Abeer Mohammed is a senior local editor based in Baghdad for Institute of War and Peace Reporting. Here's an excerpt from a post at the IWPR site about the story behind his sensational report (posted below) on how teachers in Iraq are schooling their students in jihad and Islamic supremacism:
For this story, I tried to interview sources in schools in several Baghdad neighbourhoods but the headmasters refused. So I waited for teachers, parents and students outside of schools in Sunni, Shia and mixed neighbourhoods. One day, I spent six hours in front of a school in a poor Shia-majority area of Baghdad.
I faced the most resistance from officials who gave me veiled warnings to not report on such a hot topic. One official told me I was pushing too hard on this issue, and another accused me of defaming Islam.
When I asked one official why there was no curriculum on Christianity, he became nervous and angry and told me I should not focus on the curricula.
A female Muslim legislator defended the textbooks and asked me, "What is your name again? And where do you work?" Because I always identify myself in any case, these were not questions I was comfortable hearing.
His report is also one that people, whether in Iraq or particularly in the US, are not comfortable hearing. Who in the US, now that the war in Iraq has "ended," wants to hear that in American-liberated Iraq, Islamic education class is Iraqi schools, many of which were rebuilt or built by US soldiers, is teaching jihad and Islamic supremacism? Certainly not Americans fond of claiming victory.
Mohammed Abeer's report from the Kansas City Star (via Islamization Watch):
Zuhair Jerjis and Ahmed Mohammed are both 10. They attend the same Baghdad school and often ride home together. After school, the two get together and play video games.
But Ahmed is worried. He wonders if some day he will have to murder his best friend.
The boys go to the same school and share a ride home to the same district of Baghdad, but their parents do not share the same faith.
Zuhair's family is Christian and Ahmed's is Muslim. Recent religious lessons at school have left Ahmed questioning what end awaits his friendship.
"Our teacher tells us it is forbidden in Islam to make friends with unbelievers," he said. "When I study that we have to fight the unbelievers in the name of jihad, I think, 'Will I kill Zuhair one day?'"
Ahmed's family in Muslim; Zuhair's is Christian. And it turns out that in Iraq's schools today, religious tolerance is not part of the curriculum.
Religious education is a regular feature of public schools in Iraq. Because Zuhair is a Christian, he is not required to attend religious classes. But because the vast majority of his classmates are Muslims, Zuhair said he often feels alone and isolated.
"When all of my friends are in the class, I have to stand outside," he said.
As students prepare to return to classes this fall, there is growing criticism of the recently introduced curriculum, which critics say fails to tackle the causes of religious and sectarian hatred that have fueled the violence of the last six years. Worse still, they accuse it of laying the foundations for future strife.
The main concerns about the school program are that it favors the Shia interpretation of Islam.
In addition, many are concerned that some teachers focus on subjects not directly addressed in the curriculum, such as the treatment of non-Muslims and jihad, or holy war.
From an internal Iraqi standpoint, teaching sectarian lessons to the young promises continued division and worse. From a non-Muslim standpoint, given that Sunni and Shia Islam agree on jihad and the treatment of non-Muslims, the main problem isn't sectarian. The main problem is jihad and the treatment of non-Muslims -- if, that is, religious tolerance is the point of the lesson. But in Iraq, as an Islamic culture, religious tolerance as Westerners conceive of it, is just not a core subject.
The reporter elaborates on the Sunni-Shia disagreement a while longer:
Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, religious education reflected the beliefs of the minority Sunni population, which makes up roughly one-quarter of the current population.
The current curriculum places more emphasis on Shia Islam, a sect followed by the majority of Iraq's Arabs and by its most powerful politicians, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ...
Alaa Makki, a Sunni member of parliament and head of a parliamentary committee on education, said the new curriculum was unbalanced.
"The current changes have a huge sectarian impact," he said. "The updating process should focus on the shared aspects (of Islam), not on a specific sect." Some of the areas of dispute are subtle and reflect the centuries-old schism within Islam.
For example, Iraq's former Sunni-accented textbooks followed all mentions of the Prophet with a traditional Sunni blessing, "Peace be upon him." In the new textbooks, the blessing is a typical Shia one, "Peace be upon him and his family."
Somehow, doesn't quite convey the impact of the two little boys at the top of the story, one wondering if Islamic teachings will compel him to murder his Christian friend. But here's more:
In addition, anecdotal evidence from schools suggests many teachers offer their own views on such topics as the treatment of non-Muslims or the obligation to wage jihad.
Sanaa Muhsin, an Islamic studies teacher in Baghdad's Shaab district, said she regularly instructs her students that "each Muslim had a duty to carry out jihad - namely to fight unbelievers." She identified unbelievers as those who did not follow Allah or the Prophet Mohammed.
Some students appear to be learning the lessons well.
Sajjad Kiayyad, 7, of Baghdad, said he plans to become a holy warrior when he grows up. "I will fight the Americans because they are Jewish and unbelievers," he said. "I will be victorious, or I will be a martyr in heaven."
Maryam Ali, 9, also of Baghdad, said she is carrying out her own jihad by calling on "unveiled female friends to cover their heads."
Freji, the education ministry adviser, insisted that teachers had been instructed to steer clear of issues that aroused conflict. The new curriculum, he said, focused on the fraternal aspects of Islam. "The Islamic religion, and therefore the Islamic curriculum, emphasizes forgiveness and mercy."
Must have gotten lost in translation.