Arab schoolbooks reform face opposition

Plans by Jordan and other Arab countries to modernise school textbooks to introduce Western-style notions of tolerance, human rights and democracy have left academics and legislators wary of Western intervention.

    Jordan textbooks to differntiate between resistance and terror

    Islamist MPs have taken the lead in warning governments in Amman, Kuwait and Riyadh not to bow to US pressure when they set down new guidelines for what should be taught in schools. 

    Their main concern is that a revamped curriculum will ignore tradition and the precepts of Islam which they see as the basis for society in these Muslim Arab countries. 

    Private session

    On Sunday, 50 Jordanian deputies called for a private session of parliament to discuss plans by the education ministry to introduce new textbooks in the 2004-2005 school year. 

    Parliament's education committee, headed by Adnan Hassunah, was also planning to meet Education Minister Khalid Tuqan on Tuesday to discuss the reform plan. 

    "We are all in favour of developing the curricula... because we
    must catch up with the technical and financial progress achieved by other countries," Hassunah told AFP. 

    "But this issue has worried us. It is surrounded by a halo of doubt and uncertainties," he said, noting that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, all of which are strong US allies, were taking the lead in planning reforms. 

    "We are sure that all this comes within the framework of changes that will take place in the future and in light of American hegemony over the region," he added. 

    'Sneaking it in'

    "It is as if they are embarrassed by it and they want to sneak it in. The way they are sneaking in these ideas, not only in Jordan but also in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait,  there must be outside pressure."

    Mustafa Hamarnih, director of the Centre of Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan

    Mustafa Hamarnah, director of the Centre of Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, is a strong advocate of reform across the Arab world, but has criticised the way the education plans had been slipped in rather than discussed openly. 

    "It is as if they are embarrassed by it and they want to sneak it in," he told AFP.

    Hamarna insisted that change in traditional Arab societies should come as a "genuine need from within as we see it to make our societies better," rather than being imposed by external forces. 

    "The way they are sneaking in these ideas, not only in Jordan but also in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait, there must be outside pressure," Hamarnah added. 

    Explaining terrorism

    But Education Minister Tuqan has defended his plans for the future of Jordanian schools, insisting there is "no political

    Jordan's Islamist deputies oppose
    the textbooks reform plan

    The project seeks "to spread reconciliation focusing on values, Islamic teaching as well as Arab and Islamic heritage and international law ... in order to increase awareness among students," he told the pro-government newspaper Al-Rai. 

    Jordanian textbooks planned for the next school year will make the difference between "terrorism and legitimate resistance" part of a comprehensive human rights programme, he said. 

    The Shura (consultative) council in Saudi Arabia endorsed on Sunday an education review bill that calls for making the concept of moderation a central tenet of Islam. 

    Kuwait also announced plans to reform its education system along the same lines but has met opposition from lawmakers who warn against bowing to Western pressure. 

    "We warn the (education) minister and other officials against
    amending text books, especially (on) Islamic education" to remove subjects important to Muslims, Kuwaiti Islamist MP Abd Allah Ukash told parliament last month. 



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