Durban III, as the UN's world conference on racism and xenophobia has come to be popularly known, has long been synonymous with aggressively anti-Western and anti-Israel posturing. With such world renowned patrons, Durban can revel in the prestige brought by the likes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Although, disappointingly this time around, prior engagements seemed to have prevented Gaddafi's attendance at the conference. In truth, however, it is the Iranian President who has typically been the real star of the show; back in 2009, attendees of Durban II were treated to a theatrical Holocaust denial speech by Ahmadinejad, during which he proceeded to blame Israel and America for the vast majority of the world's ills.
Unsurprisingly then, this year Durban was boycotted by all of the major EU democracies along with America, Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand. And, quite predictably representatives from Iran, Cuba and Lebanon all staged particularly extreme and vitriolic presentations against Israel. Yet at this supposed anti-racism conference where America with its black President and Israel with its Arab MPs and Supreme Court judges, receive the most outlandish condemnation, where was Saudi Arabia? After all, if you were going to highlight countries where discrimination and racism receive state sanction, Saudi Arabia ought to top the list.
In a country with Muslim only roads, where proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal and where apostasy carries the death penalty, not to mention the fact that until as recently as 2004 an official Saudi government website stated that Jews were forbidden from entering the country, it seems there would probably be grounds for raising these issues at a UN conference on discrimination. Perhaps one of the most disturbing realities about discrimination in Saudi Arabia is the way in which these prejudices are transmitted to future generations via school text books.
Earlier this year the Saudi government released a new set of revised school text books, yet just as before, the same radical incitement is still present on the curriculum. The books still advocate violence against 'infidels' and defend Jihad as being the 'spread of Islam'. These school books accuse Christians of 'practicing witchcraft' and prescribed the death penalty for other Muslims for such offenses as even so much as expressing doubt about the message of the Prophet Muhammad. Saudi children are taught in these books that Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and all of the Balkans are on 'occupied Islamic territory', which at least makes a change from just hearing that tired old allegation being made against Israel.
Depressingly, but unsurprisingly, the usual anti-Jewish racism is present in the Saudi textbooks. One 12th grade text book expounds on the Jews 'condemnable qualities' of 'deceit, lying and conspiracy', which it claims led to the Prophet Muhammad expelling them from Medina just as the Jews were also driven out of 'Spain, Germany, Poland', in what appears to be a clear reference to the Holocaust and Inquisition. Another text book seems to take its lines directly from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, discussing the aims of 'Jewish domination of the world and controlling its destiny'. But perhaps the most bizarre accusation of all is that Jews are to blame for the theory of evolution, on account of the false claim that Charles Darwin was Jewish. Tell that to Darwin's devoutly Unitarian parents.
As we know this problem doesn't just stop at Saudi Arabia's shores. These books are exported all around the world, including in the past to some Islamic faith schools in the UK. US Treasury counterterrorism officials have also said that without further education reform 'we will forever be faced with the challenge of disrupting the next group of terrorist facilitators and supporters'. And yet when it came to the UN's conference on racism, where was Saudi Arabia's place on the agenda?