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Shoot a teacher: Kill a country

Published Mar 29, 2013 09:55pm


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Illiteracy they say is Pakistan’s scourge. It is what shackles people in the chains of ignorance, condemns them to begging at corners, to injecting drugs, to selling their daughters and waiting in vain for birthing sons. Illiteracy, is the reason that good decisions cannot be made by voters, who cast ballots because they believe the powerful can punish them if they are not elected, and forget that that they will also themselves be punished them if they are elected. Illiteracy, leaves piles of rubbish on street corners, causes brothers to kill sisters and husbands to kill wives and mobs to burn down houses. There are many, if not all, of our problems that we can pin to illiteracy, it is the core and the curse of Pakistan’s affliction.

Such a hatred of illiteracy and such a decisive recognition of its consequent ills, one would assume, would produce an equally fervent desire for literacy, for learning, for schools and all that accompanies a country’s intellectual advancement. But for all the professed love, all the avowed promises, all the passionate proclamations, there is nothing to show. In the past year, however, what was simply lazy inaction has now grown up and morphed into an actual, angry hatred of education itself...

One year ago, Pakistanis lamented only the school burnings and the school bombings done by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. But last year, the attack on schools graduated to something more. In October, Malala Yousafzai, marked her momentous escape from the school girl killing brigade of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Weeks later, on November 1, 2013 a girls’ school in Lahore was attacked and then burned to the ground by a furious mob. The cause for the destruction; an accusation against a teacher for having blasphemed against the Prophet, The reported context; a harried woman copying down a passage on a blackboard, an accidentally turned page and two unconnected passaged merged together into a mistaken concoction deemed worthy of death. Death was demanded for the principal who soon became a prisoner. The teacher ran and hid and tried to save her life.

Between then and now, over 15 schools were blown up or bombed. On January 2, 2013 a bomb blast at the University of Peshawar, outside a classroom injured several people and terrified several hundred more. Going to University, it announced to everyone still believing in the value of an education; is an extremely lethal business. On February 12, 2013, a college was bombed in Mardan where a bomb had been placed outside the Physics Department. If others were left doubting, the mob that gathered at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan on March 15, 2013 could have sealed the argument against teaching and learning. Led by the members of the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e- Namoos-e-Risalat, the Multan mob had a single demand: the arrest and immediate execution of a lecturer in the University’s English Department. The man’s crime, an alleged blasphemy committed on a social networking site. The imperiled Professor fled and hid to save his life, the rabid mob and their leaders vowed that they would find him and kill him.

Then came the killing of last week when a poet and a professor, Sibte Jaffar was gunned down. The event was tragic, but everyone shrugged their head and nodded. “He was a known target” some said, being a Shia and a poet and a professor, everyone agrees today is a lethal combination; an obvious invitation for some secret gunman’s unforgiving bullet. Thus proceeds, the war against learning, where being a female student, or a male professor or anyone asking others to think, to pause, to consider, is a target. An illiterate Pakistan was one where the lack of education made the polity slow and dull and easily duped, a Pakistan that has declared war on teachers is one that is suicidal.


Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (40) Closed

Ram Krishan Sharma Mar 29, 2013 08:15am
It is a very sad situation . Education is light , without it you remain in darkness . Only God can save Pakistan now.
Eliminate the TTP Mar 29, 2013 08:41am
Excellent observation Rafia!......Death to the Taliban Forever!!!!!
Goga Nalaik Mar 29, 2013 08:45am
Excellent article, a real eye opener. More than 80% of problems in this country are directly linked to Education. I think (unfortunately), majority of its readers will remain indifferent!
RASTOGI Mar 29, 2013 08:50am
An illiterate nation of people, fed on opium of Mullah's sermons. A proven lethal combination. This has become the identity of Pakistan in the community of nations. However, you are still hopeful, when you read news of a sweeper mom, ensuring that her kids get educated and become a PCS officer. More hope comes, when that poor lady is from the minority community. But, she has ten children, which she attributes to her illiteracy, and can not afford equal opportunity to all. Education may not be solution to all problems of this country, but it may tell some people that 19 children are not Allah's gift, if you can't even remember their names.
rich Mar 29, 2013 08:52am
all these events are happening, wher is the police,the govt or even the civil society.just writting a few articles like this will not help,
Afshain Afzal Mar 29, 2013 09:30am
A good article ", which left a deep sense of grief for those who sacrificed their lives and became the victims of war of socio-religio-cultural invasion. No doubt, Pakistan has both internal and external enemies but why all the times we ouerlook the involvement of external enemies and adversaries. One wonders how we can be so sure about the culprits who destroyed schools and killed innocent people. In a period of a decade, plus one or two years, over 265,000 orthodox Sunnis including men, women and children have been killed in Khyber KP province, especially the Tribal Areas and Malakand Agency, making a combined total of over 1.5 million Muslims killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These cold blooded killings have not been carried out by Taliban or Al Qaida but the so called civilized actors of war on terror. All these people brutally massacred were neither given any opportunity to be heard nor formally prosecuted in the courts. Don't you think that Madrassas deing destroyed in drone and missile attacks are educational institutions and those killed were students and teachers?
hazara community Mar 29, 2013 09:38am
Without Education success is impossible and those who want to be successful they must respect teachers...
khalidmurad1 Mar 29, 2013 10:13am
Very fine article and very nicely presented. There is a need to spread these sorts of awakening amongst our people at larger scale. The biggest problem or the hinderances are our illeterate civil leadership. How do we expect an Education Minister with bogus degree to promote education. Our lagislative assemblies are filled with 80% fraudulant degree holders. The elected government with Maitrculate president was pushing hard to break HEC formed by Musharraf government, just to swindle HEC funds. If this process of recession of development project keeps going on then after every civil government we will be back to square one. As regard police they were completely politicised and bussy in Bhatta collection, instead of protecting people or institutions.
Agha Ata (USA) Mar 29, 2013 01:03pm
Anyone against learning should be punished and forced to learn. Because, if he could reason, he won't be doing what he is doing. Once he learns to reason he would know what is what.
Mario Henrique S. Lins Mar 29, 2013 01:09pm
Keep waiting for god help and you will see were Pakistan will end. The Gods (their names don
Maths Mar 29, 2013 01:58pm
Not only do we need to increase literacy rates but we additionally need educational reforms. Our syllabi are embarassing. One way to counter extremist thinking is to remove Islamiat courses from schools. I studied Islamiat at Beaconhouse and I feel teaching children about Ghazwa-badar and auhod only brainwashes children into thinking that only Muslims are good. I'm not suggesting the abolishment of religion, I just think that religion should only be practised within homes, mosques and temples etc. I personally had prejudice towards Hindus and Israelis while living in Pakistan, which is common but trust me, the school I attended in the west changed me so much. Education and money are a real game changer.
Cyrus Howell Mar 29, 2013 02:19pm
There is but one word for the belief education can be destroyed by killing teachers - insanity.
hyderphd74 Mar 29, 2013 03:10pm
Excellent article, Madam. You deserve all the praise for bringing up this subject. I would, though, like to add a comment. Education as commonly understood is not going to bring the desired change in the society or the masses' thinking. Merely going to a college or a university and cramming some books to pass the required courses will in no way enhance a persons intellect. An old adage that defines a lecture as 'a collection of words and sentences that originates from the mouth of the lecturer and ends into the ears of a student without going through the brains of either' is what is happening in Pakistan. The ulterior motive of most of those lucky few who get to go to colleges and universities is to get that piece of paper which can land them some kind of job. They are generally not interested in acquiring knowledge or brightening their horizons. Mere holding a college degree is no guarantee that the person would think and act rationally. A number of the convicted terrorist have college and professional degrees but that did not change their deviant mindset. Illiteracy is only a part of the problem. What needs to be done is to teach the masses to be able to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong. The budding minds, that have been so deeply poisoned by these "know nothing" savage beasts who claim to have been God-sent to guide the mankind, need to be reprogrammed. We have to start from the beginning to bring them back to normal thinking and wash their minds clean of all the poison they have been filled with. An education that will provide them with the sense to differentiate between right and wrong, open to others point of view (as oppose to my way or highway) and teach them to be humans first and Muslims afterwards. Some of this education has got to come from the cradle, because by the time a child gets to school, if he/she is lucky, he/she has already been fed with what would always stay in the back of his/her mind. S.A. Hyder, Ph.D. USA
Syed Ahmed Mar 29, 2013 03:12pm
What about shooting a Doctor, a religious scholar?
p r sharma Mar 29, 2013 04:05pm
Unique country in 21st century.
kumar Mar 29, 2013 06:40pm
Ignorance is bliss, Education is not about learning how to read or write, so called Educated Pakistanies learnt only hatred towards Hindus in their hate filled textbooks, Education should encourage creative thinking mind which are capable of making their own judgements by looking at facts.
Prashant Mar 29, 2013 07:31pm
Mam, you could've written better english for an article that is on illteracy and teaching ! For example, I quote below an excerpt from your article, ", and forget that that they will also themselves be punished them if they are elected." Two thats and "be punished them" ? I am not sure what that sentence even means. Good sentiment though, if its only the thought that counts then you have hit the nail on the head for all of South Asias problems.
Prashant Mar 29, 2013 07:33pm
If you "force" teaching, then the biggest teaching the child gets is "force" itself not the teaching. That is what is primarily happening with the peaceful teachings of Islam itself.
BRR Mar 29, 2013 08:08pm
What convoluted logic - all the bombings are done by foreign agencies - even whan the Taliba types come out and open claim responsibility. Well, will you send your son to a madaressah for education? Will he become an engineer or a doctor or a teacher after studying at the madaressah? Or will he in turn bomb schools.
salmagul Mar 29, 2013 09:18pm
How ignorant these people are ? They shoot teachers because they do not want the girls to get an education, or because a teacher is a shia and a poet. They even shot a teacher in a medical college in sindh. They are cowards and know they can get away with it.
george Mar 29, 2013 11:00pm
It reminds me of a famous quote by Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Sue Sturgess Mar 30, 2013 01:18am
The government knows that uneducated people are easier to control
Jones Mar 30, 2013 04:35am
The day is not far away when the people of jannah will go back to the true & original faith.. the taliban e pakistan will be the divine vehicle for the same.. shun off the wicked & capitalistic western influence which breeds immorality inequality and haram towards our faith.. pray to almighty the day comes sooner than later.. we the beloved people of jannah
Albert Mar 30, 2013 05:17am
Depends on which "God". . . .
AAA Mar 30, 2013 08:36am
Yes I agree with Eliminate ttp, they are real evils
AAA Mar 30, 2013 08:41am
Yes these kind oh mullahs are enemy of Islam & Pakistan They should be punished. for their misdeeds.
Tahir A Mar 30, 2013 09:52am
You too need more education.
RASTOGI Mar 30, 2013 11:20am
He is a journalist and is doing his duty to inform readers about the state. you also try to teach just one kid, other than your own, and then tell us about the good feelings you will be rewarded with.
AHA Mar 30, 2013 03:22pm
Religions throughout history have feared enlightenment and education. We are no exception.
AHA Mar 30, 2013 03:23pm
An excellent quote. And so true.
AHA Mar 30, 2013 03:30pm
Another apologist. And one too many.
Siyalkotia Mar 30, 2013 03:33pm
More than the government, the Mullah-Brigade knows that the educated masses could not be controlled like a herd of sheep.
Siyalkotia Mar 30, 2013 04:09pm
Forget about punishment (to Mullahs). Do not become audience to these Mullahs and do not donate to the Mosques where their kind are preaching. And also don't be afraid to express your viewpoint amongst friends and relatives. You will be surprised that many more feel like you and think like you, but are afraid of the Mullah-Brigade to express it.
aabdul Mar 30, 2013 04:54pm
In Pakistan, we see what happens when you forcibly teach children to learn something. 180 million have been fed slow poison; it circulates in their blood and it clouds their minds. And then we cry: Why Allah is punishing us?
aabdul Mar 30, 2013 04:57pm
You are a great example of why education cannot help those who are brainwashed by extremist religious views. From your writing it is quite obvious that you are well educated, but your mind is infused with bigotry, irrational thoughts and insanity. No amount of education will cure you.
aabdul Mar 30, 2013 05:01pm
There is a lesson Pakistan can learn from Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they have banned and rooted out religious violent extremist groups and the JI is completely sidelined. Pakistan should follow this example. Unfortunately, Pakistanis love to rally behind JI, JUI, JuD, LeT, LeJ etc (dife e council). In the end, you get what you focus on. You continue to support such groups, you will be miserable.
Schabboo Khan Mar 30, 2013 06:28pm
Lady, your pen is mightier that the sword of a mujahid. Good luck to you in your crusade against the forces of darkness. I wish more of us had your facility with words.
SKK Mar 30, 2013 07:04pm
How do you explain educated lawyers throwing rose petals on a cold bloodied murderer?
Asmat Syed Mar 31, 2013 11:12am
@Rafia, it is a good article highlighting a very serious issue, but i am surprised to see that Balochistan covering 43% area of the country was not touched upon, where approximately 5,000 teachers (a rough estimate) have left the province due to the law & order situation and many University professors & school teachers have been killed in the province so far. Unfortunately, most of the educationalists were settlers which are high targets for independent seekers.
Afshain Afzal Apr 01, 2013 08:24am
@ Rafia @ BRR @ aabdul @ AHA @ Tahir A .. Have you ever wondered why Taliban are against the schools and education?