The findings of the report “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan” are dire, but not new (Summary at press release below, forwarded to me by The Mirror, a publication of the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace). Pakistani academics have long been pressing for a reform of the curriculum, for example through reports like The Subtle Subversion (SDPI, 2003). The jihadisation of the curriculum includes inane prerequisites like religious studies for medical students – the Supreme Court recently provisionally allowed a Hindu student to sit for the medical college entry test. All this must change. But lest we forget, the idea of Jehad was incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan war, because it suited Washington, and Pakistan to encourage and glorify the “Mujahideen” (holy warriors) in the war against the Soviets. An American institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools accordingly. “The institution was University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a center for Afghan studies which was tasked by CIA in the early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left, kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about 2002,” says Dr A.H. Nayyar, one of the co-editors of the SDPI report, quoted in my article ‘Jehad and the curriculum,’ 2004.
USCIRF Press release, November 9, 2011
Pakistan’s Educational System Fuels Religious Discrimination
A new study sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and conducted by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) found that Pakistan’s public schools and madrassas negatively portray the country’s religious minorities and reinforce biases which fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities.
“This study – the first-ever study of its kind — documents how Pakistan’s public schools and privately-run madrassas are not teaching tolerance but are exacerbating religious differences,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “Education reform incorporating religious tolerance is critical to the development of a society that values human rights, including religious freedom, for all its citizens. Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability, and global security.”
Titled “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” the study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan’s public school system and its madrassa system, and the interviewing of teachers and students about their views on religious minorities. The goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrassas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence.
The study found that:
• Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan’s religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether;
• Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms, and references to Christians were often inaccurate and offensive;
• Public school and madrassa teachers had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether religious minorities were citizens;
• Teachers often expressed very negative views about Ahmadis, Christians, and Jews, and successfully transmitted these biases to their students;
• Interviewees’ expressions of tolerance often were intermixed with neutral and intolerant comments, leaving some room for improvement.
ICRD and its partner, the independent Pakistani think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1 through 10 from Pakistan’s four provinces. Students and teachers from public schools and madrassas were also interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province), Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. Thirty-seven middle and high schools were visited, with 277 students and teachers interviewed individually or in group settings. Researchers interviewed 226 madrassa students and teachers from 19 madrassas.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. government commission separate from the State Department, has actively monitored the rise across Pakistan of violent religious extremism that targets religious minorities as well as members of the Muslim majority. USCIRF has concluded that promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief must be an integral part of advancing regional security in South Asia. The conflict with violent religious extremists in Pakistan requires the United States to understand the roots of this extremism and actively bolster those who respect democratic values, the rule of law, and international standards of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief. Education reform is a key part of this effort.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 523-3257.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.