What are we teaching our children?
By Raza Rumi
The overwhelming response to my earlier piece on the subject of jaundiced Pakistani textbooks has prompted me to continue with this theme. A large number of Pakistanis are aware of ideological twists given to basic learning materials in Pakistan. Of course, there are many who continue to be in denial and who insist that raising this issue is akin to defaming Pakistan. This strange logic — of accepting the ills of a society in the name of patriotism is simply incomprehensible. Perhaps ‘operation brainwashing’ has succeeded at many levels.
Sceptical readers ask for examples. There is no point in repeating whatthe seminal study on the University of Vermont website already says. However, a key problem is locating Pakistan’s creation in a battle for Islam. Jinnah was ready to give up the idea of a separate country as late as 1946 by accepting the Cabinet Mission proposals. Why do such lies have to be taught then? The answer to this rhetorical question is clear. A national security state had to construct enemies and prepare a mass constituency for militarisation of the country. This is why we have 110 nukes but 55 per cent of the population lives without access to proper sanitation.
Social studies textbooks teach that India attacked us in 1948 and 1965 (class five); and Kargil (class three, Meri Kitab). Bengali separatism was a result of Hindu teachers and traders; and “after 1965 war India conspired with the Hindus of Bengal and succeeded in spreading hate among the Bengalis about West Pakistan and finally attacked on East Pakistan in December 71, thus causing the breakup of East and West Pakistan.” In fact, some textbooks say that we had almost won the 1971 war!
Throughout the textbooks, subtly or brazenly there is glorification of war and the capability to wreak damage and contain the ‘enemy’. What could be more damaging to young minds than imbibing half-truths and accepting violence as legitimate? A class five Social Studies textbook teaches: “India is our traditional enemy and we should always keep ourselves ready to defend our beloved country from Indian aggression”. This is not to say that Indian or Bangladeshi textbooks are free of biases, but we need to fix our problems before imitating wrongs done by others.
In post-1979 Pakistan, the penchant for jihad has grown stronger. The National Curriculum guidelines for primary schools cite a key ‘learning outcome’ as recognising “the importance of Jehad in every sphere of life”. Another macabre gem is to train children in making “speeches on Jehad” and assessing “their spirits while making speeches on Jehad, Muslim History and Culture”. What happened to 5,000 years of Pakistan’s history?
Sadly, generations have now grown up espousing the cause of jihad so well laid out in our textbooks that the reversal of this process may take another 10 years or more. Little wonder, then, that when I received an invitation for the Saarc Literature festival in New Delhi, my eight-year-old emphatically advised me: “you can’t go to the enemy country”. What could be more worrying for a South Asia pacifist?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2011.