Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran's Textbooks

The government of Iran is teaching the country's children to discriminate against women and minorities, to view non-Muslims with suspicion if not contempt, and to perpetuate the regime's theocratic ideology. Discrimination and intolerance are deeply ingrained in the textbooks that make up the core of Iran's school curriculum. The country's textbooks systematically denigrate the importance of women as individuals, largely neglect minority groups or fail to acknowledge them entirely, propagate Shi'ite egocentrism, and encourage hostility toward non-Muslim countries. The textbooks present a particular interpretation of Shi'a Islam as the basis of Iran's political order and adopt this interpretation as their ideological foundation. They often describe this political order as "sacred" and warn that criticism of the regime constitutes opposition to divine "will." Discrimination and intolerance appear consistently throughout Iran's textbooks, across the range of subjects in the core curriculum. They are neither accidental nor sporadic. They are values the regime deliberately seeks to instill in the country's school children.

Introduction

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s textbooks changed several times to include a strong Islamic discourse that perceives itself as the representative of the region’s Islamic nations. This Islamic discourse claims to be the political model for the world and, with this in mind, educates and prepares the next generation for this responsibility. In other words, Iran’s curriculum reflects the political system’s ideal human being and society.

Textbooks play an important role in shaping and socializing students. In countries like Iran, where the government is a key actor in preparing and controlling school curricula, and where educational environments lack the freedom to criticize the textbooks’ content, a student’s learning will become deeply affected. Iran’s political leaders have used the educational system to instill religious lessons that would educate a “cooperative” generation familiar with the dominant discourse of the Islamic Republic. Despite all the ideological changes done to the curriculum since 1979, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes the textbooks contain secular content and wants a new cultural revolution.iIn addition, the head of the Ministry of Education stated recently that boys and girls must have separate textbooks.ii

The purpose of the Iranian Textbook Analysis is to assess forms of discrimination and intolerance in the curriculum that targets various social groups. Other organizations that have examined Iran’s textbooks have not looked at discrimination at various forms and levels. Freedom House’s research includes statistical data and a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the textbooks used in 2006-2007. The analysis of the images in the textbooks from Grades 1 to 11 shows discrimination and intolerance in three main areas: 1) women; 2) ethnic and religious minorities; 3) regional and international outlook.

This analysis is divided into five broad subjects:

Chapter 1 examines the principal characteristics of Iranian textbooks and pays special attention to religious content presented in lessons.

Chapter 2 examines gender and the differences between men and women in textbook images and content, particularly as they relate to the labor market, family, education and culture, the human body, and individuality.

Chapter 3 examines the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities residing in various parts of Iran, as well as officially recognized religious minorities (Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews), “hidden” minorities (Baha’is and other religions) and groups not belonging to a particular religion.

Chapter 4 examines Iran’s stance toward the West, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attitude toward neighboring countries.

Chapter 5 examines the manifestations of intolerance and Shi’a egocentrism.

The Iranian Textbook Analysis, conducted by Freedom House, represents a major step in improving understanding of the ideological and religious discourse in Iran’s education system, in contrast with the universal values of human rights and democracy. This analysis highlights Iran’s role of having discriminatory textbooks in blocking equality between men and women, the respect for multiculturalism, and creating peaceful international relations.