A few days ago, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) released a book called, I am not Malala, I am a Muslim, I am a Pakistani. The president of the said organisation, Mirza Kashif Ali, noted that “the book is written with the aim to reveal the truth and counter anti-Islamic propaganda and expose the nefarious designs of anti-Islam forces”. The president further argued that “Malala is a darling of the West and Shiv Sena, the same people who created al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have created Malala.”
I must say, I have nothing but ‘admiration’ for the president of the 173,000-member strong organisation. He has clearly shown how the ‘educated’ class in Pakistan can be myopic, idiotic and senseless — and then we wonder why education, despite a proliferation of schools in recent years, is in such a dismal state in Pakistan. We then wonder why Pakistan is in such a sorry state, when the people who want to destroy the country and drag it into the abyss of conspiracy theories and make-believe scenarios, still carry the day. Pakistanis indeed are their own worst enemies.
They say history repeats itself. And indeed it does, else I would be out of a job. Back in the 1970s we booted out our first Nobel Prize winner because he was an Ahmadi. But Dr Abdus Salam was a physicist, but then perhaps, Physics can be Ahmadi too. And now it is Malala’s turn, our second Nobel Prize winner. It is as if a lot of us knew that people are going to turn against her simply because she has been recognised by the world. We have a wonderful penchant for blasting Pakistanis who have world recognition, be it Malala or Dr Salam or even Sir Zafrullah Khan, who the Quaid-e-Azam personally invited to become the first foreign minister of Pakistan, who the Muslim countries chose as their spokesman on Palestine in 1948, but who was again chased out of the country because of his religion — only to become the President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Our loss, their gain. Mediocrity is perhaps our mantra; if you are mediocre, corrupt or insane, we will love you; if you are not any of these things, we will spout vitriol against you.
The book published by the APPSF shows how deep the rot is. If the owners of private schools in large parts of Pakistan can support and endorse such delusional ideas and vitriol, then this country is certainly headed for a catastrophe. For a long time I had been weary of the singular focus on curriculum reform. Yes, that is important but after that we must move towards teacher training and, as evident from this incident, school-owner training. The textbooks might be completely fine — and I carried out a study of the history and social studies textbooks of the Punjab Textbook Board last year and found them to be much improved — but until and unless the ethos of the school in which they are taught does not foster rational thinking and common sense, then nothing will change. I still remember a principal/owner of a very posh school in Lahore commenting in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that they must have been the work of the Israelis since they are simply evil. Why blame the students then if their teachers — those who are supposed to ‘know’ — are such conspiracy theorists?
Over the last few months, some people in Pakistan have been sadistically enjoying the growing intolerance in India. While they are forgetting that India is a democracy and that this too will pass, one thing which really differentiates us from India is that there are still people in that country who react, something which still gives hope to people there. After the 1980s, it seems that we have run out of steam. Now, rarely does civil society react in the ways it used to under Zia. However, now is a chance: let the 173,000 schools which are a part of the APPSF resign their memberships in protest. Let other schools denounce the book and support the cause of real education. Let private schools show that they are not just there for accruing profits, and that they are actually interested in advancing knowledge and education. The battle for the children of Pakistan, the education of Pakistan, is raging — let us not lose it.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2015.