Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sowing the Seeds of Secular Education

source: New York Times

This morning, the New York Times (NYT) wrote a brilliant article and slideshow about a group promoting secular islamic schools in the urban slums of Pakistan. Pakistan has unfortunately been a seat of radicalism for years, whether the national policy promotes it or not. And I strongly believe the only way out for Islamic states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and others struggling against poverty and fundamentalism is to invest in secular education.

Another excellent book to read on this topic is Three Cups of Tea. Its such an insightful, engaging read that you won't be able to put it down. Brilliantly penned.

This is a bit of an aside...hence the italics. Over the years, I've been asked many times to reflect on Pakistan's fundamentalism. For anyone interested, here it is: My own theory about why Pakistan is so radical has to do with its violent past, and lack of committed leadership. Pakistan was born out of a violent and bloody partition from India in 1950, orchestrated largely by the British. In the north where Hindus and Muslims had peacefully lived for centuries, a line was drawn on two sides of India...think of two arms being chopped off arbitrarily. One arm eventually became Pakistan, and the other eventually Bangladesh. The Hindus and Muslims were given a week to move out of their homes and move to the "right" side of the line. This sort of ridiculous uprooting caused tremendous anger between the two groups, which has never fully healed. The partition on all sides was painful, and violent. India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have never been the same since. Any country born from anger and blood is only bound to breed more.

India has survived best of the three because the basic secular infrastructure, economic generators, and policy of the country still remained. Also a large mass of the people (in the center, northeast and the south) were relatively unaffected. Muslims, Hindus, and others of the world's great religions still live peacefully with each other in these parts. These reasons and others, combined with better leadership, have insured the continuing success of India. Bangladesh has far too many natural catastrophes, relies too heavily on India for support, and has too much poverty to handle extreme fundamentalism. Not to mention neighbors that are either peaceful, or too mired in their own problems to affect Bangladesh much.

In some ways, Pakistan was doomed from the start. It was founded on fundamentalist principles against non-muslims from a bloody war (and three more after). Support has come from its fundamentalist and unstable neighbors Afghanistan, Iran, and other middle eastern countries (like Saudi Arabia) and it was a U.S pawn in the battle against the Soviet Union. Basically it had access to weapons, but never schools, roads, hospitals or good leadership (this is the story of Afghanistan as well). No wonder it has been in so much trouble! Often I see it as a teenager born from a violent relationship that was never given a chance to figure itself out. In fact, I really feel for Pakistan, and mostly the innocent people who have been victims of a terrible system.

On that note, let me say that I have several friends who are Pakistanis and I have tremendous respect for them and their homeland. This whole violence thing is such a pain in the behind!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your discussion about Pakistan being doomed from the start brought to mind Abdul Gaffer Khan, who you may know of although he more or less sank into oblivion. He was against partition and broke a lot of stereotypes as a Pashtun from the Northwest frontier who led a non-violent movement against the British.