Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  

As I See It
Not reform, drastic surgery

The Palestine problem at one time provided the maximum grief for Muslims to be bitter about against the west. This bitterness, evoked by both real and/or perceived oppression against Muslims, became more universal after the Afghan Jihad. War veterans of non-Afghan origin returning to their home countries reacted against local oppression, and persecution by the world in general. Islamic "Wannabees" like Osama Bin Laden grabbed this golden opportunity of riding the Muslim angst. He shifted from localised tactics to the big time in launching a world strategy of combatting "universal oppression" against Muslims. In a judo-play the strength of the liberties common in democracies became weaknesses to be exploited. If prior to 9/11 the US had adopted stringent precautions (and the discomforts associated with them that their domestic air and rail travelers have to face today), could the 9/11 lot have got through?

"Freedom of movement" as a chink in the western armoury was grievously felt by London on July 7, 2005 (7/7) when the London underground was bombed. Two weeks later on July 19 when the detonators failed to ignite the explosives in another attempt, the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) were over-prepared to the point of being trigger-happy and bloody-minded, given the fatal shooting of a Brazilian as a "terrorist suspect of Asian origin". The tragedy is that however callous it may sound the plainscloth policemen had no choice, they were doing the job they were meant to do, the poor innocent electrician was simply "collateral damage" in the "war against terrorism". The 8 bullets pumped into him at close range were certainly overkill! The bombers' ability to get through showed up the weaknesses inherent in a mass transit system, security can always be breached. The suicide bombers being of Pakistan origin despite being British-born and educated, was duly orchestrated by vested anti-Pakistan elements, the western media shifting all the blame onto the Madrasahs. How would the blame be apportioned if objective analysis is done by western analysts? Besides sectarian terrorists being produced by dozens of Madrasahs for decades, much before the Afghan War and 9/11, can anyone name any born and bred Madrasah-type terrorists of the Al-Qaeda kind? The recent visit (and agendas) of the British-borns to Pakistan must be investigated thoroughly. "sectarian terrorism" existed from early days in Islam, it had nothing to do with today's version until being dragged pell-mell into the international terrorist maelstrom.

Pervez Musharraf has been exhorting us to confront the evil and hatred emanating from some of our mosques and Madrasahs, advising countries like the UK to do much more internally to curb the militant propaganda being disseminated within their frontiers without check under the blanket immunity of freedom and human rights. There has to be a check against the "freedoms" inherent in democracy being turned into a general "licence for murder and mayhem". And this applies equally to terrorists of all ilk, ethnic and sectarian ones included! One must commend Ms Benazir Bhutto for supporting the government's campaign against terrorism, it is a matter of pride to see national leaders of the quality of the PPP leader being objective and rational on national issues. Our negative image is slowly but surely killing us, even the Egyptians have Pakistanis on their blinking eyelashes, connecting them on the flimsiest of pretexts to the recent Sharm al Shaikh tragedy, nothing short of ridiculous. While they are at it, the Egyptians should check the "Pakistan" links of Lt Islambouli and Sgt Hussain who shot up President Sadat! It is open season on Pakistan and Pakistanis, Indian PM did a Mark Antony on us by laying out a horrendous "Jihadi" nuclear scenario "post-Musharraf", et tu, Manmohan Singh?

We have a very serious problem with respect to our Madrasahs, at the least 70-80 (about 1%) out of the 7538 existing at last count, teach nothing but pure, unadulterated hatred, perfidy in the name of Islam. A 1000 plus Madrasahs are at best border-line cases, only a few hundred teaching all the disciplines i.e. science, geography, etc. Some do have IT facilities, almost none teach English, the "lingua franca" for computer studies in the present international "information environment". Uptil 9/11 the venom disseminated by the errant Madrasahs was mostly sectarian, after the US (and Coalition) intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq an overwhelming number of moderate mosque and Madrasahs have shifted to strident attacks against the west, both against real and/or perceived woes. Iraq has really exacerbated the situation, other religions also becoming the focus of attacks. Islam recognises the people of "the Books" as our own, to us Moses is Hazrat Musa al-Islam and Jesus is Hazrat Essa al-Islam, while it may be true that there is no reciprocation by the other religions, where in Islam is it laid down that we need to have that reciprocation? The basic message of Christianity and Judaism is peace and harmony, venom and hatred spouted is confined to a small and rabid minority, very much like our own vicious lot.

Giving lip-service to reforming the Madrasahs is certainly not enough to satisfy our growing number of detractors. Drastic surgery is needed to convert Madrasahs into modern schools, with departments devoted to Islamic teaching instead of the other way around. Even for those who opt for a religious profession in later life Islam cannot be taught solely at the expense of worldly subjects and the knowledge thereof. Education can separate good from evil, that is fundamental to our religion but what good is a closed mind in contrast to an open one? Are we so under-confident about our beliefs that we fear these will be subverted by modern thought? Skepticism about campaign catchwords notwithstanding, Pervez Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" is only possible on a strong base of modern, progressive education.

The Provinces have failed miserably in their prime responsibility of reforming the Madrasahs. Whether right or wrong, in international perception the Madrasahs are a breeding ground for terrorism. With the negative image of the country becoming a major problem, the federal government must deal with the situation directly on a priority basis, and be seen by the world in doing so. One must immediately establish a Federal Ministry of Special Education, with all Madrasahs in the country directly under its aegis. A curriculum (sifted for sectarian leaning) must be devised after due consultation and correct analysis thereof. Supervised by an outstanding non-controversial and respected religiously moderate person of modern background, the Task Force-type Ministry must include a dedicated mix of educationists and administrators, the best and the brightest given due powers to effect drastic overhaul, otherwise this badly needed initiative will fail. With Islam becoming increasingly isolated and under attack, we are already up the creek without a paddle as a nation. The wealthier oil-rich Muslim countries may survive, Pakistan is not self-sufficient enough to afford ostracisation in the comity of nations!

Ikram Sehgal, a former Major of Pakistan Army, is a political analyst and columnist.