Image from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/06/refugees-welcome-oxfordshire-town-grapples-with-how-to-respond

I had some other material prepared for the blog this week, but it seemed appropriate to address something on many of our minds at the moment.

Today I attended a rally in Oxford with the aim of expressing solidarity with refugees making their way into Europe, and prompting both ourselves and our political representatives to do more to help them. Immediate help is something we should offer, I think, whether or not it addresses the longer term problem. But here I would like to reflect a little on the longer term issue of what causes violence and hence displaced people.

This larger problem is complicated. I am not going to comment on all factors, but I would like to take the chance to increase awareness of one important factor. This is the role of what is called “education” in Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that what goes on in schools in Saudi Arabia is a significant part of the cause of violence in the Middle East. We don’t hear about this much in weekly news, or from western politicians, partly because the western world is tied into business contracts with that wealthy country, as well as military alliances.

Here is a paragraph from wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State-sponsored_terrorism)

“Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist jihadism,[99] which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and others. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide, according to Hillary Clinton.[100] According to a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state, “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”            (wikipedia)

Allegations of this kind need careful backing; the references and links here are an initial step to providing the requisite evidence.

Why are people in that country ready to promote violence against other people? A large part of the reason is that they have been brought up to despise and fear others. Many investigators have written about the appalling ways of thinking that are part of what passes for education in Saudi Arabia. Here is an extract from a piece at the Guardian newspaper website, dated 2010:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/nov/26/saudi-arabia-religious-education

“What Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East need is a modern and objective national curriculum that respects all Muslims inside and outside these countries, and portrays other religions, and civilisations with objectivity and respect. Otherwise, it’s not difficult to imagine the chilling consequences 20 years down the line, of filling the minds of millions of children with messages of hate.”

One needs to read the whole article to understand what the last sentence is referring to. I should add that the Saudi embassy website paints a more rosy picture of education in the country, but it does not say much about what they actually teach.

https://www.saudiembassy.net/about/country-information/education/

This blog is mainly about the way science and religion relate to one another, so I do not normally comment on current affairs. But one of the greatest needs of the world is the overturning or reform of bad religion. To accomplish that we need to offer people a better vision of what matters and what is meaningful and valuable. What that requires is utter truthfulness and goodness, and openness to that which is true and good, whatever that may be. One of the lessons that needs to come in deeply and repeatedly in any education system is the idea that what is true and good does not consist in “that which is in holy writings”, nor in “that which is in our group”. It consists in “the goodness which ultimately comes from beyond us all, which we discover in meeting with others, as we treat them as we would wish to be treated”.