May 6, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6419

Pakistani Columnist Zubeida Mustafa's Article 'Textbooks Of Hate' In Pakistan

May 6, 2016
Special Dispatch No. 6419

In a recent column, titled "Textbooks of Hate," Pakistani columnist Zubeida Mustafa lamented the influence of religion in textbooks used in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and the failure of the successive provincial governments, both secular and religious, to secularize the syllabi taught in the province.

In October 2013, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a comprehensive study of textbooks used in government-run schools - not madrassas - in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.[1] The study showed in great detail how textbooks published by governments in all the provinces continue to teach young pupils jihad and martyrdom as well as hatred of other religious groups, such as Hindus and Christians.

Given below are excerpts from Zubeida Mustafa's column, which sheds fresh light on this issue in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PK), where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is in power in a coalition government that includes Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.[2]

Textbooks In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province "Glorify War, 'Otherize' Non-Muslims, Take A Unidimensional View Of Reality, Distort History, And Stereotype Women"

"Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said that education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge. Freire believed that students should do a lot of 'problem-posing' and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.

"Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Now we have yet another report on textbooks. The analyst is Tahira Abdullah, whose is an invincible voice that cannot be silenced. She is the most fearless and untiring of activists in Pakistan, who has left no injustice, oppression or social evil unaddressed. She took up the gauntlet on behalf of the students of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP]. KP has yet to adopt a right-to-education law.

"In a comprehensive and scathing survey of textbooks published by the KP Textbook Board, Tahira sums up all that is wrong with them. In Textbooks of Hate or Peace? she says that the books glorify war, 'otherize' non-Muslims, take a unidimensional view of reality, distort history, and stereotype women. Textbooks for English, Urdu, Pakistan Studies, social studies, Islamiat [Islamic studies], general knowledge, geography, and history published under three different governments that have ruled KP since 2002 have been analyzed. What emerges clearly is that any subject can be used as an agent for pushing a narrow religious agenda. This in turn can be exploited for the attainment of nefarious political goals by those in office.

"The conclusion? The [the previous provincial governments led by Muttahida Majlis Amal] MMA, the ANP [Awami National Party], and now the PTI ([Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf], in coalition with the Jamaat-i-Islami) have wreaked havoc on the minds of KP's children. Tahira points out that the different ideological complexion of these three rulers has made little difference. For instance, the ANP claims to be secular in orientation. Yet it was in no hurry to change the pattern of education in the province when it was elected. It took the ANP until 2011, three years after assuming office, to draw up a relatively progressive education sector plan. But there was no time to implement it, as in 2013 it was [already] out of office.

"Meanwhile, weak attempts to liberalize the curricula proved futile. Even the peace slogan the ANP educators inserted on the flip side of the front and back covers of textbooks has been removed by the PTI, which has surrendered totally to its junior coalition partner, the JI [Jamaat-e-Islami]. The fact is that there is a nexus between the militant, extremist and jihadist elements in the education sector, not just in KP but to an extent all over Pakistan. These 'pro-ideology' [i.e. Islamic Ideology of Pakistan] elements understand that only by controlling the minds of the youth is it possible to pre-empt change and resist reforms. If they cannot control curricula-making, they use threats of violence to influence the process. We saw it happen in Sindh, where [the noted educationist] Bernadette Dean had to leave the country because her attempt to secularize textbooks was disapproved by such elements."

There Is A "Need To Incorporate The Concepts Of Critical Thinking, Spirit Of Inquiry, Pluralism, Tolerance For The 'Other' [Such As Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Shi'ites], Gender Equality, And Peace Education In Pedagogy Itself"

"KP's indifference towards education is appalling. The assembly there has yet to adopt a right-to-education law, that is needed under the newly introduced Article 25-A of the Constitution. It is the only province not to have done it. The first priority, as very rightly pointed out by Tahira Abdullah, should be to change the wider framework that is the national curriculum and the education policy. The ITA, an NGO involved in the education sector, tells us the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been working on this agenda since August 2015 and that the policy was to be announced in January 2016. Is this a case of waiting for Godot?

"Tahira's recommendation is for the government of Pakistan to establish a reforms committee on curricula and textbooks. This would formalize the process of change. The fact is that howsoever progressive textbooks may be, education will not take a new direction until pedagogy is also changed. Tahira speaks of the need to incorporate the concepts of critical thinking, spirit of enquiry, pluralism, tolerance for the 'other' [such as Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Shi'ites], gender equality, and peace education in pedagogy itself.

"One may add that textbooks serve only as tools. The person who uses the tool, that is the teacher, does the real mischief. It is important to limit the potential of exploiting religion by removing religious content from all textbooks. Islamiat books should be the only exception.

"The Peace and Development Foundation has done well to sponsor this report on textbooks in KP, which is vulnerable to extremist religious influences. Some have pointed out that mullah [clerics'] networks in the tribal areas were used by the colonial power in its Great Game against Russia, and that Deoband [madrassa of British India] also had clandestine links with some religious elements to destabilize the colonial rulers. Today, we are suffering its consequences."


[2] Dawn (Pakistan), April 1, 2016. The original English of the article has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.


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