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Pakistan's textbooks: "Lessons in bigotry, hate and a gross misrepresentation of history"

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Lessons in Intolerance: The textbooks that form part of the present public school curriculum are lessons in bigotry, hate and a gross misrepresentation of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2004
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      Lessons in Intolerance:
      The textbooks that form part of the present public school curriculum are
      lessons in bigotry, hate and a gross misrepresentation of history.

      By Massoud Ansari
      Monthly NewsLine, Karachi

      "Baba, what is kari?" a young girl asks her father. He ponders over how best
      he can explain this barbaric ritual that involves killing women in the name
      of 'honour' to his young daughter, and wonders where she has heard the term.
      He presumes she has read of it in newspapers, where such incidents are
      regularly reported. Before he can muster an appropriate explanation, his
      daughter asks if Marvi - a romantic heroine of Sindhi folklore - was a kari.
      She gleaned this information from one of her textbooks in school, she says.

      Various references to karo-kari are found to crop up in textbooks in current
      use in local schools, particularly in lessons pertaining to local folklore.
      Many of the references are, however, completely erroneous. Apparently the
      concerned authorities believe that karo-kari is now a part of the country's
      culture and thus deserving of mention in the curriculum. Ironically,
      according to some reports, the Federal Curriculum Wing (FCW) - an authority
      that regulates textbooks in the country - rejected the proposal to include
      late journalist, Najma Babar's article 'Madam Chairman, Sir,' in a Class 10
      English textbook. The article is about a married woman who goes out to work,
      while her husband, who is unemployed, takes care of the children and the
      home. The fact that male unemployment has become almost endemic particularly
      in Pakistan's lower and lower middle classes and economic compulsions have
      pushed many women into the workplace - in essence resulted in a role
      reversal of traditional male-female positions - apparently does not register
      with the authorities who rejected Babar's article on the grounds that "it
      goes against Pakistani culture and society."

      Meanwhile, a poem by Kahlil Jibran, a world-renowned philosopher and writer
      and a Maronite Christian, was rejected by the FCW on the grounds that he was
      a Jew. Similarly a lesson containing a letter by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali
      Jinnah's daughter, Dina Wadia, about her father in a textbook was rejected,
      because the concerned authorities decreed that since the Quaid had disowned
      her and Wadia is not a Muslim, she is not eligible to feature in local
      academic curricula.

      Welcome to Pakistani public schools, which are laying the foundations of
      future generations, where children are introduced to bigotry and intolerance
      from the primary level, and the conditioning continues throughout school.
      The lessons of tolerance included in the country's curriculum in the first
      two decades of the country's existence are being systematically replaced
      with lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and an ideology of hate. A case in
      point: recently a book was returned to its authors by the Federal Curriculum
      Wing for not carrying enough material on jihad.

      The amount of influence school textbooks wield on students' impressionable
      minds is indicated by a survey of schoolchildren published recently. Almost
      half of those surveyed do not support equal rights for minorities. A third
      of them support jihadi groups. Two-thirds of them want the Shariah to be
      implemented in letter and spirit. Nearly a third said Kashmir should be
      liberated by force, and nearly 80 per cent of them support Pakistan's
      nuclear status.

      Once a platform from which healthy, informed minds emerged, Pakistan's
      public school system today is a cesspool of ignorance, obscurantism and
      corruption. A graphic example: when a high school teacher at one of
      Karachi's public schools asked her class students to write an essay on any
      subject of their choice, one of the boys came up with a detailed and rather
      chilling 'Autobiography of a pistol.' The student summed up his essay with
      the statement, "I fall into the hands of a burglar who points me at a child,
      and demands ransom money from his parents in exchange for my life."

      The percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to Pakistan's
      education budget is puny. According to a UNESCO estimate, it is smaller than
      that of most Muslim countries, smaller even than that of most sub-Saharan
      nations. Small wonder then that the country is lagging behind her South
      Asian neighbours in assorted respects: Pakistan has the distinction of
      having the lowest literacy rate among this group, the lowest female
      participation in education, the highest female primary school dropout rate,
      and the lowest enrolment in the area of tertiary education. It is also the
      only country in the region where the expenditure on education as a
      proportion of the Gross National Product (GNP) has gone down since 1990 from
      2.6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 1.7 per cent in the last
      few years.

      Officially Pakistan's literacy rate is 45 per cent, although most education
      specialists maintain that the actual figure is less than 30 per cent. A
      World Bank report states that more than a third of the nation's 10-year-olds
      have never attended class.

      According to experts, it is not just the fact that Pakistan's education
      budget in relation to the Gross Domestic Product is insignificant;
      corruption, mismanagement and criminal negligence by the bureaucracy,
      policy-makers and feudal politicians have contributed substantially to the
      declining standards of the country's public education system. Combined,
      these factors have resulted in a low investment in education, ghost schools,
      ghost teachers, open-air schools devoid of even the most basic facilities,
      etc. Add to that the curricula of these public institutions and the output
      can only too easily be assessed.

      A recent study, 'The Subtle Subversion: The state of curricula and textbooks
      in Pakistan 2003', carried out by the Sustainable Development Policy
      Institute (SDPI), exposing the nature of the curricula taught to
      schoolchildren puts to lie claims emanating from the helm of the promotion
      of tolerance and moderation in the country. The report illustrates the
      myriad complex means used to disseminate ideologies of hate through the
      state's educational system.

      The 140-page SDPI report contains a detailed analysis of currently used
      textbooks and the general curriculum in government schools which
      demonstrates how the education system is contributing towards the creation
      of a culture of sectarianism, religious intolerance and violence. It notes
      how historical facts have been twisted and mutilated at length by certain
      vested interests to promote their respective agendas.

      Ironically, instead of debating the issues raised in this report, some of
      the country's policy-makers and right-wing elements have started questioning
      'the agenda' of the organisation responsible for the report, and the
      credibility of its authors. And when the government set up a committee to
      review the findings of this report and indicated it may consider making some
      changes in the academic curricula, the situation turned ugly.

      In Karachi, school and college students held a protest march against any
      proposed changes. The Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), the youth wing of the
      Jamaat Islami, organised the event. The protesters carried banners and
      placards inscribed with demands that Quranic verses be included in the
      syllabi, the federal education minister be dismissed and US intervention in
      Pakistan's affairs be halted. The protestors also condemned the findings of
      the SDPI report and issued threats of dire consequencies, if the government
      attempted to "secularise" the curriculum.

      Members of the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), also
      voiced their protest: They walked out of a National Assembly session on the
      grounds that a certain reference to jihad as well as some Quranic verses had
      been excluded from the new edition of a state-prescribed biology textbook.
      Liaqat Baloch of the MMA alleged, "Under the conditionalities of the US
      Agency for International Development, all verses containing any references
      to jihad or exposing the anti-Muslim prejudices of Jews and Christians are
      being omitted from the syllabi." And Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain
      Ahmad, warned that his party would move a privilege motion against
      government censorship in the syllabi.

      Federal Education Minister Zubeida Jalal responded to these charges by
      stating in the National Assembly that no chapter or verses relating to jihad
      or shahadat (martyrdom) had been deleted from local textbooks. She clarified
      that the particular verse referring to jihad which the MMA was up in arms
      over had been 'shifted' from the biology textbook for intermediate students
      (Classes XI and XII) to the matriculation level courses (Class X), not
      omitted. The minister was visibly on the defensive when she said that the
      government had rejected the SDPI report because the committee she had set up
      to look into the report had rejected it as representing an "extremist" view.

      One of the co-authors of this report, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, however, accused the
      education minister of not sharing the findings of the committee with members
      of the National Assembly. He contended that before submitting the report to
      the education ministry, nine members of the 15-member government review
      committee endorsed the report, while six expressed dissenting views on some
      findings. Nayyar wrote in a recently published article, "I don't know what
      prompted the education minister to remark on the floor of the National
      Assembly that the committee rejected the report."

      This is not the first time that Pakistani educationists have researched the
      curricula set for local schools. In 1994 another educationist, Dr Rubina
      Saigol wrote a detailed paper, called 'The boundaries of consciousness:
      interface between the curriculum, gender and nationalism,' in a book called
      Locating the Self.

      In this paper she demonstrated with several examples how our textbooks
      depict Hindus in a negative light enemies and how they incite permanent
      enmity, hatred and alienation with India. The author's contention was that
      local textbooks promote militarism and violence and indirectly justify heavy
      defence expenditure.

      Likewise, some other scholars, such as Dr Mubarak Ali and Professor K.K.
      Aziz have also published reports on this issue. KK Aziz has pointed out in
      detail the major inaccuracies, distortions, exaggerations and slants found
      in each officially prepared and prescribed textbook and in a representative
      selection of private commercial publications which are in wide use as
      textbooks. Khurshid Hasnain, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Rahman have also
      examined the distortions in history and social studies textbooks.

      According to some reports, in 1999, the National Committee on Education,
      which was constituted under the chairmanship of the federal education
      secretary at the prompting of some eminent educationists, prepared a report
      'National Curriculum 2000: A Conceptual Framework,' calling for a paradigm
      shift in the curriculum in order to produce "involved, caring and
      responsible citizens." This report was filed somewhere in the ministry, and
      no action has been taken on it to date.

      Experts on the subject disclose how different things were. They maintain
      textbooks prepared in the early years of Pakistan did not contain any kind
      of hatred or animosity towards Hindus despite the fact that the wounds from
      Partition were still raw. "The early textbooks in Pakistan written after
      Partition were free of the pathological hate that we see in textbooks
      today," says an expert. According to him the early history books contained
      chapters not only on old civilisations like Moenjodaro, Harappa, Taxila,
      etc., but also on the Hindu mythology contained in the Ramayana and
      Mahabharata, and extensively covered, often with admiration, the great Hindu
      Kingdoms of the Mauryas and Guptas. While these books admittedly indicated
      some bias when referring to more recent history, particularly the politics
      of independence, one found school textbooks featuring and praising Mohandas
      Gandhi. And the creation of Pakistan was attributed to the intransigence of
      the All India Congress and its leadership in respect of accommodating the
      Muslim League rather than to 'Hindu machinations.'

      Some books also clearly mentioned that the most prominent Islamic religious
      leaders were all bitterly opposed to the creation of Pakistan. "Such was the
      enlightened teaching of history for the first 25 years of Pakistan even
      though two wars were fought against India in this period. The print and
      electronic media often indulged in anti-Hindu propaganda, but educational
      material was by and large free of hate against Hindus," reads the SDPI

      The rot set in with the advent of General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia's 'Islamisation'
      of the country - widely recognised as a political tool to legitimise his
      rule - saw him cosying up to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist political
      party, and his government openly started transforming the education system.
      What resulted was a brand of education that officially fostered intolerance,
      bigotry and violence.

      Experts in the field contend that the concept of jihad was widely
      incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan
      war. According to Dr. Nayyar, at that point it suited Washington, and its
      most allied of allies, Pakistan, to encourage and glorify the mujahideen or
      'holy warriors,' in the war against the Soviets - and an American
      institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for
      Pakistani schools in keeping with his agenda. Says Nayyar, "The
      institution - the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a centre for
      Afghan studies - was tasked by the 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 leftÂ… that kind of stuff. This
      was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about

      The right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami that was given the task to make changes in
      the Pakistani school curriculum at that time, introduced as the cardinal
      principle of education the philosophy of its spiritual mentor and political
      guide Syed Abul Aala Maududi, who believed that in an Islamic society all
      that is taught should be in the context of religious knowledge. Every
      subject thus became Islamiat. A new breed of textbook historians came into
      existence and lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and hate became a
      predominant part of learning. Since actual history - researched, narrated
      and compiled by serious professional historians - did not conform to their
      agenda, they created a new history of Pakistan which began with the arrival
      of Muslims in the subcontinent. "They have rewritten history in a manner
      which has impoverished it and taken away from students material that could
      enrich their perspective," Nayyar contended.

      In the revised textbooks the ancient history of the region, the glories of
      Moenjodaro and Harappa, the Hindu kingdoms, the advent of Buddhism, the
      incursion of the Greeks and Bactrians, and so much more that has made our
      region the cradle of one of the richest civilisations in the world, have all
      been eliminated. A sample of what we have instead from a textbook currently
      in use: "As a matter of fact, Pakistan came to be established for the first
      time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sindh and Multan in
      the early years of the eighth century, and established Muslim rule in this
      part of the South-Asian subcontinent. Pakistan under the Arabs comprised the
      Lower Indus Valley. During the 12th century the Ghaznavids lost Afghanistan,
      and their rule came to be confined to Pakistan. By the 13th century,
      Pakistan had spread to include the whole of Northern India and Bengal. Under
      the Khiljis, Pakistan moved further southward to include a greater part of
      Central India and the Deccan. During the 16th century, 'Hindustan'
      disappeared and was completely absorbed in Pakistan."

      Gradually subjects such as Indo-Pakistan history and geography which earlier
      formed part of the local educational curriculum were replaced by Pakistan
      Studies. In the new books Pakistan was defined as an Islamic state and the
      history of Pakistan became synonymous with the history of Muslims in the
      subcontinent. The pre-Islamic history of the region meanwhile ceased to
      exist as subject matter. The new curriculum started with the Arab conquest
      of Sindh and swiftly jumped to the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia.
      Alongside, the seventies saw the so-called 'ideology of Pakistan'
      increasingly entering study courses. This involved the creation of an
      ideological straitjacket whereby the history of Pakistan, especially that of
      the Pakistan Movement was rewritten with an utter disregard for the truth.
      Pakistan, it was now said, was created with an aim to establish a purely
      Islamic state in accordance with the tenets of the Quran and Sunnah.
      Suddenly, the ulema who had bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan were
      cited as the heroes of the Pakistan movement, Muhammed Ali Jinnah (whom the
      religious clergy used to refer to as 'Kafir-e-Azam' and was labelled an
      infidel by them because of his distinctly liberal lifestyle) was portrayed
      as a pious, practicing Muslim, and Hindus began to be reviled as the
      permanent enemy.

      According to the SDPI report, the instructions laid out for the revised
      curriculum in fact, stressed on portraying Hindus not just as the enemies of
      Islam, but as altogether unsavoury. The textbooks read by our students today
      elaborate on the alleged 'social evils' of Hindus, including their
      disrespect for women, their practice of child marriage, suttee, the caste
      system, etc. Even our collective memories were no longer to be trusted. For
      example, in describing the tragedy of East Pakistan, the new textbooks
      squarely lay the blame on the general elections of 1970 and on the Hindus
      living in East Pakistan.

      According to the SDPI report, some of the major problems in the current
      curriculum and textbooks are the "distortion of facts and omissions that
      serve to substantially alter the nature and significance of actual events in
      our history; insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the
      nation; incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of
      jihad and shahadat, perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and
      discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious
      minorities, and other nations, a glorification of war and the use of force."
      The study points out that the syllabus omits events that could encourage
      critical self-awareness among students, and includes outdated and incoherent
      pedagogical practices that "hinder the development of interest and insight
      among students."

      The report further states that the educational material attempts to teach
      Islamiat to all the students, irrespective of their faith, through the
      compulsory subjects of Social/Pakistan Studies, Urdu and English. Although
      non-Muslims are not required to take the fourth compulsory subject of
      Islamiat, there is an extraordinary incentive for them in the form of 25 per
      cent additional marks for learning and taking examinations in Islamiat.

      Acording to the report, the post-1979 curricula and textbooks openly
      eulogise jihad and shahadat and urge students to become mujahids and
      martyrs. The report dilates on the instructions laid out for students:
      "Learning outcome: recognise the importance of jihad in every sphere of
      life; learning outcome: Must be aware of the blessings of jihad; must create
      a yearning for jihad in his heart; Concept: jihad; Affective objective:
      Aspiration for jihad; Love and aspiration for jihad, Tableegh
      (Prosyletisation), jihad, shahadat (martyrdom), sacrifice, ghazi (the victor
      in holy wars), shaheed (martyr); simple stories to urge for jihad; activity
      4: To make speeches on jihad and shahadat; to make speeches on jihad;
      Evaluation: to judge their spirits while making speeches on jihad, Muslim
      history and culture, Concepts: jihad, Amar bil Maroof and Nahi Anil Munkar."

      The textbooks require every Pakistani, irrespective of his (her) faith, to
      love, respect, be proud of and practice Islamic principles, traditions,
      customs, rituals, etc. What the report says is even more disturbing is the
      fact that non-Muslim students are expected to read the Quran, not in the
      course study of Islamiat, which they are not required to learn, but in the
      compulsory subject of Urdu.

      Urdu textbooks from Class I to III, which are compulsory for students of all
      faiths, contain lessons on the Quran. These progress from a lesson titled
      'Iqra' in Class I, where Arabic alphabets are introduced, to the lesson
      entitled 'E'rab' on punctuation in the Class II Urdu book, to the lesson
      titled 'Quran Parhna' in the Class III Urdu book. In fact, the latter has
      seven lessons (out of a total of 51) on learning to read the Quran. It is
      mandatory for non-Muslim students to take these courses and take
      examinations in them - a clear violation of the rights of religious
      minorities. The report also states that the National Curriculum of March
      2002 lays down the first objective of teaching English: "To make the Quranic
      principles and Islamic practices an integral part of curricula so that the
      message of the Holy Quran could be disseminated in the process of education
      as well as training. To educate and train the future generations of Pakistan
      as a true practicing MuslimÂ…"

      The religious (Islamic) content of the most recently published Urdu
      textbooks in the Punjab and the Federal Area is worth noting: it features in
      four out of 25 Islamic lessons in Class one, eight out of 33 lessons in
      Class-II, 22 out of 44 lessons in Class-III, 10 out of 45 lessons in
      Class-IV, seven out of 34 lessons in Class-V, 14 out of 46 lessons in
      Class-VI, six out of 53 lessons in Class-VII, 15 out of 46 lessons in
      Class-VIII, and 10 out of 68 lessons in Classes IX and X.

      The new textbooks are also replete with gender bias. A 1985 study found that
      girls were shown most often in passive roles, enforcing traditional
      stereotypes. Experts say matters have not improved over the years, and a
      "gender-biased division of roles is woven into almost all the exercises and
      stories in these books, thus we have constant references to men performing
      active or heroic roles and women engaged in passive, often frippery

      The mindset of the policy-makers not only disfigures history at the school
      level, it also dissuades those at the employment level from questioning or
      differing from the official line as laid out in the texts. For example,
      candidates appearing in the Muslim history papers in the Federal Public
      Services Commission have strictly been advised to condemn Mughul emperor
      Akbar - known as 'Akbar the Great' for his 50-year-long secular rule over
      the Indian subcontinent - and eulogise Emperor Aurangzeb, a fundamentalist
      Muslim who shunned music and most arts as unIslamic.

      Similarly, there are unwritten guidelines to condemn Hindus, criticise
      India, support the Kashmir cause, and refrain from expressing independent or
      divergent views. All candidates appearing in the country's competitive exams
      are, in fact, asked to read only the books written by certain authors, and
      to desist from reading books that do not make it to the prescribed list
      since these could "confuse" them, leading to their failure in the exams.

      Given this backdrop, it would be a fallacy to believe it is only the
      madrassahs which are indoctrinating children in the politics of hate and
      bigotry. The country's public schools are equally responsible for the rise
      of militancy and regressive thought. In the words of Dr. A.H. Nayyar, "The
      full impact of what happened under General Zia is now being felt in rising
      religious militancy, sectarianism and violence in our society and our
      politics, and another generation of young Pakistanis is now going through
      the same education."
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