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How Pakistani school textbooks mould its students’ skewed worldview

Saturday 7 April 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://qz.com/1239211/jihad-islam-us-and-india-how-pakistani-school-textbooks-mould-its-students-skewed-worldview/


How Pakistani school textbooks mould its students’ skewed worldview

Madiha Afzal

Quartz India,

4 April 2018

Prior to 1977, no textbook contained any mention of the “Pakistan ideology.” But after that, the construct became the starting point and the central premise of high school Pakistan Studies texts. The description of Pakistan Studies textbooks that follows is based on my reading and analysis of textbooks from the mid-1990s to today, from all four provinces. The books state, quite simply, that the Pakistan ideology is Islam, and begin by describing the five pillars of Islam—shahada (the declaration of faith), namaz (prayer), zakat (charity), hajj (pilgrimage), and fasting—that, together, form the basis of Islamic practice. But this material in the textbooks violates the constitutional provision that non-Muslims do not need to study Islam. In addition, defining the Pakistani identity solely in the form of Islam excludes non-Muslims from that identity. Islam features heavily in the books—in one thin volume, the Punjab textbook from 2002, I counted 255 mentions of Islam.

The textbooks assert that religion defines Pakistan’s role in the world positively:

“As an Islamic country, Pakistan stands for international cooperation and peace. Islam teaches us peace and amity and discourages aggression. Although Islam allows to raise arms in self-defence yet it strictly prohibits domination or persecution of people through military force. Pakistan has been taking necessary steps to promote international brotherhood and peace on the basis of these Islamic principles.”

There is little wrong with this particular set of statements—note the argument that one can take up arms but only in self- defense. Yet in the repeated references to Islam the books establish it as a given that, in Pakistan, religion permeates politics, policy, and society; and they entirely ignore aspects of the country’s history and culture (and the parts of its population) that are non-Islamic.

The “enemy” and Jihad

Justifying the creation of Pakistan is a key purpose of the books—thus it follows that, after “ideology,” the books move on to the “making” of Pakistan.

..

The textbooks’ rendering of history is decidedly one-sided. Leading to independence, Muslims are described as the wronged party, the victims of conspiracies by the British and Hindus (the “evil collusion between the Congress [party] and the British” is an example of the kind of language used). The Muslims of the subcontinent are depicted as good, their intentions always sincere; the other side is described as the opposite. The language used is noteworthy for its starkness and lack of nuance. Hindus are at times described as “evil”; at others, “cunning,” and sometimes simply as the “enemy.”

In early chapters, they extol warfare that occurred pre-partition against armies of other religions, and describe it in religious terms, as jihad.

At times the books mention jihad directly in the discussion on Islam and describe it in both its connotations (as an armed struggle and as an individual, internal struggle):

Besides Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Jihad also has great significance. Jihad means that financial and physical sacrifice which is made for the protection and promotion of Islam. Jihad not only means to fight against the enemies of Islam but also to make a struggle for the promotion and enforcement of Islamic teachings, keeping one’s desires and wants under the orders of Allah and uttering words of truth before a tyrant ruler.

The textbooks also invoke jihad to describe Pakistan’s wars with India post- partition. Recounting the 1965 war, one textbook states: “The Armed Forces of Pakistan, filled with the spirit of Jihad, forced an enemy many times bigger than it to face a humiliating defeat” (Pakistan did not actually win the 1965 war; the assertion of victory is factually incorrect).

The government textbooks are all generally low quality, thin volumes. In the Pakistan Studies textbooks, subjective statements are presented as facts without any references or opposing points of view. But they reign supreme in classrooms, and the board exams are directly, and exclusively, based on these textbooks. The exams reward rote memorisation of the textbook material.

The books are wary of the west and of America. The west is considered to be “two- face[d],” to work against Pakistan’s interests, and to have betrayed Pakistan historically. This idea figures prominently in the discussion on East Pakistan’s secession in 1971, which gets a significant bit of attention in the Pakistan Studies books. The books state the independence of Bangladesh to be the work of a “secret agreement of big powers.” The United States, though mentioned only a few times in the textbooks, is singled out in this regard: “the process of separation of East Pakistan was secretly supported by America.” The United States is also described as having blocked and punished Pakistan’s nuclear program and nuclear tests while turning a blind eye toward India’s program.

The books clearly identify with “Muslim causes” across the globe, with the Palestinians versus the Israelis. (The most negative mention I came across was the following:

“The wicked Jews put a portion of Masjid- e- Aqsa on fire to demolish it.”

This phrase was removed after the 2006 curriculum reform, which is discussed later.) And the books state Pakistan’s foreign policy and loyalties plainly:

The main objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to protect the ideological borders of Pakistan . . . it can protect its ideology only by establishing better relations with the Islamic countries . . . the main reason for close contacts with the western countries is economic aid which made Pakistan closer to America and the western world.

And while one can argue with this policy, the statement itself is a pretty fair description of reality. The textbooks, even the most recent ones, do not have an open discussion on terrorism or extremism in Pakistan. Terrorism is mentioned twice in the latest textbooks in the chapter on world affairs. First is the statement, “Pakistan supported America in Afghan war but as a consequence, Pakistan itself is facing terrorism.” Second: “Pakistan is playing a very effective role against terrorism and extremism in the world.” There is not enough material there to affect readers’ views on terrorism directly. The effect of the textbooks on student views on terrorism, as I will argue, is more indirect.

Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House India from Pakistan Under Siege by Madiha Afzal.