A national curriculum is the main tool with which a nation prepares its young generation for the future. Steady, systematic and authoritative education along a clearly charted line for twelve consecutive years imprints an indelible worldview on the new generation.
There are consequences to what children learn in school. If a curriculum teaches hate and violence toward a demonized Other, a culture of hate and violence is likely to ensue, as shown by a recent research project on the Nazi curriculum during the 1930s (Tamar Ketko, Ice Creatures, 2016). But accumulated hate may take unexpected directions. The Iraqi curriculum during the 1990s featured Islamization, hate and militarism. The emergence of the ISIS horrors in Iraq a decade later should not be viewed as unrelated to that curriculum. Similarly, the pre-civil war Syrian curriculum taught hate against Israel and the West, but the violence unleashed inside Syria surpassed anything inflicted on either Israel or the West.
In Turkey and Egypt, Islamization of their curricula began in the 1980s under secular regimes. In both countries, anti-democratic Islamist leadership later emerged. The Iranian curriculum’s “imperial dreams” anticipated the accelerated expansionism and internal oppression that followed the 2015 Nuclear Deal. As Iranian politicians were smiling to the cameras, hate was being inculcated into the classrooms. The failed transition to democracy in Egypt and Syria and the great obstacles facing the peace process with the Palestinians are largely the result of “resistance” and/or radical Islamic education.
Tunisia, under a secular, authoritarian regime, educated for tolerance and secularism and is thus far the only Arab country in which transition to democracy has been successful. Again, the role of education cannot be overlooked.
The Syrian curriculum includes good elements, mainly secularism, multi-cultural heritage, equality for women and encouragement of independent thinking and dialogue. Russia is depicted as a close ally while Islamist Iran is not. Regarding the liberal and Islamist opposition groups, there is an effort to pave the way for a future reconciliation after the civil war. However this is not spelled out in the curriculum, which treats the civil war’s disaster only indirectly. As such, the disconnection between the horrors perpetrated by the regime and what is taught in the curriculum is remarkable. Since the opposition does not exist there is neither hatred nor understanding toward the non-existent Other.
However, hate is widespread throughout the curriculum when it comes to radical pan-Arab nationalism, which considers the eradication of Israel an ideological mainstay.
With respect to the civil war, the current curriculum does not concern itself with morality, introspection, or peace education. Rather, it holds on to a militaristic worldview and radical pan-Arabism. It teaches that the international community justifies “resistance” (guerilla-terrorism) while using “all available means” to destroy the Other.
What the curriculum ultimately fails to teach is that long bloody wars often lead to the next war, which begs the question: Will the lingering lesson of the Assad regime be that more war is inevitable?