A Syrian child sits in front of a mural covered in bullet holes on the wall of a former school in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
A new report analyzing Syrian school books found many references of hatred of other nations, and of Israel in particular.
The study of more than 50 children’s textbooks in the Assad-controlled regime found passages preaching jihad (holy war) to twelfth graders and proclaimed itself as a national leader of the Palestinian cause.
“The Syrian curriculum includes good elements – mainly secularism, multi-cultural heritage, equality for women and encouragement of independent thinking and dialogue,” said co-author Eldad Pardo. “However, hate is widespread throughout the curriculum when it comes to radical pan-Arab nationalism, which considers the eradication of Israel an ideological mainstay.”
Syria’s greatest proclaimed enemy is Israel, which is not mentioned by name in any of the textbooks, only referred to as “The Zionist Entity.” Israeli territory is labeled as “Palestine” or “Occupied Palestine” and is included in Syria’s depiction of the greater “Arab Homeland.”
The report, released earlier this week by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) – a research institute that analyzes school books in relation to UNESCO-defined standards – is the first to analyze curriculum under Assad’s rule.
Violence and martyrdom are justified in children’s textbooks, and encouraged as part of the fight and resistance against the “occupied” Golan Heights.
“The rhetoric remains unchanged: Israel is a terrorist state and therefore all means are legitimate in the war against it, including terror and suicide attacks. In fact, even while the country fights a battle of life and death in front of the nation’s children, antagonism to Israel remains a central tenet of the Syrian curriculum,” IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said.
The curriculum remains hostile to Israel and the West in general, with negative attitudes toward colonialism and imperialism.
Throughout the textbooks, Judaism is presented with stereotypes and prejudices, such as the Jewish caricature of Shylock from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice
. The books state that “treason and deception are part of the Jew’s attributes” and blame the “Zionist Entity” for control of global media and religious and ethnic racism. The Holocaust is not mentioned.
Aside from this, religious tolerance as a general principle is promoted, although only one form of government – chartered Sunni-Islam – is promoted – religions other than Christianity are ignored.
DESPITE THE civil war that has spanned seven years in Syria, war is largely ignored in the 50 textbooks from the 2017-2018 curriculum examined in the study.
“While Syria’s children see with their own eyes the civil war rage around them, any explanation of the war is ignored in their schoolbooks,” Sheff said.
Countries that support the Syrian government are portrayed in a positive light, particularly Russia, Iran, Lebanon and Egypt, as well as the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.
The books showed an increased affinity for Russia and Russian culture; more and more Syrian students are taking Russian as a second language. According to the report, more than 10,000 students in 100 schools are participating.
Much of the Syrian educational curriculum is based on the idea of secular pan-Arabism, a unification of Arab nations with an emphasis on Syrian independence. But even as Iran is fighting alongside the Syrian regime, it is still seen as a competitor and an obstacle to a shared Arab homeland.
The United States is presented as the polar opposite of Russia — a selfish, colonialist nation which interferes in Arab countries “as a means to expand their control over the world, lying to justify their actions.”
The Syrian ideology rejects the status quo and doesn’t recognize borders in the area as anything more than artificial ones constructed by European colonialism, with hopes for a greater “Arab Homeland” to include Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon as part of “Greater Syria.”
Under Assad, Syria is committed to secular nationalism and bases national identity on the struggle to unite the Arab world.
Based on their analysis of the curriculum in these books, Pardo and fellow IMPACT-se researcher Maya Jacobi found that despite some redeeming qualities, the Syrian curriculum does not meet UNESCO’s standards on peace and tolerance.
“The Syrian tragedy is evidence that the dichotomous choices offered by the curriculum to students – that of love, progressive thinking, and a volunteer spirit as opposed to hatred and a martial attitude toward the Other – may only be contributing to the tumult that is modern Syria,” Pardo said.
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