A few days ago, I was watching PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) Newshour broadcast. Those of you who are not familiar with PBS in America, it is like the old BBC before the days of privatisation fervour. The programme tends to do in depth analysis of news and events but the tone and presentation is more like a sombre funeral prayer. Anyway, I sat up when they said they are going to interview Bushra Hyder from Pakistan. I have known about her work in North-western Pakistan and the continuous hazard she had to face. So, I was paying attention regardless of the Margaret Warner monotone.
Bushra Hyder is the founder and director of two schools In North-western Pakistan that promotes non-violence and tolerance. She has been threatened by Pakistani Taliban many times for educating girls and teaching a non-violent curriculum which the mullahs maintain to be un-Islamic. So, yes I wanted to watch the interview. Discussing the causes of unremitting violence, Bushra Hyder says at one point, “… There are many (causes), — it’s the way the curriculum is designed. It’s the way the students are taught, and it’s the wrong picture of — or the misinterpretation of the Islamic concepts.” When asked to give an example Bushra said, “Yes, the textbooks. They are, like, biased, biased towards other religions, and they have content which is derogatory towards other religions…”
Wow, what a statement to make! Think about this for a minute. The US and the world are spending billions of Dollars each year to fight the Taliban and the Jihadists. There are drones, bombs, night raids and carpet bombing but right there in what Bushra said is the real cause of unremitting violence, the no end in sight dark tunnel of intolerance! It is being created out of whole cloth and foisted on the children of Pakistan through an education system that has been co-opted by the prophets of violence. But how do they co-opt a whole education system? Alas it is the government itself that has been co-opted by the prophets of Intolerance.
In an answer to the question as to who writes the curriculum Bushra says, “They’re provided by the government to the government schools, but they are written according to certain common policies. And the private schools have to use the same books also.” So, there is one of the major causes for unrelenting violence and intolerance.
After viewing the programme I decided to do some digging of the primary and middle school curriculum In Pakistan. Those of us who had some schooling in the days of East Pakistan still remember religious teaching (Diniyat) as an elective course. Religion was not part of the day to day education in an ostensibly Muslim country. There were elective Hindu religion courses too. At my school you could learn Sanskrit as well as Diniyat. Of course the history books glorified the Moghul empire, did not talk much about Gandhi or All India Congress. We learnt that Jinnah was aghast at the dirt from a game of soccer so he played cricket instead. We also learnt that Jinnah had his clothes laundered in Paris. No, these acts were not viewed as elitist and shameful things to do but somehow laudatory. He apparently prayed five times a day and looked at Pakistan as the sole saviour of Muslims. These are rather juicy morsels of falsehoods about a guy who was inherently non-religious and who was angling for a better place in the Independent India. Pakistan was a historical accident even the proponents did not expect or want it to happen. So, when it did happen the proponents were stunned along with the rest of the population. They all had to embrace the one justification for such a life changing event even harder, Islam.
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who teaches at Qaid-e-Azam University, shows off an illustrated Urdu alphabet primer which goes like this, “alif for Allah; bay for bandook (gun); tay for takrao (collision, shown by a plane crashing into the Twin Towers); jeem for jihad; kay for khanjar (dagger); and hay for hijab.” That is what the kids are learning as their first words! No wonder the place sees no end to violence. Then there is the government approved curriculum that states that by the end of Class V the child must, “be able to acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan; demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah; make speeches on jehad and shahadat (martyrdom); understand Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan; India’s evil designs against Pakistan; be safe from rumour-mongers who spread false news; visit police stations; collect pictures of policemen, soldiers, and National Guards; and demonstrate respect for the leaders of Pakistan.” Various experts estimate that a good 82% of the students in colleges and high schools believe that the problems in Pakistan have been created by India, the US and the Infidels (widely defined as anyone not agreeing with the hardliners). There is very little chance of peace and progress when the whole generations are being brought up steeped in hatred and bigotry!
So, how did Pakistan go so far into the weed? From the days when we read “Diniyat” as elective subject and boned up on religious teaching with the Moulana Shahib at the mosque before school to where falsehoods are the dominant religious teachings? You can trace this back to 1976 and the paranoia of the then dictator Zial-ul-Huq. Admittedly, Pakistan was still trying to reconcile itself over the loss of East Pakistan and the resounding defeat at the hands of Indian Armed Forces and Mukti Bahini. The thesis that Islam (or any religion) will form a glue to keep totally different parts of the world together was blown to smithereens. Zia’s coup was timely and in retrospect a grotesque joke played by the gods on the people of Pakistan.
In 1976 the Pakistan parliament imposed a curriculum that portrayed Pakistan as being surrounded by enemies, mainly India. Since religion is the key variable for Pakistan’s existence, anyone who is not a Muslim was simply portrayed as the enemy. Thus started the journey that made generations of Pakistanis into the current seething mass of intolerance where 80%+ people think that the world has ganged up on them.
Back to more ruminating of what was and what is becoming in Pakistan and may even migrate to Bangladesh unless we are vigilant enough. Remember the silly little essays we had to write about cows? The cow is a four footed domestic animal, etc. etc. Well the cow in Pakistani syllabus is a, wait for it, Cattle! The teaching goes something like this, “It is a ‘Sunnah’ of our Holy Prophet to rear the cattle. By doing so, we fulfil our needs and at the same time obey the Sunnah-e-Nabi [custom-of-the-Prophet].” Well, the poor cow! Now it is the sunnah and a political message board, not just a friendly four footed domesticated animal.
Then there are the outright lies about history. The emergence of Bangladesh is labelled as the result of rebellion by the Hindus. The National textbook for students in Class IX and X states, “As soon as the Pakistani Army emerged from the barracks to restore law and order, the province burst into an uprising. Hundreds and thousands of rebels, the majority of whom were East Pakistani Hindus crossed into India, where they were welcomed and allowed to live and conspire against the State of Pakistan”. No mention of mass imprisonment, mass rape, burning of village after village, no mention of indiscriminate killing of hundreds and thousands of unarmed people.
This is the drivel that the hapless Pakistani youth are being taught and no wonder the violence and intolerance never abates in that country. This is what happens when people with blind prejudice simply jump on anything and try to fit it into their worldview.
This is the seminal lesson for Bangladesh. One person or a fairly small number of people with an agenda and unwavering worldview can destroy the very fabric of the society by simply usurping the educational framework which informs the society for generations. We have a thousand year history of cultural tolerance and mingling. We need to preserve our social ethos, our festivals, our traditions of tolerance and keep our schools secular or we will end up as a failed state a la Pakistan!
Kayes Ahmed lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA with his three dogs. He runs a small yet global apparel and design business based in Boulder.