June 11, 2015

When the protagonist of the classic Orwell novel 1984 is asked, under torture, whether 2+2 equals 5, he wonders: If the state makes it true and everybody is made to believe it, does that make it true?

Used in a novel published in 1949, Orwell’s allegory for totalitarianism, revisionism and the sheep-like behavior of gullible citizens still rings true. Pakistan too suffers from this 2+2=5 syndrome. Is  our educational system nurturing a generation which is able to think out of the box, challenge existing notions and have the courage to bring about change? Do we encourage the development of questioning minds? Sadly the answer to these questions is in the negative. Barring a few institutions that exist in our apparently progressive and elite urban bubbles, curiosity and questioning is frowned upon.

Years ago when studying biology in class nine, our teacher skipped the entire chapter on evolution because it was un-Islamic.  In my second year in college, my physics teacher spent two classes explaining to us in some detail the physical and mathematical proofs of various faith related miracles. No questions were asked, nor were we expected to ask any. Who would have dared to question the premise? Including religious content in school textbooks especially in scientific discourse discourages the student’s ability to think and reason with an open mind

Recently, Maulana Sherani, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology called for introducing a uniform system of education  throughout the country, integrating religious teachings with the contemporary, mainstream education’. In other words, he envisions a madrassah -influenced educational system being implemented in Pakistan. The maulana is seemingly oblivious to the rising sectarian tensions, religious extremism and economic strife pervasive in the country. But maulana sahib too is a product of this system.

The practice of revisionism and adding a religious hue to text books started in Bhutto’s time, intensified in Zia’s era and was given an added momentum in the Musharraf’ years. This has put Pakistan on a dangerous path. No matter how much money we invest in education, our horizons will not broaden as long as our children are taught to believe in the superiority of their own faith, to suspect minorities and present faith inspired counter arguments. Our textbooks glorify the battles between Muslims and Hindus. The Hindus are represented as uncivilized heathens who are shown the light by Muslim invaders. And they are always treacherous. Nowimagine being a Hindu child in a Unknown-1Pakistani classroom. In our secondary level social studies textbooks, the Muslims of Pakistan are always described as descendants of the Arabs, Turks and Persians. No link with South Asian races is ever mentioned.

Educational institutions aside, is questioning our values  deemed acceptable in any forum? The examples  of Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Sabeen Mehmud pop up as a warning. Question and you will share the same fate.  The message is clear and in response many pens stop. Many cerebral cogs cease to work.

What sort of educated aalim is the hugely popular Aamir Liaquat Husain who spewed vicious comments about the Ahmadi community on live television? Extremism is a natural by-product of the way we are moulding minds and it rears its ugly head across our religious spectrum. The alleged murderer of Sabeen Mehmud was an IBA graduate, but more so he was a product of this culturally constrained educational and social machinery. When confronted with facts, which threaten to unravel everything you have been taught to believe, turning to violence is only but natural.

The scenario unfolding on Pakistani social media is not a model of tolerance either. Users either vehemently endorse a view or oppose it. Everything is seen in a George Bush-esque black and white perspective. The vitriol that is spewed out, the hate that is generated, the number of unfounded accusations leveled, gives an insight into the mind of a presumably educated and tech-savvy Pakistani — the so called future of our nation.

Every respected journalist has discussed the exploits of Imran Khan’s social media supporters. Say anything about PTI and its trolls will likely harass you and insist that you take your words back. Even worse, you will find many extremist organizations like ASWJ using social media accounts with impunity and spreading their toxic ideology amongst impressionable  young minds.

Intolerance and subservience to the existing moth eaten culture has brought Pakistan to the state where governance without the patronage of criminal activities is impossible and where votes are still determined by caste, creed and connections and not on party manifesto.


The author tweets @JamalNeutron