Children of the Taliban

Published December 17, 2011

ACCORDING to a recent report, the Afghan Taliban have reached an agreement with the Karzai government that will end their attacks on schools and teachers.

In return, the education department will have the curriculum vetted and approved by the extremist group that will also have a say in the selection of teachers.

The Pakistani Taliban have a much simpler education policy: they just blow up school buildings, paying especial attention to girls’ schools and colleges. To further discourage parents from trying to educate their kids, these zealots kill and kidnap them at every opportunity.

These are the people we are supposed to negotiate with, according to large sections of our political class and right-wing media.

But whenever reports of talks between the Taliban and the government do the rounds, they are firmly repudiated by the terrorists who repeat their mantra of no talks until their interpretation of Sharia law is imposed across the whole country.

So basically, they are demanding that we surrender before any negotiations can take place. According to their calculus, by constantly slaughtering unarmed civilians and attacking state institutions, they will weaken the will of the government as well as the population to resist.

Thus far, their estimation of the establishment’s stomach for the struggle has not been far wrong: witness the abject position our politicians and administration took when they handed over Swat to the terrorist group headed by Maulana Fazlullah. Had not these criminals overreached, they might still have been terrorising Swat.

The reason for the Taliban’s rejection of all modern education is that they want to drag us down to their level of ignorance.

The violent Nigerian group Boku Haram stands for a similar degree of backwardness. They shroud their demands for a retreat to the distant past by claiming that they want to restore the golden era of early Islam. But the real reason is that these holy warriors have been brainwashed into believing that everything modern and scientific is ‘un-Islamic’. In reality, they feel bypassed and inadequate in the globalised world of the 21st century.

We must never lose sight of the fact that religion has nothing to do with the ongoing struggle: the fight is, and always has been, about power. It is also true that most Muslim countries have failed to put forward a consistent counter-narrative by their generally shambolic performance. This absence of good governance has given the extremists greater appeal than they deserve.

Having said this, let us not forget what a disaster the Taliban were when they were in power in Afghanistan. They not only isolated their country by their stone-age approach to government, they gave religion a bad name by their brutal treatment of women and the non-Pashtun minorities.

In Pakistan, we have the example of the alliance of the Islamic parties who governed the then NWFP province under Musharraf’s regime, having come to power with his help. Widely seen as corrupt and ineffective, they opened the doors to further extremism.

More than anything else, we should deplore the Taliban’s benighted attitude towards education. By banning girls from going to school, and imposing their barbaric worldview on learning, they wish to consign future generations to the same ignorance they revel in. Politicians like Imran Khan should ask themselves if they would like their children to grow up and be educated under a Taliban dispensation.

Despite their ignorance, they understand that to exercise total control over a subject population, you have to control what the younger generation absorb. In the mediaeval era, the Church recognised this truth and staffed schools with priests. Only the arrival of the Enlightenment wrested control of learning from the papacy.

Among so much else, children educated in madressahs are denied any knowledge about the wonders of the universe. Who, for instance, will teach them about the implications of the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, recently announced by the director of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern?

To convey the excitement the increasing probability of a breakthrough has generated in the scientific community, here is Lawrence M Krauss, cosmologist at the Arizona State University, quoted in the New York Times:

“If the Higgs is discovered, it will represent perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of the human intellect in recent memory, vindicating 50 years of the building of one of the greatest theoretical edifices in all of science, and requiring the building of the most complicated machine that has ever been built.”

One of those who contributed significantly to the building of this ‘theoretical edifice’ was Prof Abdus Salam, the Pakistani physicist who was honoured for his work with a Nobel Prize. In Pakistan, he was largely ignored by a reactionary establishment that was rabidly hostile towards his Ahmadi belief.

How could one discuss the discovery of the Earth-like planet 600 light-years away with a graduate of a madressah?

Kepler-22b is the most likely candidate for a world that might sustain life found so far. This has been a fruitful year for scientists searching the skies for extra-terrestrial planets, and over 1,000 have now been identified.

But for me, the most exciting scientific possibility of the year has been the report that certain particles might have travelled faster than light. The controversial experiment has been repeated with similar results, and should it be confirmed, it will have enormous implications for the tested theory of relativity and our view of how the universe is constructed.

One of the fundamentals of the theory postulates that nothing can travel faster than light. And thus far, all research and experience seemed to confirm this law of physics. But researchers who reported their findings recently might force a re-valuation of what has been taken as gospel for decades.

One possible explanation for this aberration is that these neutrinos might have jumped into another dimension through which the path to the point of observation is shorter giving the illusion of supra-light travel.

Sadly, all these wonders will be denied to children brought up and educated under the Taliban and their ilk. Those who want us to share power with them need to think again.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

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