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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fund-a-mental

Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.
Thomas Huxley

That Muslim youth would not be behind the London 7/7 attacks was, for Muslims around the world, more a wish or a hope, because of the nagging feeling that the facts would turn out bad.

Most of the people around me, in Pakistan, however, expressed genuine surprise to find that among the perpetrators of this crime were children of Pakistani expats who had been brought up and educated in the UK.

Would they have been less surprised, had it turned out that they were ex-Madrassah students? Perhaps. After all the nation is fed, via national and foreign media alike, the notion that madrassahs provide (and train) jehadees. I am sure this does not happen in the majority of cases (our Prez says the same thing, though that is for the entirely real politik reasons of placating the MMA).

I am sure, however, that these religious schools are responsible for two things: one, of developing a mindset that is, at the very least, unconditionally sympathetic to the jehadees ... and, two, seeming to provide rich fishing grounds to those looking for recruits for such acts. The reason I say "seeming to provide" is that I have not come across too many examples of those captured (or among the dead, in the case of suicide bombers) having been long-term students of these madrassahs. So far. In many cases, the links made to these schools are tenacious and, in some, even far-fetched. They have been stereotyped and, as a result, many fit the bill without a fair trial. Let's also remember that the product of these madrassahs is more likely to be found among the perpetrators of such acts closer to our home, across the LOC, and on or near the Afghanistan side. Transporting them all the way to Europe and the USA is surely not an easy task.

One of the four 'suspects' of the 7/7 horror, we are told, was born in Britain and had visited Pakistan to study at a Madrassah for two months. Back home, the youngster was described, by friends and family alike, as a nice young man who loved the way of life his birthplace offered him. Why would his parents let him come for such a short while to a madrassah? After all, that's too little time to learn anything of value (but sufficient time, I suppose, to have hate instilled into young minds). What about the madrassah that let him in for such a brief period? Does it run intensive workshops that last for 8 weeks? I find no evidence of such activity among the madrassahs I know. Of course, the madrassahs do not need to do more than 'nudge' an already angry young man over the edge by dangling the carrot of martyrdom.

I am unable to understand the President of Pakistan (in uniform!) saying that not all but 'a few' madrassahs are guilty of 'training' these people, and analysts on the TV programs - including ex-military personnel - insisting that the blame must be placed on those specific madrassahs where the USA (in its infinite capacity for stupidity and lack of caring for when and whom it uses for its means) helped to set up such camps and provided weapons.

If this is really the case (and I believe it must be), surely, President Musharraf and his ex-colleagues and seniors, who were active at the time Zia was spear-heading this deal, would have, on some military or accessible records, the names and precise locations of those handful of madrassahs. Would it not be easier and wiser to come out on the national and international media and say "here is a list of madrassahs where the USA and the Pakistan Army helped set up training camps for jehadees to support the anti-USSR war in Afghanistan - and even without the USA's knowing, in India - when we believed it was the right thing to do".

After all, everyone knows we've made an about-face in terms of policy. And that's been hailed as a good decision, by most, for a variey of reasons. The Prez could then go on to dismantle these institutions, with the support of the majority of the nation, despite the protests of the madrassah-loving MMA. Those who speak out against these 'facts' would expose their tilt. Unless of course, such an action isn't possible because of a large portion of the Armed Forces supporting the jehadee outlook, as many suspect.

Another important aspect that needs to be clearly understood is that, while the moral support for jehadees is supposed to come from the militant madrassah stereotypes, a more unseen and - at least for now - low-intensity moral support is, increasingly, coming from many erstwhile moderates who are sick of the USA/UK policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. And the number rises with each Abu Ghraib type incident - or TV appearance of Donald Rumsfeld smirking over some human tragedy. Add to this, India's growing refusal to come to terms with the fact that the movement in Kashmir is an indigenous freedom struggle (even if it is supported - I think it is! - almost certainly by several successive governments - from our side of the border).

One more factor that seems to be ignored, underplayed, or not fully understood is that placing all the blame on madrassahs and their curriculum makes it possible to take the focus away from the national curriculum and syllabi that all the other schools follow. The indoctrination of ideas meant to sow the seeds of hatred of 'others', making it easy to develop fascistic tendencies, are intertwined within the standard text books that Pakistan has used for many years. And India has resorted to it, too, with much greater speed, during its BJP days. Studies on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide have shown this to be a major factor in keeping the populations from becoming friends.

This regime did try to alter that but, as in several other cases, backed off in the face of threats by the MMA, a monster of its own nurturing. In fact, the backing off on this particular issue was so great that, in a TV debate on the textbook matter, our then Minister for Education stated - on a programme watched by hundreds of thousands - that she was "a fundamentalist". (This was later explained, to the amusement of many, as her having meant that she believed in the fundamentals of Islam).

In my younger, post-1947 days, some of these divisive and terrible ideas were subtly and less obviously included in our text books, general literature, and the popular media. They were, sadly, considered 'acceptable', since they were at the same level as found in the so-called 'enlightened' West where post-WW2 movies and chidren's stories clearly defined the bad guys as the 'others': Injuns were bad; cowboys were good. Germans and Japanese were bad, Brits and Yanks were good. Commies were bad, Capitalists were good. If you did something honorable, it was categorized as a Christian thing to do; one even heard someone 'praise' another by saying "That was very White of you!"

Now, with the "developed" world - with the exception of the dastardly Neo-Cons (does that mean New Conmen?), moving towards a more tolerant and multicultural outlook, it seems strange that the rest of the countries are further polarized through militantly expressed - and politically exploited - differences between various groups. The preaching of hatred or ridicule for the 'other' is commonplace in the books Pakistani children are made to read. The same books also praise martyrdom, lay more than normal stress upon jehaad (and that, too, on only its warring aspects), and instill the inferiority of Science through fantastic and cooked up tales.

This combination is a gunpowder-keg, ready to blow-up. And, blow-up it does with greater frequency, with each wave of supply of illegal arms to thousands of young men, unable to find jobs and unsure of any chance of ever having a stable and useful life. Weighing this against the promise of a 'reward' in their after-lives, a belief strengthened at every level of their existence because it is unquestioningly accepted by the entire society around them, almost certainly helps them determine their suicidal course.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Samir Hoodbhoy said...

Well written, Zak.
Your last para summarizes it aptly.

11 September, 2005 09:46

 

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