Each year, thousands of Pakistani children learn from history books that Jews are tightfisted moneylenders and Christians vengeful conquerors. One textbook tells kids they should be willing to die as martyrs for Islam.
They aren’t being indoctrinated by extremist mullahs in madrasas, the private Islamic seminaries often blamed for stoking militancy in Pakistan. They are pupils in public schools learning from textbooks approved by the administration of President Pervez Musharraf.
Since joining the U.S. as an ally in its “war on terror” four years ago, Musharraf has urged Pakistanis to shun radical Islam and pursue “enlightened moderation.”
Musharraf and U.S. officials say education reforms are crucial to defeating extremism in Pakistan, the only Islamic nation armed with nuclear weapons. Yet reformers who study the country’s education system say public school lessons still promote hatred against non-Muslims and urge jihad, or holy war.
“I have been arguing for the longest time that, in fact, our state system is the biggest madrasa,” said Rubina Saigol, a U.S.-trained expert on education. “We keep blaming madrasas for everything and, of course, they are doing a lot of things I would disagree with.
“But the state ideologies of hate and a violent, negative nationalism are getting out there where madrasas cannot hope to reach.”
The current social studies curriculum guidelines for grades 6 and 7 instruct textbook writers and teachers to “develop aspiration for jihad” and “develop a sense of respect for the struggle of [the] Muslim population for achieving independence.”
In North-West Frontier Province, which is governed by supporters of the ousted Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, the federally approved Islamic studies textbook for eighth grade teaches students they must be prepared “to sacrifice every precious thing, including life, for jihad.”
“At present, jihad is continuing in different parts of the world,” the chapter continues. “Numerous mujahedin [holy warriors] of Islam are involved in defending their religion, and independence, and to help their oppressed brothers across the world.”
The textbook for adolescent students says Muslims are allowed to “take up arms” and wage jihad in self-defense or if they are prevented from practicing their religion.
“When God’s people are forced to become slaves of man-made laws, they are hindered from practicing the religion of their God,” the textbook says. “When all the legal ways in this regard are closed, then power should be used to eliminate the evil.
“If Muslims are being oppressed,” the book says, “then jihad is necessary to free them from this cruel oppression.”
“Jihad” can mean peaceful struggle as well as holy war. Jihad can be waged on several levels, beginning with a peaceful, inner struggle for one’s own soul and escalating to killing “infidels.”
But Pakistani critics of the public school system maintain that jihad’s softer sense is easily lost in lessons that emphasize that Muslims are oppressed in many parts of the world, and that encourage fellow Muslims to fight to free them.
“Some people coming from the regular school system are volunteering for various kinds of jihad, which is not jihad in classical Islamic theory, but actually terrorism in the modern concept,” said Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani author and professor of international relations at Boston University.
“All of that shows that somehow the schooling system has fed intolerance and bigotry.”
About 97% of Pakistan’s people are Muslims, so it’s not unusual for its government to promote Islamic values in public schools. Many Muslims find that versions of history taught in countries dominated by non-Muslims are biased against Islam.
But Pakistan’s public education system goes beyond instilling pride in being Muslim and encourages bigotry that can foment violence against “the other,” said Haqqani, who has written a new book on the links between the Pakistani military and radical Muslims.
Under Pakistan’s federal government, a national curriculum department in Islamabad, the capital, sets criteria for provincial textbook boards, which commission textbooks for local public schools.
Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired army general and former head of the military’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, was named education minister in September to revive a stalled reform effort. He acknowledges that the job is still only half finished.
In a nation with one of Asia’s highest illiteracy rates, Qazi said he was determined to have specialists rewrite course guidelines and textbooks, from the first grade to the college level, so that “the curriculum will be in line with that of any other advanced country.”
“We don’t want to condemn any religion -- which we will not,” he added.
A study of the public school curriculum and textbooks by 29 Pakistani academics in 2002 concluded that public school “textbooks tell lies, create hatred, inculcate militancy and much more.”
The study by the independent Sustainable Development Policy Institute angered religious conservatives, and even a few liberals, who saw it as an attack on the country’s Islamic values, or even a plot by Western governments and rival India to subvert the Islamic state.
Qazi headed the ISI from 1993 to 1995, when the intelligence agency was recruiting students from Pakistan’s madrasas to join the extremist Taliban militia. Under Qazi’s watch, the Taliban won its first major victory, the seizure of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, with ISI training and weapons.
His critics say that makes Qazi the wrong man to take on hard-line Islamic parties and clerics who are blocking education reforms at every turn. But the education minister insists that he will fight hard to correct a curriculum that he calls lopsided.
It would be easier to end extremism in Pakistan if Western governments did more to resolve conflicts that anger Muslims worldwide, such as the war in Iraq, the dispute with India over the region of Kashmir, or the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel, he said.
Qazi insisted that he was not an extremist, but he offered a short history of the Middle East conflict that left little doubt that he wanted Pakistan’s children to continue learning a distinct view of the world.
“Palestinians were promised their state. Originally they were the owners of the entire area,” Qazi said. “OK, Israel was created by the British. And they indulged in terrorism. The Jews were the worst terrorists in the world.
“They created their state. Fine. Now that everybody has accepted it as a fait accompli, there was also acceptance of a Palestinian state. The Israelis, on one pretext or another, have not granted them that state. And every time something comes up in the Security Council, America vetoes it.”
After it won independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan had a secular public school system. President Zia ul-Haq, a former military dictator, ordered Islamic education to be incorporated into the public school curriculum in the 1980s as he consolidated power with the support of hard-line clerics.
Pakistan is still grappling with the lethal forces that Zia’s “Islamization” policy unleashed.
Educators pressing for deeper reforms suspect that Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a 1999 coup, wants to maintain elements of Zia’s strategy in order to preserve the military’s dominant role in Pakistani society.
“Reforming education is not a part of Musharraf’s agenda because it will require squarely confronting the mullahs,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor who specializes in high-energy and nuclear physics.
“Musharraf acts only upon pressure, and there must be relentless, sustained pressure from the outside world if meaningful reforms are ever to become reality,” he said. “Those who believe in secular education are far too weak and small in numbers.”
Punjab state’s seventh-grade social studies textbook, published in January, begins with a full-page message from Musharraf urging students to focus on modern disciplines such as information technology and computers.
“It is a historical fact that the Muslims ruled the world for hundreds of years,” Musharraf writes. He acknowledges that in the past, Pakistan’s school curriculum “was not in concert with the requirements of modern times.” But he assures students that “textbooks have been developed, revised and updated accordingly.”
The changes, if any, are hard to spot. Disparaging references to Christians, Jews and Hindus from previous editions are carried over into the new text.
“Before Islam, people lived in untold misery all over the world,” the textbook says. “Some Jewish tribes also lived in Arabia. They lent money to workers and peasants on high rates of interest and usurped their earnings. They held the whole society in their tight grip because of the ever increasing compound interest.
“In short, there was no sympathy for humanity,” the passage continues.
“People were selfish and cruel. The rich lived in luxury and nobody bothered about the needy or those in sufferings.”
A section on the Crusades teaches that Europe’s Christian rulers attacked Muslims in the Holy Land out of revenge even though “history has no parallel to the extremely kind treatment of the Christians by the Muslims.”
“Some of the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem fabricated many false stories of suffering,” the passage continues. “If they were robbed on the way, they said it were the Muslims who robbed them.”
Christians eventually realized they were inferior to Muslims, the chapter concludes.
Combined with lessons on armed jihad, such a view of history helps make young Pakistanis ripe for manipulation by Islamic militants, who have given jihad “a demonic meaning” here, said Saigol, the education expert.
“The word is so much more associated with violence, killing, death and blood,” she said, “that I think it’s difficult to reclaim it, as the modernists are trying to do, and turn it into a war against one’s inner self.”