My teacher taught me how to hate
It is a myth that extremist Islamic ideology which is used to fuel conspiracy theories is only a threat to the desperately impoverished. The country’s tendency to believe in xenophobic conspiracy theories cuts across the classes, advocated by perfectly ‘normal’ middle-class actors. Underneath the western façade of designer denims and a sporting British education, there exists a generation confused, suspicious of democracy, resentful of the West, and guilty for their inability to dedicate themselves to Pakistan’s ascetic version of Islam.
The 'new' Islam
The country’s imagination is arrested by pointed fingers. Every problem has a foreign enemy and every solution bans the foreign element. Pakistan is fostering an identity based on foreign enemies that unnecessarily blurs the lines between nationalism and religion. Pakistan’s version of Islam appears to be based on prejudices against non-Muslims (benefiting only the powerful), despite the Holy Quran’s staunch aversion towards intolerance. The enemies of Islam and Pakistan are the same: the Americans, Jews, Indians and even the divorced. This form of thinking is far removed from rationality, yet it manages to seep through the educated classes- why? Could it be that irrational thinking is rooted in our socialisation?
Conditioned to be irrational
This time it is not the media to blame; this form of irrational reasoning has been present for long. We’re habitually being conditioned from childhood by our peers and families, but more importantly, we are irresponsibly being taught to think like this through our education.
My own inner-moral conflict began when I was nine years old. That day my Islamiat teacher had made it clear that anything Western or Indian was a sin. Jeans, western television and music were all sinful indulgences. Of course, Pakistani television was permissible. All the non-Muslims were destined to hell. The only road to express eternal bliss was the Islamic highway to Heaven, while the non-believers would perish at the merciless realms of hellish peripherals for the rest of eternity.
The reason was simple for my teacher; the West had succumbed to its desires. This was the work of the Devil. Therefore, such people deserved to be shunned and hated. There were many more such lessons, some not so direct by teachers, friends of family, other children and, local textbooks. Columnist Rubina Saigol argues that the Pakistani education system is continuously churning out generations that have learned to hate anything that does not fit into their ‘box’.
(Mis)educating the educated
During my teaching years at a private college, I was surprised to see our Star World generation of 18 year olds distrust towards democracy, and fallacious Islamic beliefs. It was tragically apparent that despite the secular private education and global connectivity, these children were still living in a world where the West was the incompatible opposite of Islam.
A lecturer in college urged the students to support the Taliban in the war against terror, that we should ‘fight’ in whatever way we can. Peaceful lines of effective communication through assimilation with the global community as opposed to isolation was just not a good enough option. It was no surprise when all the students agreed with her.
These schools and colleges were not fortified Madrassas. They were English medium schools, attended by all students who had traveled to the West in the summers. The location was not rugged but the well-planned city of Islamabad. The teachers were not beady-eyed bearded old man, but thirty-something working mothers. Poverty was not the reason for the student’s attendance, it was affluence.
It is clear that violence and intolerance has not been working to Pakistan’s benefit. The only real hope for peace is learning to tolerate and communicate effectively.
It is time to use our imaginations wisely.
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