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OPINION

Hate Lessons in Saudi, Pakistan textbooks
ALLABAKSH

Even as the so-called war on terror continues with little success and the fool hardy attempts by the US to transport ‘democracy’ to reluctant shores make the Americans even less liked in the Muslim world, one of the main worries in the West remains the hatred for Christians and Jews preached in school textbooks in many Muslim countries, especially in one of its closet allies, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which also spends a part of its huge petro-dollar income on spreading across the world the message of the faithful.

Post 9/11, textbook in Pakistan also came under the scanner but the country being more ‘focused’ on demonising only the Hindus, the US is not bothered about what hate lessons are taught in that country, the frontline state in the so-called war on terror. Beyond the media hype over the longing for friendship between the people of India and Pakistan, the fact is that the average Pakistani, nurtured on exaggerated stories in the textbooks and rhetoric of his rulers and the clerics, longs to see the green crescent flag fluttering all over the sub-continent. Till that happens, India will remain ‘the enemy’ and a country to be ‘crushed’ for Pakistan. After all, according to the Pakistani textbooks ‘Hindus and Sikhs are the enemies of mankind’.

India is not blemish-free in the area of twisting history. With the rise of the saffron power, many school textbooks in saffron-run states stress on the Hindu-Muslim divide, skirting over the many common ties that bind them even today. Textbooks in schools run by the Sangh Parivar gloat over Hindu warriors while denigrating the Muslims. Some of these textbooks hail Hitler and pay tribute to fascism. Of course, these saffron texts do not use the kind of openly abusive and explicit language against non-Hindus that the textbooks in, say, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan do in regard to non-Muslims. But that cannot condone the pernicious tones of the saffron textbooks because they also aim to prejudice the mind of the young students.

Nevertheless, the US is worried that the lessons in hatred towards non-Muslims imbibed from a tender age make it easier for the likes of Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden to see an unending stream of suicidal and terrorist recruits in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the world became well aware of the kind of objectionable material incorporated in Saudi textbooks for history and religion. Saudi Arabia, of course, is bin Laden’s country of origin. Riyadh came under pressure, both internally and externally, to make changes in the textbooks by cleansing them of the more acerbic and offensive statements against the ‘no-believers’. Fifteen out of 19 hijackers of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi nationals.

It appears that the five-year effort of the Royal Saudi government have not really made the textbooks very different. This has become evident from a study of 12 ‘revised’ Saudi textbooks by a Washington-based research centre, the Centre for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, the US-based private group that works to promote democracy, and another Washington-based group, the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

Two samples from the ‘revised’ texts: the first graders are taught that ‘every religion other than Islam is false’; the fifth graders learn that a Muslim ‘is forbidden to be a loyal friend’ of anyone who is not a follower of Islam. Christians are ‘swine’ and Jews are ‘apes’, so say the textbook for eighth graders. The general message of these books is that all those who are not Muslims, rather those who are not the followers of the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam, are ‘enemies’ and waging jihad against these ‘evil’ men is justified. The failure of the Saudi government to ‘reform’ its education system with changes in textbooks has become a matter of debate in the US.

Saudis and all those who support the message retained in the ‘reformed’ textbooks have fiercely rejected the criticism. Incidentally, the Saudi textbooks are taught not only in Saudi schools but also in many Saudi-aided schools in countries like the US, UK and France. One such school in the US is located in a Washington suburb.

In defence of these Saudi textbooks it has been said that religion being a core issue in the lives of the Saudis any change in the textbooks has to be very cautious and slow. Some have suggested that the satanic portrayal of religions other than Islam was necessary because of the US policies in the Middle East and the suppression of Muslims. Still some others find fault with the religious curriculum and textbooks in the West that fail to show Islam in glowing terms.

In Pakistan the textbooks go to the extent of almost bypassing or mentioning in derogatory terms the non-Islamic past of the country. The Pakistani accounts of the Indian freedom struggle show the few Indian (Hindu) leaders that find mention in textbooks in poor light, Gandhi included, while Jinnah and others are painted as deeply religious, orthodox Muslims with larger than life achievements. The creation of Pakistan, the Pakistanis textbooks declare, was the result of ‘Hindu perfidy’ and in the riots during partition of the sub-continent in August 1947 the only victims of ‘extra cruelty and heartlessness’ of the Hindus and Sikhs were the Muslims.

The Pakistani history relating to 1971 affirms that the creation of Bangladesh was the result of a deep-rooted Hindu conspiracy that led to dismemberment of Pakistan, separating it from the territory that was then known as East Pakistan. No Pakistani textbook will dare take a critical look at the role of the Pakistani army in the struggle for Bangladesh and the fact that the majority party was denied the opportunity to form the government.

Surprisingly, even text books aimed at creating social consciousness among students are not spared from attack. A case in point is “Pakistan ki kahanian”, an Urdu textbook used by class IX and X students appearing for the O- and A-level exams. The education ministry banned the book few days back on the charge that it contains “objectionable and vulgar” material. Is that really so? Ask the students who have been using the book? Their reply: the stories the book contains actually helped develop in them an awareness of issues like rape, karo-kari, honour killings, swara, child marriages and so on. As the Karachi daily, The News International commented editorially, the ban order and the prelude to this extreme action are typical of the way the Pakistan “state exercises its prerogative to censor at will all sources of information and knowledge”. Conservative and religious circles orchestrated the campaign against the book’s contents and by acceding to their unreasonable demand President Musharraf exposed the hollowness of his ‘enlightened’ democracy. Is it not the responsibility of his government to sensitise students against social evils in the Pakistan society? Or does he think that students and their parents do not read news papers and therefore do not know that women are sold to settle disputes, that women are killed merely on suspicion of infidelity or talking to another man and that girls as young as 11 years of age are married off to men who are old enough to be their grandfathers?

The kind of history and religious text books prescribed in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan indicate that the authorises there believe that patriotism and nationalism are best preached by poisoning the young minds. The textbooks must instil in the youth an unambiguous message that the Muslims are ‘different’ from all the ‘others’ and encourage them to be implacably hostile towards the non-believers. After being instilled with hate towards ‘others’ all through the school education, it should not be difficult for the students to gravitate towards an even more extreme philosophy of hate and brutality preached by terrorists. Literally millions of children are being groomed for religious violence and worse.


Courtesy : Syndicate Features

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