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Monday, November 29, 2004

The Struggle For The Soul of Islam

This story was too good to pass up: Schooled in jihad via the Chicago Tribune.

Synopsis of article: The struggle for the soul of Islam is being waged in the hearts and minds of Arab Muslim youths. On one side you have radical/extremist Islamic clerics who teach nothing but hatred of America and Western Values. On the other side you have, (what I hope is a silent majority), moderate muslim voices like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf who insists that education reforms are the only hope for peace with the West in the future. Promises/efforts to reform the education system in Pakistan have yeilded little positive results. Government approved texts in Pakistan glorify and promote jihad.

My favorite passages:
In the struggle for the soul of Islam, few things are as important as education reform. Terrorists can be defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if nothing is done to end the intolerance and the teaching of hard-line Islam in classrooms, militants will have a never-ending supply of new recruits. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pakistan, whose schools were described as "incubators for violent extremism" by the Sept. 11 commission.


At public schools in Karachi, children as young as 5th graders still learn about the glories of jihad and martyrdom in textbooks the government approves. One 9th-grade student told a Tribune reporter that he dreamed of going to fight in a jihad when he grows up, if he could get his mother's blessing.


Madrassas ... are secretive religious schools controlled by politically powerful clerics who advocate conservative Islam coupled with religious intolerance. They prosper on the financial donations of wealthy Muslims around the world.


One of the few things public schools and madrassas have in common is the teaching of jihad, an Islamic concept that has two meanings -- one a personal struggle against temptation and another a war of Muslims against aggressors. In Pakistan, particularly in the madrassas, jihad has essentially come to mean war.


The students firmly believe that America is out to destroy Islam, to crush any Muslim nation. For every argument, they cite some French book or an American newspaper article they once heard about, even if they never saw it.


The West believes madrassa students would be better off in a public school. But a message extolling conflict and extremism is easy to find there too.


As early as 5th grade, public school students learn about jihad and martyrdom. A recent 5th-grade Urdu textbook devoted a chapter to Pakistani soldiers killed by the Indian army. The chapter quoted religious texts emphasizing that a Muslim has no faith if he does not wish for martyrdom, and that martyrs earn a special place in heaven.


"If you look at Pakistan's educational system, it encourages you to fight in jihad. It glorifies the military," says A.H. Nayyar, who has studied the country's schools. "It imbibes the student with the philosophy of martyrdom and jihad."


Critics say the government has failed to change public school textbooks because of fierce opposition from clerics. Nayyar says that earlier this year, the government removed some jihadi language from textbooks. But the clerics objected, and the government issued new textbooks, he says. This time, an entire chapter in at least one textbook was devoted to jihad. Nayyar says the chapter read like a lesson on jihad from the literature of banned militant groups.
The article was very well written, very informative, and if I weren't so tired I'd weigh in a lot more. One thing I do want to say is this: We need to shut off the money lines to the madrassas. Wealthy Muslims across the globe are paying for the next generation of likely terrorists to be disinformed and (un)educated. More importantly we need to open a new front in the war over the hearts and minds of Muslim Youths. We ough to put our best marketing strategists to work on converting these muslim extremists to moderate pro-American muslims.

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