'Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined. -- Alexander Pope
Parents, teachers, preachers and politicians have always understood the wisdom Alexander Pope boiled down to aphorism in the 18th century. What and how you teach determines the child's character and curiosity as a man or woman. Like plants, children require nourishment and demand care, and by depriving them of the oxygen of countervailing ideas, their growth is stunted and their minds warped.
Alexander Pope is not on many reading lists in the Middle East, but there's abundant evidence -- played out in Iraq, Iran and Palestine every day -- that the Islamists have engraved these two lines of Pope's poetry on their culture. The result is in the textbooks of their schools, perverting knowledge and turning children into what one Middle Eastern scholar calls "tiny ticking time bombs."
The cartoons aimed at small children in Iran, available on the Internet, are terrifying. One depicts a little boy and George W. Bush as puppets. St. George he is not, but the little boy in the cartoon wields the sword of Islam, swearing at a tender age to reap vengeance on the American president. When the president asks where his parents are, the child replies that the president has killed his father in Iraq, his mother in Lebanon and his brothers in Gaza. When the president invites him to visit the White House for treats and toys, the boy tells him there is no White House because it has been converted into a mosque. Then the boy stabs the president, over and over again. The fantasy wish is fulfilled.
Unlike a fairy tale, which uses fictional characters to liberate a child's imagination to deal with issues of good and evil, this Islamist cartoon incites primitive blood lust. It's a theme not all that unusual in the propaganda, tracked by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors and translates newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasts and other media across the Middle East.A new study of Iranian textbooks conducted by Freedom House reveals a consistent and pernicious doctrine of discrimination against the "infidel" world, a doctrine especially virulent against the United States and Israel, but extends to Europe and Russia as well. The survey examines the content of 95 compulsory textbooks covering the sciences, humanities and religious curriculum as taught in eleven grades. These books discourage critical questioning; the harsh Islamic political order is "sacred" and to oppose it thwarts "divine will."
The study confirms the findings of an Israeli think tank that demonstrate how Iranian textbooks encourage martyrdom in children of tender years. The children are encouraged as early as the second grade to follow the malignant teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the Islamist revolution in Iran, urging Muslims to make use of "the passionate and the martyrdom-seeking youths."
Iran is depicted as the model Muslim state and the protector of Palestinian rights. The Palestinians themselves are attentive students. The Palestinian Authority continues to publish textbooks teaching children in Gaza and the West Bank that a legitimate State of Israel does not exist. Western values of learning, tolerance of opposing viewpoints, democracy and brotherhood are roundly mocked and ridiculed. Mahmoud Abbas managed to delete some of the hate language, but after Hamas came to power the emphasis on armed jihad was restored. A poem in a 12th grade textbook is typical: "I swear by Al-Aqsa Mosque and those plains/I shall not return the sword to its sheath and shall not lay down arms."
None of these facts surprise, but drawing attention to the powerful indoctrination pervasive throughout the Middle East shows how changing the violent reality in the region will be a long and arduous task. Political solutions will be the easy part; first, the culture must be changed. Violent cartoons against the West and disinformation purveyed in textbooks produce a forest of bent twigs.
Alexander Pope had another aphorism useful to temper expectations of the easy pursuit of peace: "Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon."