Ideology and Education: A Deadly Combination

Ahmed al-Ghamdi

Ahmed al-Ghamdi is no unbeliever. He is not even a liberal. The conservative Muslim lead the mutaween in Mecca. One day, he was devotedly studying Qur’an and Sunnah when he discovered something that surprised him:

“I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to [gender mixing] from the Quran and the Sunna. My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”

When Al-Ghamdi reported his discovery, he was fired from his position with the religious police. He was fired not due to his being wrong, but because his discovery had challenged the ruling power structure. In this instance, education and critical thinking were seen as a threat to the status quo and were therefore punished. In Pakistan, we are experiencing a similar backlash against critical thinking and education, but the stakes are much higher than merely losing ones’s job.

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Women and the Economy

A worrisome report was issued by the Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) on Wednesday. Chamber president Dr Zakia Hashmi noted that women’s share in poverty is increasing in Pakistan. Such facts are tragic and worthy of addressing on their own merits, but this situation in particular warrants attention because of its effects on the entire nation.

It has been well established that women’s empowerment is required for economic growth. This economic reality has been noted at the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. By failing to provide opportunities for girls and women, we are failing ourselves.

The Global Campaign for Education has reported that “over 5.1 million primary school-aged children are out of school in Pakistan – the third highest number of out-of-school children in the world – and 63% of them are girls.”

We cannot succeed if we leave behind half of our population. Lack of education and increasing poverty for girls and women is nothing less than a national security issue. We need to treat it with the same level of urgency.

Zarb-e-Azb: A Lesson From America’s War on Terrorism

Kaptaan’s XI may be down to their last wicket in Islamabad, but Army has been racking up the runs in North Waziristan. In a new statement, ISPR says over 900 militants have been killed and key terrorist strongholds have been cleared. Army’s offensive against Taliban is welcome news, but celebrations are still premature. If we want to rid the nation of terrorism for good, we need to take a lesson from America’s war on terrorism.

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Mainstreaming Extremism In KP Primary Schools

Madrassa

Yesterday, Government KP announced that 2000 madrassahs will be given Primary School status:

What this means is not exactly clear. It could mean that 2000 madrassahs will be brought under state curriculum in effort to eliminate radicalising forces and improve the education of all students. However the reality is probably different.

In the best case scenario, this is a scheme to cook the books on education in the province by making it appear that the provincial government has increased number of primary schools. This is more of an accounting trick than anything else, moving schools from the madrassah column to the primary school column to boost numbers. Supporters of the move will argue that this will have a positive effect by bringing them under official curriculum and increasing lessons on maths and science for madrassah students.

More likely is that the result will be mainstreaming of extremism in KP primary schools. It should be remembered that one year ago KP government changed the official school curriculum to include lessons on jihad.

“Jihad is a part of our faith and every child should have knowledge about it and its true spirit,” said Farman, who was flanked by Elementary and Secondary Education Additional Secretary Qaiser Alam. “In the curriculum we will include whatever we consider correct. We are not going to appease anyone,” he stressed.

Such statements suggest that the influence is more likely to come from the madrassahs than the other way around.

Pakistan faces an education crisis, and KP is in many ways suffering the worst as hundreds of state schools have been destroyed by militant extremists. The solution however is not to turn education over to them.

Putting our priorities in order

defense government-budgets-education-vs-military-spending

India is the world’s largest arms importer. It is also the third largest economy in the world. Pakistan has increased its purchased by 119 per cent, making it the third largest arms importer, just behind China. By contrast, though, Pakistan has the 27th largest economy in the world.

It’s not just arms imports that we spend a disproportionate amount of money on, it’s military spending in general. In one of it’s first acts after taking power, the PML-N government increased defence spending by 15 per cent, or Rs82 billion. This is about 3 percent of GDP, which means Pakistan has the 20th largest military expenditure as a percentage of GDP. By comparison, India spends less than 2.5 percent of GDP on military expenditures, ranking at number 32 of the world.

But the point here isn’t really whether or not an arms race with India is a winnable match (it isn’t). The point is that, while we are both spending billions on military expenditures, our nation is becoming less and less secure.

It has become close to accepted among much of the population that there is no purely military solution to terrorism. Whether or not one believes that military has any role to play (something even Imran Khan has come around to believe), the Americans experiment in Iraq taught us that you cannot kill terrorism away, you have to defeat terrorism through education and economic development.

In the latest budget, however, education is still not a priority, accounting for only 8 percent of spending – so small it doesn’t even show up on most charts. Health programmes also receive substantially less from the national treasure, accounting for only Rs9.9 billion. Meanwhile, polio, a disease wiped out in most of the rest of the world, is on the rise in Pakistan. And unemployment is set to increase this year and remain high for at least 5 years.

And don’t expect Nawaz’s secret billion dollar deals with Saudi Arabia to improve matters.

Pakistan’s new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, also met King Abdullah and top Saudi military commanders during a trip to the kingdom two weeks before the new account was set up.

It’s time to put our priorities in order. Instead of mortgaging the country to buy tanks and missiles, let’s spend billions on health and education. Instead of being 3rd largest arms importer, let’s become first largest importer of books. Every year we pour more and more of the national treasure into the military, and every year we become less and less secure. It’s time to try something different.