Educating for Jihad

In an April 5 UPI story posted on Science Daily, Anwar Iqbal writes about a Washington D.C. seminar which focused on the problem of extremist religious education in Pakistan:

     Madrassa — Arabic for school — is where students are instructed in religion, usually ignoring other academic fields.
As one of the participants pointed out, there are more madrassas in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, than anywhere else but since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, international attention is focused on the madrassas in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, where many of the Afghan Taliban movement were educated.
Most madrassas teach a very narrow worldview linked to the Islamic sub-sect that the teacher of a madrassa subscribes too [sic]. The madrassas where the Taliban were educated, paid special attention to instill the spirit of jihad, or holy war, in their students and many analysts attribute the warlike behavior of the Taliban leaders to their madrassa background.

The United States wants Pakistan to crack down on the madrassas and curb the jihadist indoctrination that takes place in them. It sees a modern secular education in the arts, mathematics, and science as the best antidote to Islamic extremism in the schools.

     “Improve quality, improve quality, improve quality,” said Shahid Hafeez Kardar, an education specialist from Lahore while explaining how to make education useful. “Reforming a madrassa means nothing if you do not have a school system that provides good and cheap education to the poor.”
He said in the absence of a good school system, many parents would continue to send their children to madrassas.

Not everybody at the seminar agreed with Mr. Kardar. Prof. Tahir Andrabi

     …rejected the “failed state” hypothesis, which argues that because the Pakistani state is unable to provide an alternative source of education, parents send their children to a madrassa. “When they have an alternative, parents send their children to a regular school. And even when they do not, many parents do not send their children to madrassas,” he said.
Andrabi also claimed that “when there’s a rise in income, people send their children to an English medium school, rather than a madrassa.”

Prof. Andrabi’s words are encouraging, but note what his alternative implies: poor children in Pakistan simply fail to attend school, thus remaining ignorant and illiterate. This is not a recipe for resisting Islamist indoctrination.

Prof. Anita Weiss spoke about the need for Pakistan and the United States to act jointly to address the problem of education:

     But instead of focusing on madrassas, Weiss urged Pakistani and U.S. policy planners to “create alternative schools that provide good quality education and are cheap so that the poor families who send their children to madrassas are encouraged to send them to these schools.”
“Every dollar spent on reforming the madrassas, should have been spent on regular schools.” Weiss said. She said in some places in Pakistan that she visited, parents sent their children to a madrassa because they believed a madrassa-educated child has a better chance of getting a job than a student from a government school where “the standard is so low that the students learn nothing.”

Just because students are exposed to modern technology and educated in the use of computers, that does not mean they are any less inclined to become mujaheddin:

     [Prof. Weiss] rejected the suggestion that teaching madrassa students how to use a computer could help fight extremism in the madrassas. “The Taliban knew computers and had a Web site too,” she pointed out.
Prof. Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont, also backed her, saying that a madrassa in the Pakistani city of Multan had three Web sites, in English, Arabic and Urdu.

The web is a powerful weapon, but it is a double-edged sword. Those of us who oppose the Great Islamic Jihad in the blogosphere are harnessing the “distributed intelligence of the internet”, but we would do well to remember that the enemy can do the same thing.

Our advantage is a commitment to open discourse and the truth. A totalitarian ideology, whether Islamist or anything else, cannot thrive and spread without suppressing alternative points of view.

Keep the lights on.

2 thoughts on “Educating for Jihad

  1. I disagree with an assumption here; I think it IS economics which produces terrorists. But it is not the economics of poverty, it is the economics of the useless well-off. In oil “rental” or military-controlled societies, there is nothing to occupy or inspire the educated young, and the thoughts of the middle-class young male turn to apocalyptic glory. Beats sitting on your ass waiting for Daddy to die.

  2. Brian, I agree with you. BUT… the elite well-educated jihadis need plenty of rubes willing to be shahids, and the madrassas are useful places to nurture them. I think the process has developed a synergy that spans the social spectrum among orthodox Islamists.

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