My piece for Foreign Policy: Teaching intolerance

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — In the years just before the 9/11 attacks, I spent two semesters at a public school in Riyadh for my training as a teacher. I was stationed each day at the campus gates, instructed to inspect the girls’ abayas as they left school. For each student older than 12, I checked: Was she wearing the tent-style cloak over her head and down to her ankles? Was her face fully covered, no slits for her eyes? I felt like a hypocrite, penalizing girls for violating a custom I don’t support — and one that the majority of Islamic scholars say is not a religious obligation. To READ ON click here.


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6 responses to “My piece for Foreign Policy: Teaching intolerance

  1. Glenn

    Excellent article. I worry that the system here in the US is filling the kids heads with ideas that support the of denial of God. It is probably as bad as what you describe, but on a different level. Both sides miss the point that we should allow people to worship as they believe and treat everyone as equal.

    To quote from my as yet unpublished book:

    “For example, equality requires the development of the attitude that all are equal before God. When you truly believe that, you cannot discriminate or be prejudiced against someone simply because they are different. It is a very difficult value to embrace, but it is critical in establishing place. What I mean by place is that we have only one God, and all of us are equal in His sight. Therefore to believe or behave in a way that says your neighbor is inferior to you because they are different from you, is not establishing your place at the throne of God, because you deny others the equality they have from God.”

  2. Saudi

    You said: “I felt like a hypocrite”.. and I believe that is what most of Saudis feel like and can’t help it out.. because they have become real slaves to the inherited collective customs and traditions.. and when they get to be free as you are supposed to be now.. they would feel as guilty and hypocrite as you would..

  3. Victoria

    Actually Hindus have many gods, whilst Buddhist have no god. Maybe part of allowing people to practice what they believe is allowing them not to worship.

  4. Both sides miss the point that we should allow people to worship as they believe and treat everyone as equal.

  5. C

    I now understand an old encounter better. A man, who I think was from SA, tried to convert me by telling me that the Quran was proved by modern science. He then began listing modern science that was prefigured in the Quran. His examples were that only humans could speak or use words, and Aristotle’s great chain of being, the hierarchy of existence. I pointed out that the first is not true, listing counterexamples (he honestly seemed utterly bewildered by the news that you could have a conversation with a bonobo) and that the second was centuries from being modern science. He protested weakly that of course it was true, but he obviously knew nothing of the subject, and he seemed conscious of it. A (western-educated engineering student) co-religionist of his, a stranger to me, overheard, came and stood by my shoulder, and listened with mounting incredulity to the discussion, eventually breaking out with
    -“No! No, that isn’t modern science!”
    -“But it is, and the Holy Quran confirms it, because it is in the Holy Quran.”
    -“Show me where it is in the Holy Quran!”
    -“..well,it’s clearly implied by…”
    -“Show me where it is clearly implied by the Holy Quran!”
    -(upset)”But it must be true!”
    The engineer then quite kindly reassured him that there was no conflict between the Quran and science, just between his mistaken ideas and both.
    Seriously, if curriculum-writers want their students taken seriously, they should worry about the quality of their secular education. No-one respects an ignoramus who knows nothing but how to parrot a dogma he does not understand. This young man was sincere and not unintelligent, but he had no mental tools with which to deal with conflicting information, bodies of evidence, or intellectual debate.

  6. C

    Furthermore, an intelligent person, on finding that one thing they have learned is false, will question the other things they learned in the same way.

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