Thursday, November 05, 2009

Illiteracy causes Terrorism--Wishful Thinking?

Every once in a while someone I know—not to mention a million others, often highly educated Pakistani expats and not a few caucasians both in Western governments and even progressive circles, but also people in Pakistan—will express the thought that what is really causing all this extremism and fanaticism is that Pakistan, for example, has an abysmal literacy rate. And all we have to do is start 3 million schools, and we "wild and wooly gentlemen" of those crazy parts will hold hands and chant Rumi, if not sing kumbaya. One do-gooder just a couple of days ago was saying on NPR that you could run a whole school for a year in the money spent on maintaining one foreign soldier in Afghanistan.

I am not sure I agree.

These are two separate problems. Illiteracy might be fueling extremism, but the ideology behind it is very much the product of literate brains. The inflexible, extreme attitudes we see in a lot of Pakistan's Youth--on Facebook, for example--is the product of the tinkering with the EDUCATIONAL system and society by Gen. Ziaul Haque and his regime, not of illiteracy. Making people literate--rather than enlightened--only gives them the means to read and absorb things like Farhat Hashmi, "disturbing" emails, and so on. [Which is not limited to Pakistan or Muslims; for every Geo TV there is a Fox News; for every Mullah Rocketi, a Franklin Graham. But I digress.] Just consider a few points:
  • Who was it that was most enamoured of the Sufis that brought Islam to what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India? (At least one or two of them literally students and friends of Rumi.) The educated elite of the day, or the poor, illiterate working folk?
  • Who attends lectures by Farhat Hashmi and radical Western Muslim (like the Hizbut-Tahrir and some Americans I could mention) ? The taxi driver and the working class Muslim, or the professionals at some mosques in Silicon Valley and Toronto that I could mention?
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