April issue 2011
At a two-day conference on women, religion and politics in Lahore in March, Nabiha Meher Sheikh from LUMS, presented research that suggests that the principle that academia should be a safe haven for intellectuals and liberals is no longer adhered to.
On day two, Nabiha Meher Sheikh, currently working as a teaching fellow for writing and communication at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) presented her research. It is pertinent to mention here that Nabiha’s publication Edible Voices was one of the winners of a quick fiction competition at the University of Sussex in 2009. Now those of us who felt the proceedings thus far had been academic or a little bookish were jolted awake. Nabiha tabled a perturbing hypothesis: ‘The latest research suggests that a majority of elite youth don’t want a secular state.’ She went on to assert that teaching as a profession is actually becoming dangerous in this country and the principle that academia should be a safe haven for intellectuals and liberals is no longer adhered to. The locally schooled among us, at least at the primary level, could not help but relate to her observation of the absence of critical thinking in schools, leading to a “culture with tunnel vision.” “The beards in the stomach” syndrome aptly described the latent radicalism plaguing our universities, as we would later debate extensively. Nabiha’s ongoing research left fellow professors, teachers and thinkers in the audience stunned as she recounted personal experiences with students who are now “acting like watchdogs,” while the more liberal bunch are “self-censoring their comments.” Is education opening our minds or is it merely a tool for indoctrination?
We mulled over this question as students from the Punjab University and LUMS took stage. Saba, one of the students, caused quite a stir when she reminded us of an (unconfirmed) quote from the Quaid wanting to make Pakistan a laboratory of Islam. This struck a chord with the secularists in the room, and corresponded with a topic under discussion earlier: should religion enter the realm of politics/public sphere. Another student from Punjab University spoke of the nefarious activities of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), an Islamic student body in the university with sympathisers from within the teaching body and the bullying tactics that they employed. He described one incident inside the university where members of the University Students’ Federation were beaten up and shot at. He questioned the term “liberal extremist” employed in the narrative and took potshots at the definition. “I suggest civic education,” cried one young college-goers’, reminding us that our future generation was at stake if the liberals continued to remain silent.
This article was a sidebar in a larger article in the April 2011 issue of Newsline: The Women’s Room.
Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.