Assad's school curriculum: Love for Russia, hate for Jews

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi (photo credit: SPUTNIK/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi
The catastrophic Syrian civil war continues to rage. President Bashar Assad has unleashed murderous carnage on his own people for seven straight years now, aided and abetted by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Tragically, the end is not in sight.
But in regime-held territories, school continues as the rest of the country collapses. In fact, children are studying textbooks of a relatively high pedagogical standard, many of which were published during the war itself.
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) has obtained and carefully analyzed the current Syrian curriculum.
Its newly released report, written by Dr. Eldad Pardo and Maya Jacobi, offers a unique insight into the regime’s identity and who it considers its strategic allies, competitors and foes.
For a start, there are indications of ever-closer bonds to Syria’s key ally, Russia. The study of Russian is included as a compulsory language choice and there is a strong appreciation of all things Russian and Soviet. This possibly indicates a continued alliance between Syria and Russia beyond the civil war. By contrast, the curriculum portrays Iran as a regional competitor, viewed negatively as a regime which cannot be trusted. What this means for the continued presence of Iranian forces in Syria after the war is open to question. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is not even mentioned in the textbooks.
However, one thing is abundantly clear from the Assad-sponsored curriculum: the identity of Syria’s major foe.
We can glean much about what millions of Syrian schoolchildren, and many millions more who have migrated out of Syria to Middle Eastern countries and Europe, are taught about Israel and Jews.
Quite simply, Syrian textbooks routinely recycle antisemitic vitriol, accusing “the Zionist entity” of religious and ethnic racism, striving for territorial expansion and the old canard of controlling the global media. These abhorrent ideas are presented as fact. The textbooks are packed with incitement – prejudicial claims, stories, illustrations and photographs, with no consideration for context. A short story in an eighth-grade Arabic-language textbook by Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani is preceded by an introductory paragraph that states: “The heavenly religions and human laws insist on emphasizing the value of a human being and his right to live with respect and freedom and with no discrimination.
There are those, however, who don’t see pleasure in life unless it is at the expense of others.
The Zionists are a shouting example of this.”
The vitriol continues with a list of valuable lessons and admonitions, including “treason and deception are part of the Jew’s attributes,” as are “violation of treaties and breaching promises.” Syrian students are taught one single play written by Shakespeare during their studies: The Merchant of Venice. According to their Arabic-language textbook, “the play shamefully reveals the depths of a Jewish usurer, and the greed and avarice he pursues by every possible means.” Adding insult to injury, a caricature of Shylock is presented as an illustration from the play, revealing an offensive stereotypical medieval image of the Jew. It is literally something from another, darker time in history.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a major theme of the curriculum. Syrian national identity is presented as one of struggle to realize a single Arab nation, the “Arab Homeland,” which includes all Arab states. Naturally, there is no room for Israel, dubbed the “Racist/Terrorist/Zionist Entity.” It is an alien entity, an illegitimate state. Consequently, liberation of Palestine is a central goal.
Meanwhile, first graders are shown the countries bordering Syria and the geographical area in which Syria is situated, all of which is described simply as the “Arab Homeland,” Israel’s very existence erased.
Although Syria’s curriculum is secular, violence and martyrdom is justified – even encouraged – as part of the Syrian resistance to the Israeli occupiers of the Golan. While teaching the term jihad to 12th graders, it is explained that “one of the forms of ‘jihad in the way of God’ in our modern era is the jihad of our people in the occupied Golan.”
Textbooks tell us a great deal.
They lay bare the ideas of their authors and paint a picture of the society they wish to build.
They have a strong influence on pupils inside and outside the classroom, because by conveying images of history, concepts of time, and of political and social representation, they communicate the values that society wants to pass on to the next generation. For Syrian children, including the many who have migrated elsewhere, anti-Jewish racism and hate is sadly a key part of their education.
The writer is CEO of IMPACT-se.