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UAE textbooks should be emulated in the region for teaching inclusivity and respect.

The attack on Abu Dhabi by Iran-backed Houthi rebels early Monday is the latest attack to target the Emirati capital. Taking place only one week after the strike on a fuel depot in Abu Dhabi, which left two dead, the Ansar Allah organization, known as the Houthis, is continuing to pose a significant challenge to regional stability.

Supported by Iran, which has been instrumental in the development of the Houthi drone and missile program, the organization has co-opted the country’s education system as a tool in its arsenal for spreading radical influence over the region. With its messaging penetrating the mainstream education system, this is used as both a tool for recruitment as well as a means of further radicalizing students.

Research conducted by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) review of Houthi materials exposed some of the most egregious of these violations of international standards of peace and tolerance in current educational curricula across the region.

Some of the most shocking examples identified by IMPACT-se researchers included Houthi magazines featuring graphic images of deceased children, inserted with the aim of indoctrinating to hate opponents of Houthis ideology. Violence and jihad are expressly encouraged and presented as the only method of conflict resolution. The U.S. is characterized as a universal evil, responsible for all the atrocities in the world, and children are taught to chant “death to America.” Houthi educational materials further contain explicit examples of anti-Semitism, including manipulated Holocaust-related imagery. Children are thus encouraged to fight against the “tyranny of the Jews,” with Israel being referred to as a “cancerous tumor” that must be eradicated.

Iranian influence in the nature of this educational content is evident, and Houthi educational materials mimic much of the Khomeinist rhetoric of the Iranian regime, of which it is a proxy. These examples are just a brief, albeit worrying, insight into the violent Houthi mindset and serve as a prime example of how education can be weaponized for the purposes of perpetuating conflict.

In stark contrast, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken a radically different educational path. New IMPACT-se research on the Emirati curriculum for grades 1-12, aptly titled “When Peace Goes to School,” shows a curriculum that teaches students to value multicultural principles alongside inculcating a respect for others. It encourages curiosity and dialogue and promotes positive concepts, such as experiencing happiness, as fundamental values necessary for leading a rich, fulfilling, and healthy life. It praises love, affection, and family ties with non-Muslims. Interfaith relations, particularly with the Christian community, are evident along with expressions of tolerance toward Judaism. The report did not find examples of anti-Semitism or incitement but rather, a curriculum that generally meets UNESCO guidelines for peace and tolerance.

Islamic texts and sources are used to teach tolerance and peacemaking, with a strong emphasis placed on the recently brokered Abraham Accords. Furthermore, American values, such as tolerance, are praised and seen as a source of inspiration and success. The requirement taught to children of respecting and showing kindness toward non-Muslims, non-Arabs, and non-citizens living in the UAE can be seen as a direct product of this.

Images of diverse cultures smiling at each other, shaking hands, and working together are included, emphasizing peace and tolerance. It is heavily ill-disposed to radicalism and terrorism, with students taught to resist claims that Islam is a violent religion. The curriculum encourages family ties with non-Muslims; tolerance (and even love) should be directed to all non-Muslims.

Students of all ages are openly taught that the UAE manages relations with non-Muslims, domestically and abroad, with tolerance and respect. Exercises and activities across subjects and grades ask students to reflect on the positive results of peace, tolerance, and stability. The curriculum conveys the advantages of relations with foreigners and curiosity toward other cultures and civilizations is strongly encouraged.

In the 26 years that IMPACT-se has been reviewing curricula in the Arab and Muslim world, the UAE textbooks most closely meet UNESCO’s standards of peace and tolerance. It is head and shoulders above the regional norm in the teaching of peace, religious tolerance, and acceptance of the other. It could and should be a model for others to emulate, with its direct impact on the country’s economic successes evident.

Children who are encouraged to learn about other cultures and work together are indeed more likely to create, innovate and develop. Those who are taught to hate and suspect foreigners are likely to grow up closed-minded and with a feeling of resentment towards the other. The region would do well to take a page out of the UAE textbook.

Marcus Sheff is CEO of The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance is School Education (IMPACT-se). IMPACT-se is a research and policy institute that analyses education to encourage standards of peace and tolerance as derived from international declarations and resolutions and presents policy recommendations to decision-makers.