2,000 Saudi Teachers Fired for Teaching 'Dangerous' Subjects

A new initiative in Saudi Arabia aims to root out extremist teachers and 'reeducate' them away from terror.

Israel is not the only place that supervises teachers and lecturers for fear they will impart the wrong kind of knowledge. Perhaps Israeli education officials should be sent to Saudi Arabia to a study a recently introduced program known as "ideological security," whose purpose is to cleanse the educational institutions of the hidden agendas of teachers in the school system.

The program is already bearing fruit and some 2,000 teachers have been fired or transferred to administrative positions out of fear they were inculcating the youth with dangerous content.

High school students in Riyadh

In Saudi Arabia the aim is to eradicate extremist religious instruction which the authorities believe help spawn and grow terror cells.

"Those with extremist views are citizens who have the right to earn a living, and in fact they are victims no less than their students, but they have to be kept at a distance from anyone they can have an influence on," said the Saudi writer Abdullah bin Bakhit in an interview with the Al-Arabiya television network. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of security and initiated the program, said that his ministry had given instructions for a new form for assessing teachers, which included questions about their beliefs and viewpoints, in order to locate in advance those candidates for a teaching position who might instruct their students about the extremist streams of Islam.

The head of the ideological security authority in the ministry, Abdel Rahman el-Hadlek, explained that he believed the problem was not merely with teachers who instruct the pupils in extremist content but also with the supervisors who themselves do not know what is permitted and what is forbidden by the religion or, to be more exact, who do not understand the spirit of the regime which aims at eradicating extremism and at creating criteria for more appropriate religious instruction.

The strategy adopted by the interior and education ministries is based on three principles: prevention, preparation and supervision. On the basis of these, a suspect is presented with the complaints against him and has to undergo preparatory courses and psychological and social supervision to go on teaching.

Saudi Arabia has been waging an indefatigable battle against terror organizations since the attack in the grand mosque in Mecca in 1979. It decided after the 9/11 attacks in the United States that it was not content with relying on intelligence and military activity against the terrorist organizations but that it was necessary also to examine the education system and religious preaching.

New educational curricula have been written since then and anti-Christian and anti-American expressions have been removed from textbooks, while King Abdullah reiterates at every public appearance the need to wipe out religious extremism.

However this national effort has also been the butt of severe criticism on the part of the radical Saudi sheikhs who disseminate their views via the Internet and who are not subject to the religious establishment of the state, which receives orders from the king.

Thus it was that the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, was attacked for a ruling he handed down according to which "terror is a crime against Islam and it is essential to fight against anyone who tries to claim that there is identity between them, in an effort to distort the face of religion and to attack its leadership."

Despite the severe criticism he faced, the mufti has not flinched and he is continuing to preach that religious extremism must be curbed.

Terror mom

The story of 45-year-old Hila al-Qasir, a former teacher who has been dubbed "the mother of al-Qaida," is a case in point on the fight against the radicals. Qasir, who studied geography in college, married an activist from al-Qaida who was involved in a terrorist attack on the interior ministry in Riyadh.

After her husband was killed in a counterattack by the Saudi security forces, Qasir, who was five months pregnant at the time, decided to devote her life to terror.

She succeeded in persuading Saudi women to donate jewelry and money to the tune of $650,000, saying that the money would go toward building mosques and orphanages, and in enlisting 60 activists to the ranks of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula, which is headquartered in Yemen.

The former teacher also found havens where al-Qaida activists could hide and encouraged young women to marry arrested members of the organization so that they could enjoy family life.

Qasir was arrested in March of this year together with another 112 al-Qaida activists after a prolonged surveillance but by then she had been active already for two years without the Saudi authorities knowing a thing about it, even though she lived in a small town where word traveled quickly.

Three months after she was arrested and interrogated, the Saudi authorities proposed to Qasir that she participate in a project to rehabilitate terrorists who were willing to lay down their arms and repent. She agreed to the proposal and for the past month and a half she has been undergoing a process of "advice" under the guidance of religious sages who are teaching her the right path according to religion and why extremism is so dangerous.

The authorities were quick to publish the fact that Qasir had repented so that other terrorists would be encouraged to follow in her footsteps.

The struggle to uproot radicalism from the education system is a long term effort that does not always produce successes but it seems that in Saudi Arabia in particular it has a better chance to succeed than in countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan, where colleges serve as hothouses of extreme religious education and operate without government supervision and without the existence of any kind of long-term planning to put an end to their activities.

These colleges that are funded by radical movements save the governments a great deal of money since they do not have to invest in expanding the educational network. But on the other hand, the savings are lost when the same government is forced to fight against the products of those very same colleges.