Event Summary: Curricula in the Middle East


By Michael Hartfield

On Monday 28th November the Henry Jackson Society were delighted to host Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak and Marcus Sheff, to discuss curricula in the Middle East. Both speakers gave an insightful discussion on the importance of curricula, as textbooks either act as a barrier to radicalization or radicalize young people. Both speakers emphasized the difference between textbooks and social or traditional media, as textbooks come with authority. Marcus Sheff began the discussion by explaining how curricula represents the values that states want to pass on to their young people. He highlighted that his organization IMPACT’s aim was to ensure that countries adhered to UNESCO’s standards (respect, tolerance of the individual, peacemaking, gender equality, sound prosperity and cooperation).  Although the discussion carried an overall negative perception of the current state of curricula in the region, Sheff gave some cause for optimism. For example, curricula in countries like Tunisia have demonstrated a bulwark against fundamentalism. Similarly, Egypt has demonstrated progress and a stark change from the Mubarak administration. Moreover, Emirates and Morocco are said to be considering positive changes.

However, Iran continues to promote a curricula of revolution and the importance of martyrdom. Unlike Iran’s unchanged curricula, Sheff spoke of Israel’s much improved curricula since the 1980s. Since 2000, there has been a real positive change in Israel’s curriculum with peace as its central aim now. In addition to peace, national Palestinian identity also runs through the Israeli curriculum including the Nakba of 1948. In contrast, the Palestinian curriculum has rapidly deteriorated since Hamas were elected as it fails to meet UNESCO standards and still promotes continuous war. Moreover, it teaches that Palestine will be created via jihad and endless war with a total absence of the Israeli other, which only exists in a sinisterly dark way. Unfortunately, the word peace is not mentioned once in their curriculum. In terms of finding a solution, Sheff suggested pressuring the Palestinian Authority to create a better curriculum. Sheff believed that this did not involve abandoning the Palestinian narrative but emphasizing the importance of peace in addition to the issue of occupation.

The second half of the event was conducted by Yanarocak, who discussed the Turkish curricula in great detail and the drastic changes Erdogan has enacted since 2012. These drastic changes began with the elimination of the Chief of Staff as Erdogan wants a religious generation and greater emphasis of Islamic domination.  Yanarocak’s study examined 117 textbooks from 20 different courses. Yanarocak spoke at length about Erdogan’s focus on Turkish Islamic emphasis in curricula, with the holy Quran being added. The new curricula has seen the Hebrew bible portrayed as a distorted book and Judaism severely criticized. Perhaps the biggest shock in Yanarocak’s study was that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust is omitted from the Turkish curriculum. While the Christian crusades is perceived as unilaterally bad, the new Turkish curriculum entirely ignores Islamic expansionism. Furthermore, Yanarocak also criticized the curricula for distorting maps, denying the Armenian genocide narrative and depiction of Turkish occupation of Cyprus as peaceful.

In conclusion, while countries like Tunisia, Israel and Egypt give cause for optimism, the Palestinian, Iranian and Turkish curricula remain a major area of concern.

For a full transcript of this event click here


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