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UAE textbooks earn high marks for cultural tolerance, even if it means praising China



By James M. Dorsey

An Israeli NGO gives the United Arab Emirates high marks for the mandate of textbooks that teach tolerance, peaceful coexistence and involvement with non-Muslims.

“The Emirati curriculum generally meets international standards for peace and tolerance. Textbooks are free from hatred and incitement against others. The curriculum teaches students to appreciate the principle of respect for other cultures and encourages curiosity and dialogue. It praises love, affection and family ties with non-Muslims. ” the study of 128 pages concluded by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACTs).

At the same time, however, the report appeared in its evaluation of Emirati textbooks to give a close color to Israeli policy towards the UAE and, more generally, most states that populate the Middle East.

As a result, the report, like Israel which apparently views autocracy rather than greater freedoms as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East, raises the issue of the weaving of the principle of uncritical obedience to authority in the structure of Emirati education.

That principle is embedded in teaching “patriotism” and “dedication to the defense of the homeland,” two concepts highlighted in the report. The principle is also central to the idea of ​​leadership, which is defined in the report as a pillar of national identity.

Ryan Bohl, an American who taught in a Emirati public school a decade ago, Impact’s could have told of the unwritten authoritarian principles embedded in the country’s education system.

There is little reason to believe that much has changed since Mr. Bohl’s experience and all reason to accept that those principles have since been strengthened.

One of a number of Westerners hired by the UAE to replace Arab teachers suspected of sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood said Mr. Bohl described in an interview that teaching in Emirati classrooms “according to the autocratic method, very similar to the ruler and the ruled.”

It’s in classrooms, Mr. Bohl said, “where those political attitudes are formed, reinforced, in some cases enforced when children like them decide to deviate from the line. They understand what the consequences are long before they can become a political threat or a activist threat to the regime. It’s all about creating a cold effect. ”

Apparently to avoid discussing the idea of ​​critical thinking, the IMPACT report notes that students “prepare for a highly competitive world; they are taught to have positive thinking and well-being. ”

The report’s failure to discuss the boundaries of critical thinking and attitudes towards authority that can be embedded in the framework of education rather than in textbooks.raises the question of whether textbook analysis is sufficient to evaluate attitudes that nurture education systems in their teaching of successive generations.

It also opens up to debate whether ideas of peace and cultural tolerance can be isolated from degrees of social and political tolerance and pluriformity.

The report positively notes that the textbooks “provide a realistic approach to peace and security,” a reference to the UAE’s recognition of Israel in 2020, its reduction of efforts to address Palestinian aspirations, and its visceral opposition to any form of political Islam with debilitating consequences in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

It would be difficult to argue that intervention by the UAE and others, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France and Russia, in any form contributed to peace and security.

The report notes that “support for the Palestinian cause continues, but no longer as the key (is) seen as the key to resolving the broader range of regional challenges. Radicalism and hatred are the biggest threat. Iranian expansionism is a threat. “

This is not to suggest that IMPACT’s evaluation of textbooks should assess Emirati policies, but to argue that rather than uncritically legitimizing them, it should explicitly rather than implicitly acknowledge that the country’s next generation formed by a top-down, government-spun. version of what is the meaning of sublime principles preached by Emirati leaders.

To his credit, the report implicitly states that Emirati’s concepts of tolerance are not universal, but are subject to what the country’s rulers define as its national interests.

Consequently, it points out that “the People’s Republic of China is surprisingly described as a tolerant, multicultural society, respecting religions” despite the brutal repression of religious and ethnic expressions of Turkish Muslim identity in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

IMPACT’s further notes that the textbooks fail to teach the Middle East’s history of slavery. The report urges that the Holocaust and the history of Jews, especially in the Middle East, be taught, but makes no similar claim for multiple other minorities, including those accused of being heretics.

The NGO proposes that the UAE can also improve its educational references to Israel. The report notes that “anti-Israel material has been moderated” in textbooks that teach “cooperation with allies” and “peacemaking” as priorities.

However, UAE recognition of Israel does not mean that a map of Israel is included in the teaching of establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

To be honest, Israel may not appear on Emirati maps yet, but Jewish life is increasingly part of public life in the UAE. Kosher restaurants are open for business, as is a Jewish cultural center. Large menorahs have been lit on city squares to celebrate Hanukkah’s Jewish festival in December, and a government-funded synagogue will open later this year.

Meanwhile, Arab Jews who once fled to Israel and the West settled in the UAE, attracted in part by financial incentives.

With a slightly critical note, Eldad J. Pardo, research director of IMPACT’s research, suggested that Emirati students, well served by the curriculum’s “pursuit of peace and tolerance”, would benefit from courses that are “equally relentless”. to “provide students with unbiased information in all areas.”

Mr. Pardo referred not only to China but also to the curriculum’s endorsement of traditional gender roles, even if it expects the integration of women in the economy and public life, and which the report describes as an “unbalanced” depiction of the history of the Ottoman Empire.

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Tune in, Speaker, Pocket Plaster, Tumblr, Podbean, oudsibel, Patreon,

and Castbox.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.



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