IN today’s Pakistan, plagued as it is by extremism and inter-religious, ethnic- and sectarian-based tension, there are plenty of occasions to justifiably accuse the state of doing little to stem the black tide threatening to engulf the country. On the one hand, instances are readily available where elements from within the state and its machinery have actively or through shameful passivity supported those that seek to turn Pakistan into a society of narrow-minded ideologues. On the other, examples abound of the state not having the will even to make improvements in sectors under its control. Nowhere is this more visible than in the textbooks being used in large parts of the country. From the findings of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, which undertook a content analysis of the books for primary and secondary schools published by the Punjab and Sindh textbook boards, it would seem that referring to the curricula as ‘hate-filled’ is no overstatement. The report Education or Fanning Hate finds that these books contain material that would create and entrench in students’ minds prejudice against religious minorities, both within Pakistan’s borders and elsewhere, distort history and foment the conspiratorial mindset that is at least part of the reason why this country has come to the current pass. What’s worse, while textbooks have been revised over the past three decades, it seems that hate content has increased manifold over time.
In other words, whatever efforts Pakistan may make to curb extremism in society in general, they are destined to be eroded by school curricula that send poisoned minds out into the world. Must it remain this way, given that reviewing and cleaning up textbooks is technically amongst the easiest of changes to achieve? There is no shortage of experts who can provide sound advice in this regard, and plenty of examples that can be followed. Purging school curricula of hate material would not be a politically divisive matter. All that is required is a state with the will to do what needs to be done. And yet, such a place is Pakistan that it remains a moot point whether that will can ever be mustered up.