concern. “It doesn’t seem to me that this is the sort of material that should be used in English schools,” he said in an interview aired on the program. He also said that the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) was considering the logistics of regulating the part-time schools and clubs, which currently don’t fall within its jurisdiction, and would be reporting back “shortly.”

In a statement issued when the program aired, Gove also said that confrontation with Saudi Arabia was not the goal: “Saudi Arabia is a sovereign country. We have no desire or wish to intervene in the decisions that the Saudi government makes in its own education system. But we are clear that we cannot have any anti-Semitic material of any kind being used in English schools.”

Three years ago, a BBC investigation discovered a Saudi-funded school in London, King Fahad Academy, was using materials that were anti-Semitic and referred to Christians derogatorily. The director of the school, Dr. Sumaya Aluyusuf, said that the controversial passages were not actually taught in the academy, but agreed to remove those chapters. The content in question, similarly to the current textbooks, referred to Jewish and Christian people as “monkeys” and “pigs” and discussed non-believers and “hellfire.”

In an interview in the documentary, Barry Sheerman, the former chairman of Ofsted, said that while politicians have avoided discussing controversial teachings in some Muslim schools, the issue may need to be addressed: “There are some very good Muslim schools, but there are some Muslim schools that give me great cause for concern that is often around the ethos of the schools, the focus of the schools, and a kind of ideology that is concerning.”

According to the New York Times, the embassy has not responded to requests for comment.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

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  1. “Saudi Arabia is a sovereign country. We have no desire or wish to intervene in the decisions that the Saudi government makes in its own education system. But we are clear that we cannot have any anti-Semitic material of any kind being used in English schools.”

    I would hope there is follow through with an investigation and real action done to correct this in the UK.
    After all, Saudi Arabia itself doesn’t give a good goddamn about allowing other countries’ citizens to do, speak, and teach as they wish on its fucking soil.

    You can’t go there and say, “Well, I’m a woman from Western Nation X, therefore I am allowed to drive.”

    Likewise, those Saudis in the United Kingdom who would want to impose their doctrines on their children (who will then no doubt feel entitled to impose the same on others around them as they get older) should not be able to use even partially publicly funded schools to do so.

  2. Kudos for writing about this Carolyn.

    Unfortunately in Britain, anyone who complains about extremist Muslim teachings often runs the risk of being labelled a ‘racist’. Our ‘politically correct’ culture has stunted any open debate.

    It’s a very worrying trend that young kids are being insulated and taught this crap. I don’t see it as an educational matter, but a criminal matter as these schools are promoting hate.

    • Ok, so what really gets me about terms like “political correctness” is that lack of consistency in how it’s applied.

      At least in the US, and I’m only partially assuming this maybe applies in the UK as well, the notion is that the only people capable of being politically incorrect are heterosexual white men and women of any economic background.

      I mean, I’m going to assume in the UK that if some major education official who is a middle-aged and straight white male decided to include within secular materials all the offending assertions of this muslim text book, without the social and religious contexts in which this is being presented here, then the motherfucker would likely be actually facing some serious legal ramifications, maybe even jail time?

      that seems like an obvious inequity, no?

      But is it really political correctness, or the practical reality that attempts to censor muslim religious doctrine within the UK would potentially cause more problems than it would solve? As though everyone knows this shit shouldn’t fly, but the consequences of direct confrontation could be risky?

      I know it doesn’t sound like the most courageous of standpoints, that’s for sure, but I’m trying to look at it from an alternative angle.

  3. Just wanna say that some of this may have been taken out of context. I went to an Orthodox Jewish school in the States, and by middle school we had learned all about stoning, beheading, and a bunch of other ancient ways of dealing with people who broke Jewish law. It was always clear to use that this is not how we punish people today.

    Then again, we also learned that the Muslims+Arabs are/were our sworn enemies.

    Not all kids end up believing what they were taught, but I just wanna point out that this goes all ways when you’re looking at more extreme or ‘traditional’ groups.

    • Thank you for bringing this up, it totally goes all ways. While I don’t condone the anti-semitic and homophobic materials in the aforementioned school, there are certainly anti-Muslim/anti-Arab lessons taught in North American schools. The suggestion that Zionists want to take over the world actually reminded me of arguments made about Sharia law taking over America.
      The issue of Muslims and Arabs as sworn enemies reminds me of a story in my own backyard. I had a friend who was teaching a class at a CEGEP (like early college in Quebec) who noticed quite a few students referred to Ataturk as a cannibal and necrophiliac who enjoyed bestiality. Turns out that a local Armenian high school history teacher had been propagating these myths about Ataturk and Turkish Muslims in general. Given the history of genocide denial there, it is understandable that there would be residual anger (and a need to spread awareness of that genocide). That doesn’t make spreading lies any more justifiable.

  4. The books showed that some authors write about Hitler as a hero, while others suggest that gay people can be cured. A panel of experts agreed that there was a need for better education about gender stereotypes and homophobia. The report also suggested that authors have not been aware of how their words might be interpreted by teenagers taking the course.”

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