May issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

If the MMA were allowed free rein in this country, it would ensure that not just every madrassa but also every school in this country, churn out jihadis — enough cannon fodder for all the jihads in the world.

The frontal assault they have launched on attempts to purge school textbooks of some of the vitriol written in the name of religion is outrageous. Even more alarming is how the federal education minister is running for cover. Instead of taking on the MMA mullahs, she went on the defensive — in one TV programme, she reassured the MMA’s Liaquat Baloch that there were 11 or 12 chapters on jihad in one textbook alone.

Incidentally, jihad and militancy are not the only “virtues” textbooks are extolling as the cardinal principles of Islam. They are preaching intolerance, hatred and disrespect for other religions, Hinduism in particular, by demonising the entire race. A few choice quotes: “Hindus please the goddess Kali by slaughtering people of other religions at her feet” … “The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things” … “The Hindus live in small and dark houses.”

Under virulent attack from religious parties and the right-wing media for exposing all this and even more lethal stuff that kids are being taught in government schools is the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). It is being accused of pursuing the agenda of “foreign donors.” So what else is new — whether it be the SDPI or the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the religious brigade has fallen into the habit of branding all NGOs that dare to confront them, or are inimical to their interests, as being lackeys of the west. It is a convenient, multi-purpose stick to beat the liberals with — more so in the post-September 11 scenario.

The SDPI report, The Subtle Subversion: The State of the Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan, with painstaking research by 30 scholars, educationists and teachers, was intended to point out the flaws in the national curriculum and textbooks used in our public schools with a view to assist in the process of initiating reform.

The report contains some startling disclosures about the insidious manner in which students are being converted into narrow-minded religious bigots and chauvinists — all in the name of national interest and Islamic ideology. The report highlights the gross distortion of history, insensitivity to other religions, the focus on war and militarism and the demeaning representation of women.

Unfortunately, the critics of the SDPI report have no answer to these criticisms. Instead, what they’ve chosen to do, as always, is to cloak their rhetoric with the cover of religion and national interest — both of which, in their view, are sacrosanct.

If the SDPI was looking to General Musharraf for support, given his avowed claims of eradicating intolerance and extremism from society and introducing an era of enlightened moderation, it was in for a rude shock. In fact, Musharraf’s education minister said the report had been rejected by the 15-member review committee because it represented an “extremist viewpoint” — a claim disputed by the SDPI, which maintains that the report was endorsed by a vote of 9 to 6.

The retrogressive forces have been allowed to win, yet again, in the name of political expediency.

The religious brigade’s clout extends right up to the Presidency. General Musharraf was forced to backtrack on even the minor changes proposed in the blasphemy law, following pressure from religious parties.

Is there any hope, then, for those who propose serious reform in educational institutions? President Musharraf has often spoken in defence of the institution of madrassas and talked of reforming them, and of modernising them by introducing subjects like English and computer science. But, in reality, these steps are not enough to counter the deadly brain-washing that is practised in the madrassas and public schools.

It’s time someone stood up to the dark forces of regression and extremism.

And who better than General Musharraf — if he has the courage of his convictions, that is.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.