October 23, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 433

Kuwaiti Columnist Urges Reexamination of Education in Arab and Muslim Countries

October 23, 2002
Kuwait, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 433

The Palestinian daily Al-Quds[1] published an article by the Kuwaiti journalist Hamid Al-Hmoud in which he urged a reexamination of the educational curricula of Arab and Muslim countries and its effect on their children. According to Al-Hmoud, the only effective way to contain radicalism in the Arab and Muslim world is by implementing a comprehensive reshaping of its education and religious culture. The following are excerpts from the article:

Reexamining Arab-Muslim Education
"Following 9/11, the effects of the educational system in the Arab and Muslim world on religious radicalism were raised many times. The Western media published a host of articles and studies about it. While we reject those publications, which in our view smack of racism and animosity towards Arabs and Muslims... - [others] were objective and analytical, and attributed radicalism in the Arab world to early age education…"

"We rarely find in the Arabic media articles about the effects of education on the shaping of extreme opinions among the youth. Instead of seeing [September 11] as an opportunity to discuss, reexamine, and talk openly about this extremely important issue, some [of us] contended that an examination of this subject may indicate a collective [Arab/Islamic] responsibility for [9/11], or an invitation to those who lurk against us, and [against] our religion and culture to blame it on us."

"Those Muslims who oppose investigating the effects of education on radicalism among youth forget that the plunge into extremism, be it racial, national or religious, occurs in stages. Usually it is the result of religious deviation or a false interpretation of moderate ideology or culture. Examining its causes and identifying its roots is not an indictment of any religion, ideology, or culture. Analysis and open discussions of the reasons for the deviation of some Muslims allow us to learn the basic premises of our religion, and to get rid of the deviations [that occurred]."

Extremism Begins in Schools
"Following 9/11, all Muslim youth who fought with the Taliban were branded as extremists, although it is a known fact that the majority of them left their countries with the knowledge of their families and their governments. Their plunge into extremism was gradual, but we have to admit that it started out with [their] education and [their] social environment…"

"What are the religious and cultural components that those 'Arab Afghans' learned from their educational curriculum and religious environment? [What are the components] that molded their opinions and feelings and led them to abandon their families, cities, and lives, which seemed boring to them because they did not measure up to the religious culture that brainwashed them…?"

"We must realize that our children, teenagers, men, and women, are always exposed to a [distorted] religious culture that permits hatred of others. [We must realize] that there is some connection between the Islamic culture as reflected in the educational curriculum, at home, and in the neighborhood, and the culture that breeds religious fanaticism… [This Islamic culture] offers partial information, full of unjustified hatred towards other peoples' religions and cultures, as if those peoples do not do anything but plan wars against Muslims."

"The Western cultures, the Eastern cultures and their peoples [are described as] enemies of Muslims, and some of the fundamentalist preachers emphasize every Friday the evil deeds of those cultures and peoples… but when one of those preachers falls ill, his life is saved by a physician from the enemy camp [i.e. the West], and he takes medication developed and manufactured by that camp."

"No doubt that adopting this brand of religious culture will produce, at best, confused thoughts and mixed-up behavior towards others, some times to the point of having a split personality."

"Furthermore, [adopting this religious culture] results in conflicts between the religious directives that the individual receives, and civil society and modern human culture."

"This is why the migration of our youth to the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' did not seem to them extreme, but was an attempt to reconcile the religious culture that they absorbed and the ideal religious perception that was formed in their minds…"

Reexamination and Correction Are Not Surrender
"We believe that one is responsible for one's behavior… and I mean only direct responsibility, because indirect responsibility has a far wider scope, which includes the religious, social and political culture which one feeds on from his birthday. Therefore, a reexamination of the educational foundations, including the curriculum, and the reexamination of the student's perception of himself and of the followers of other religions as well as correcting this [perception], so that [the student] understands Islam and is proud of it, and at the same time accepts the others - [all this] is not to be [construed] as surrender."

"The reshaping of one's perception of our religion and culture by reexamining the educational curriculum, the media, and religious discourse which is mainly [found] in Friday sermons, is first and foremost for us, we the Muslims, and not for the West or the East. We will continue to carry our Arab and Islamic characteristics, but we also want to live harmoniously and peacefully with ourselves and with the peoples of the world."

"The reshaping of our perception of the world in which we live is a must in order to contain radicalism in all its shapes and manifestations… In order for it to be effective, it has to be comprehensive and to deal with both mind and soul..."

"America and the West are well equipped to defend themselves from the outcome [of radicalism]. But who will defend us, Arabs and Muslims, from the evils [of extremism] that exist in our society?"

[1] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), September 30, 2002

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