Fake degrees are bad and people wilfully obtaining them are untrustworthy. There is a lot being said about the issue and much of it is necessary and obvious. What about real degrees and degree holders? If law-enforcement authorities are to be believed, the killers of Sabeen Mahmud and those responsible for the Safoora Goth massacre were not individuals with fake degrees and neither did they obtain their qualifications from a madrassa. They had received expensive formal education. The lazy analysis often deployed to explain (and sometimes justify) terrorism as a response exclusively to poverty and ‘lack of education’ fails in this instance. The operating assumption is that education will lead to de-radicalisation. A basic examination of recent history of terrorism and militancy in Pakistan and elsewhere will prove this assumption to be incorrect.
To be formally literate means very little if the education being imparted is faulty. In our case, to expect formal education to de-radicalise is peculiar since the radicalisation, the hate and xenophobia are learned phenomena and are taught in our schools and colleges. The purpose of education in Pakistan is “to create a National identity”, to “foster nationalism” and make “good Muslims” out of the students. The problem, simply put, is that all education is religious education in Pakistan. The earliest distinction that a student is taught to make is between ‘us’ and the ‘infidels’, ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’.
There is some confusion regarding why Sabeen was murdered. Was it because of her pro-Valentine Day campaign or her anti-Maulana Aziz campaign? In any event, if the official version is believed, Sabeen was not considered a ‘good Pakistani’, probably even an ‘infidel’, by the educated murderers and the education system in the country tells every child right from the beginning that ‘infidels’ are not to be trusted and if need be, killed in ‘jihad’. The victims in Safoora Goth were killed because the killers believed them to be ‘infidels’ and have been taught that if one believes someone to be infidel, ‘action’ can be taken, etc.
The examples of hatred and ignorance in the curriculum are too many to list here and have been excellently documented and debunked by K K Aziz and Dr Ayesha Jalal. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and A H Nayyar have fought the battle for purging our education system for a long time and still do. It is instructive and terrifying to read a recent study by the National Commission of Justice and Peace on examples of hate content in our school curriculum.
In an ideal world, the teaching and discovering of religion will be left to adults and something as personal as faith will not be forced on anyone by a bureaucratic state. However for now, the problem is not exclusively with the teaching of religion, as long as it is taught as religion and clearly labelled as such. The real indoctrination is done through the teaching of religion while teaching everything else. One similar example is the debate in the United States about teaching “Creationism” versus Evolution in public schools. The educated consensus is that a school can teach a religious explanation of the creation of the universe as long as it does not teach it as a scientific fact. The primary causality of this enterprise in our context is history. The account of Partition of India is a tale of murder and massacre. In our school curriculum, it becomes the story of the murder, rape and pillage of the Muslims by the Hindus, as if only people from one community did the killing. This inculcates prejudice and robs a complex historical event of all nuances. The term used for Indian in most instances is ‘Hindu’. How ignorant, how disrespectful to the spirit of historical inquiry and also to the millions of Pakistanis who belong to the Hindu faith? The slant of historical education is that the ‘Hindus’ are sympathetic towards India and the ‘Christians’ towards the West. And yet we act shocked each time an attack on minorities occurs.
Every day we express surprise over our willingness to believe the most fantastic conspiracy theories and wonder why we do it. Pakistan Studies teaches students (young children) that the entire non-Muslim population was conspiring against the Muslims. The chapters on Bangladesh are about how it was all a ‘Hindu/Indian’ conspiracy and all was well otherwise. Some textbooks go on to say nonsense such as, because in Bangladesh most teachers were Hindus, they poisoned the students and the population at large against Pakistan. Where does one begin with such idiocy? No mention of systemic deprivation of the eastern wing and the failure to develop an inclusive, pluralist, federal structure, etc. The entire education system is devised towards making children believe conspiracy theories; it is geared towards producing patriotic adults believing in water kits and HAARP.
While we fight the existential battle, etc. through the National Action Plan, Bacha Khan is being excised from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa syllabus and a new chapter on Ghazi Ilam Din introduced. Even Mr Jinnah is not safe from the ‘nationalist’ bureaucratic curriculum setter. Mr Jinnah’s August 11 speech has been introduced in the curriculum by the Sindh government and kudos to it. In the rest of the country, there is an historic and ongoing attempt to appropriate Mr Jinnah to the religious right. Mr Jinnah was one of the finest legal minds and statesmen of India and he would have nothing but contempt for this rebranding. How many textbooks emphasise the fact that Mr Jinnah was an Ismaili? After the Safoora Goth massacre, there was a deliberate attempt by many to avoid mentioning this in their analyses. How many universities teach Dr Ayesha Jalal and Hamza Alvi as authorities on Pakistani history?
The education system in the country is geared towards teaching a brand of ‘patriotism’ and not to encourage a spirit of inquiry. The real scary bit is the thought that the alleged killers of Sabeen and the Safoora Goth victims are not a product of a broken /dysfunctional education system. The education system seeks to produce ‘hyper-patriots’ and maybe that was what the killers considered themselves to be. It is the direction that is the problem and not only the functioning of it.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2015.
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