TEL AVIV – In light of the alarming number of young Jordanians joining terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, Jordanian educators and officials are calling for an overhaul of the country’s “extremist” school curricula.
According to unofficial statistics, about 4,000 young Jordanians have joined armed organizations in Syria and Iraq, a figure that puts Jordan second only to Tunisia in the number of recruits. Even the more educated Jordanian youth are susceptible to extremism, as evidenced by the recent report that the son of Jordanian MP, Mazen Al-Dhalaein, had carried out a suicide bombing in Syria after leaving medical school and joining ISIS.
More and more experts and opinion-makers are blaming the Jordanian education system for aggrandizing death and promoting hatred and violence toward the other. The number of articles in Jordanian newspapers addressing this issue has increased dramatically over recent months, forcing the Jordanian education ministry to respond with promises of reform.
MEMRI translated excerpts of some of the critique as well as the education ministry’s response.
Former Jordanian minister of culture, Sabri Rbeihat, called on Arab society to recognize that terrorism begins with a culture that celebrates death and despises life and to understand what drives young people to extremism.
“Many politicians ignore the fact that the problem today lies in the emergence of a new culture that hates life, celebrates death, and attacks and quickly eliminates anything symbolizing liberty, life, and happiness,” Rbeihat wrote in an op-ed following the terrorist attacks in Paris.
In an article in the independent daily Al-Ghad, Jordanian writer and educator Zuleikha Abu Risha slammed the “pathetic” education system in the country for repressing creative thinking, accusing others of heresy, and inciting to hatred, violence and murder and admonished the education ministry for not taking this matter more seriously.
Risha wrote: “Hear the blaring warning bell and declare a cultural and educational state of emergency. The fire is at our doorstep; terrorism surrounds us and knocks at our door. The poisoned Islamist tree, planted in the 1960s, has borne fruit – in the form of an educational system that opposes creativity and asking questions, sanctifies the past, does not deviate from its [rigid] path, detests logic and anything new or innovative, levels accusations of heresy, and incites to hatred, violence, and killing – to the point where students have become robots who recite prayers to keep themselves from harm, instead of investing efforts in finding solutions.”
Risha called for Jordanians to stop placing educational responsibility in the hands of illiterate preachers and politically motivated teachers.
She lamented the current situation in Jordan where “mourning tents are erected for ISIS murderers and suicide bombers where people applaud and honor them” and “government hospitals are so full of Islamic posters and symbols that one feels as though one is in a Muslim Brotherhood mosque rather than a hospital” and “hatred for other religions is perceived as a foundation of the Islamic faith.”
In another article following the carnage in Paris last month, Khairi Mansour, a columnist for Al-Dustour, compared extremism to a virus and demanded to know why the education system had not come up with a vaccine.
“Books rife with incitement fill the sidewalks and kiosks, and some satellite channels have become war rooms filled to the brim with inciters of hatred, vengeance, and resistance to all forms of coexistence among people from different cultures and ideologies,” Mansour writes. “The antidote for extremism, violence, and the culture of neglect and mutual exclusion is, first and foremost, educational ideas that are instilled in the soul and mind through curricula, education at home, and methods for teaching little children.”
Roman Haddad, a regular columnist for the government daily Al-Rai, Roman Haddad, joined the fray, saying that terrorist attacks all over the world from the downing of the Russian plane to the attacks in Paris and in Africa “clearly indicate that the security approach to combating terrorism is no longer relevant. Countries are investing fortunes in traditional security measures while their investment in social and ideological security are still far from the desired levels.”
“It is vital to strengthen the students, because it is young people who have become pawns for the terrorist organizations to toy with by distorting the religious texts in the name of their so-called jihad.”
Jumana Ghunaimat, the editor-in-chief of Al Ghad newspaper – widely considered to be the mouthpiece of Jordan – wrote an article titled “Close the Jordanian branch of ISIS!” which recounted personal stories of children who come home from school repeating radical ideas heard from their teachers.
“Our schools spread extremism, as do our universities. Sometimes, a child or youth returns from school or university with horrid ideas that shock even his parents,” wrote Ghunaimat, before concluding that “since the war on terror is our war, we will best deal with it internally, starting with our schools.”
Al Ghad also published a lengthy study by educational expert Dr. Dhuqan ‘Ubaidat titled “ISISism in curricula and textbooks.”
‘Ubaidat asserts that “ISIS-like thought” – which he defines as “a lack of critical or creative thinking; a lack of beauty, truth, goodness and optimism, and a lack of emotion, love, poetry, and music” – is very is widespread in civics, Arabic language, and Islamic education textbooks. For example, one textbook “attacks science, claiming that it drives a person away from religion and faith.”
He also claimed that jihad studies continue throughout the schooling years, portraying jihad as a duty and that “Allah promises that the jihad fighter will either return home or reach Paradise.” On the subject of women, ‘Ubaidat said that textbooks instruct that a woman “should be obedient to the man… She must not leave the home without permission… and the man is allowed to scold her.”
The Jordanian education ministry’s curriculum and textbook department published a response ‘Ubaidat’s study in Al Ghad.
It claimed that the study “lacked objectivity” because it cherry-picked terms from the textbooks and took them out of context. However it did note that it was currently engaged in a two-year project to develop and reform the curricula that would focus on “concepts of good citizenship; tolerance, unity and equality in society and equality of rights and duties among citizens; respect for the opinion of others, and pluralism.”
This week, Dr. Fayez Al-Rabi’, chairman of the education ministry’s committee for curriculum development in civics and national education, responded to the criticism by claiming that the ministry was reevaluating the entire curricula while remaining true to the Islamic faith: “We in Jordan mean to undertake a new and comprehensive examination of all the curricula, including in the humanities: Islamic education, history, civics and national education, Arabic, arts, geography, etc.”
“Let me note that removing all the flaws from the curricula does not mean renouncing our values and our tolerant faith; on the contrary, it is necessary to focus on positive values and principles that will address the roots of ideological and religious extremism, and to fortify these values so as to provide an alternative to the negative ideas and tendencies that have no connection with the essence of [the Muslim] religion and its tolerant values.”
Al-Rabi’ noted that it is not enough to reform the curricula in Jordan and called upon education ministers in other Muslim countries to examine their own curricula and generate reform.