Brainwashing a nation

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It is painful to see that after nearly eight years of intense national debate on the negative contents of Pakistan’s school curriculum, and five years after new syllabi were designed, schoolchildren continue to be taught from old textbooks with all the harmful contents therein. Thus, although, in principle we have a new 2006 curriculum, but for reasons that are difficult to accept, it is yet to be implemented.

Education was significantly affected by the drive in the late 1970s and ’80s to Islamise society. There was a vigorous attempt at Islamising education. The way it was done resulted in gross mutilation of facts, placing greater emphasis on ritualistic faith than on humanism, violation of the rights of religious minorities, and lastly the end product: irrational and unquestioning minds.

An important part of the Islamisation agenda was redefining the raison d’etre of the country. The new articulation was based on the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Notwithstanding the fact that the term was never used during the Pakistan movement, nor was it ever a part of the speeches and writings of any of the founding fathers whom we remember as architects of Pakistan.

The concocted ‘ideology’ was promoted as an article of faith in all fields, including education. The phrase had no constitutional existence until Ziaul Haq introduced it through a martial law ordinance. “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La Ilaha Illallah” became the lead slogan of the campaign to Islamise society, a slogan that was coined long after the creation of Pakistan applied retroactively to a distorted account of history of the Pakistan movement.

The national curriculum designed during the military rule of General Zia falsely asserted that Pakistan had an ideology because every nation had one. It was then emphasised that Pakistan was created to establish a state where Islamic principles of governance were to be implemented and practised. The term ‘Pakistan ideology’ became sacrosanct and was never to be questioned.

A second aspect of Islamisation of education followed the prescription of Syed Abul ‘Ala Maudoodi, the founder-head of the Jamaat-i-Islami, by insisting that educational material ought to have so much religious content in it that any distinction between religious and non-religious education should disappear. Nearly all the curriculum documents of the 1980s and ’90s specifically laboured on this point.

The textbooks of that time, as even those in use now, have excessive religious content. A controversial interpretation of faith was promoted—even a majority of Muslims did not subscribe to such a puritanical interpretation of Islam, let aside minority sects. Other religious minorities were completely ignored. It is now a part of history that such tampering resulted in riots in various parts of the country.

One glaring act committed under this scheme was to include excessive religious content in Urdu textbooks; in some cases it comprised nearly 50 per cent of the total. It included readings from the Quran and instructions on performing rituals.

Non-Muslims were also subjected to reading the same Urdu textbooks which contained derogatory remarks against Hindus, such as they being eternal enemies of Muslims, cunning, deceitful, treacherous, etc, alienating the minorities and subverting the nation from within.

A third major component of curriculum that continues unchanged even now, was glorification of the military and the wars. Military was defined as defender of the faith, and taqwa and jihad fi sabilillah became mottos of the military, inscribed boldly on cantonment buildings. Textbooks were required to have several lessons on military-related matters: Muslims’ victorious wars in the history, Pakistan’s war heroes, stories of gallantry and victories of Pakistani armed forces, etc.

In sharp contrast, textbooks mentioned no heroes in fields like education, medicine, social work, constitutionalism, etc. The net impression etched on the young minds was the absolute importance of the military as the defender of Islam. The concept of jihad was promoted to the extent that lessons on jihad were intriguingly identical to the literature of jihadi organisations that were banned by the next military ruler, Gen Musharraf.

The writer teaches at Lahore University of Management Sciences