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Extremism and Education

by Newsweek Pakistan

A student studies the Quran at the Darul Uloom Hanfia Razvia madrassa. Sajjad Hussain—AFP

Pakistan’s education system caters to extremism rather than demolishing it

One often hears the argument that Pakistan needs educational facilities more than the infrastructural projects so dear to the country’s rulers, who see good future only in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is shocking that this refrain is nowadays opposed by the “rebellious” slogan that extremism arises from Pakistan’s system of education. This is the conclusion some analysts have arrived at after the highly educated killers of Ansarul Sharia were recently dispatched by security agencies in Karachi. Whoever recommends education instead of infrastructure will not hear of looking closely at what kind of education is imparted in Pakistan. Sadly, a few educationists who question it walk in fear of being killed.

The telltale signs have been appearing over decades but no one has cared to think soberly about the extremism lurking in our education: from nuclear scientist Dr. Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood who boasted he could create electricity from a jinn that he would tame with divine power, to Dr. Abdullah Hashmi of Ansarul Sharia who was killed in the Karachi police encounter. The tragic truth is that, under democracy, they found resonance with the ideology of Pakistan and the curricula of the institutions that pretend to impart education under misinterpreted doctrines. The universities are no longer seats of learning that depend on the spirit of skepticism and inquiry. Individualism in thinking is punished through violence by fellow-students steeped in collective brainwash, as happened in the case of Mashal Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan had to restrain student unions in educational institutions but couldn’t suppress the rise of radical and violent “student wings” of the religious parties. This was a bargain between the parties who couldn’t win elections and those who did; but over time Islamism has conquered the institutions and produced graduate and postgraduate students who wish to destroy the “pagan” pursuit of democracy by the state. Ironically, it is democracy without the essential bond of tolerance that spawns violence and renders the state unstable. Dictatorial and totalitarian states like Saudi Arabia and Iran can tackle the “educated terrorist” more effectively while Muslims living under democracy fail to grasp the importance of self-doubt and non-judgmental tolerance as a condition of life.

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