Friday, September 24, 2004

Divide And Conquer - (part V)

Propaganda: Indoctrinating The Youth Madrassah to University

Many "regular" folks in the United States have a certain opinion of our Middle East brethren. Largely that they are poor and uneducated and, therefore, easily swayed by fanatical religious leaders. Many have pointed to madrassas (private religious schools with some funding from state governments, but largely funded by and controlled by mosques) and mosques (religious houses of prayers; similar to a synagogue or church) as the main conduit for creating the base of the Islamist movement. The reality is, most of the leaders of these groups and their lieutenants are often educated at university. It is there where they often take advanced studies in Islamic schools of thought and our approached by recruiters to join and work their way up to leadership roles in the specific organizations.

Go to the inner sanctum for further discussion of the indoctrinization of Islamic youth...

To be sure, this does not negate the probability that "foot soldiers", particularly those that are running around with AK47s, running RPGs and suicide bombers, are not pulled from the upper age group of boys (usually) within the madrassahs. Recall that madrassahs are similar to our own primary schooling system, kindergarten through twelfth grade. The madrassahs curriculum is selected by the governing body of the schools, is based on religious themes and controlled by the Islamic organization supporting the schools (mainly through or attached to mosques):

  1. Basic reading, writing and arithmetic
  2. Reading and writing largely consists of memorizing the Qu'ran and writing it's passages for the younger crowd
  3. History lessons based on the Qu'ran with some modern day history texts largely touting the Arab version of history
  4. Science: from one particular website, I gathered that the teaching of science is also related to the Qu'ran, again, at least for the younger children. Much like teaching creationism at Christian schools
  5. Religious classes

In short, thoroughly indoctrinating their youth into Islam and it's belief that it (Islam) is the only true path, all other religions are heresies.

It is important to note something before we go on. There is more than one Islam, even if the Muslims would like to disagree. We will be exploring that soon. I just wanted you to understand, while I post generically about "madrassahs" indoctrination of Muslim youth, the same teachings (or sects) of Islam are not taught in these madrassahs. By far, however, Sunni Islam is prevalent. And within that, Sunni/Wahhabi, the foundation of the enemy, is strong. It garners the most state support from Saudi Arabia as Sunni/Wahhabi is THE state sponsored religion. This is also supported in many countries from Saudi Arabian funds, charities, and training and/or exporting teachers to these schools.

Recruitment in these schools actually starts when the boy is young. First getting him to do simple things like running messages or keeping a look out for the group. This is not simply because the boy goes to a religious school. Many gangs in the United States and other countries use a similar technique for their criminal endeavors. They select children who are vulnerable due to the loss of a parent, particularly a father figure or even parents who are not home during critical hours. These are the same techniques that the Muslim groups use, particularly Hamas and Hezbollah, in the Palestinian territories. Pakistan and even Iraq today have similar patterns of drawing children as young as 10 into their organizations for these kinds of jobs.

In a recent HBO documentary about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, a crew followed a young boy of 12 as he and his friends played and went to school during the day and in the evenings would go to the local hide outs, hang out with the terrorists (not what they called them), play look out or bag men carrying money, ammunition or other items for the group. He and another boy actually made explosive devices out of cardboard tubing and TNT powder for the video. The terrorist group treated him like a little brother. The journalist asked the terrorist group if they did not feel like they were putting the boys life in danger. Their reply was rather chilling: "If something happens to him, he will be a martyr, but there will be a thousand who can take his place". They spoke in English when they said this to the reporter, although all communications between the boy and the journalist were through an interpreter. Which lets you know that they did not think that was an appropriate subject for their potential sacrificial lamb to hear.

When the journalists spoke to the mother, she basically threw her hands up. She pleaded with with him to grow up, get an education and get married. Give her grandchildren. Not to leave her alone. There was no father in sight. Simply, she was a single mother with children, doing the best she could. Just like here in the United States. And, like here, it is all to easy for older, magnetic and "heroic" figures to prey on the children and convince them to work with them. Barely caring whether they become casualties. Looking on them as "shahid" (martyrs) with no greater value than what they do now and might become later for the group. And just like gang members here in the United States, this path is all too often a "dead end".

It would be inappropriate for me not to mention that not ALL schools are madrassahs. There are private schools, some even ran by Christian religious organizations. These schools are largely limited to Christian enclaves within these countries. Schools of this nature are limited to the foreign enclaves in Saudi Arabia. Countries like Iraq, Jordan and even Pakistan have small populations of Christians (largely Assyrian) within their countries where these types of schools exist as well. Certainly, the wealthy of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the like can afford to send their children to private schools, either within the country or outside.

However, by far, the normal population has limited choices. In an article of the Christian Science Monitor, the issue is brought to the fore:

"RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN - In Pakistan, a nation divided between militant Islam and Western-leaning modernity, Mehreen Shahid represents an increasingly unpopular yet pivotal minority.(...)

Ms. Shahid and her classmates dream, individually, of being highly educated, working as surgeons, engineers, software developers, architects, and physicists. Together, they dream of a better Pakistan, where the best and brightest don't have to leave the country to get ahead(...)

Those who "can't afford to go outside" include the estimated 600,000 to 700,000 children attending the large and growing number of madrassahs, or religious schools, where the focus is on study and memorization of the Koran, Islam's holy book.(...)

For more than a generation, Pakistan's social divide has been drawn in this Muslim nation's schools. Westernized middle- and upper-class families send their children to private schools like St. Paul's, which, despite its name, is nondenominational. The poor attend either inadequately funded public schools or the madrassahs.(...)

Education is one of the key factors that will decide which direction Pakistan heads, whether toward the outward-looking secular state envisioned in 1947 by founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah or toward a more inward-looking path of Islamic conservatism, similar to that of Afghanistan's isolated theocratic rulers, the Taliban. For many Pakistanis, the outcome of this longer-term war is of primary concern.(...)

As Pakistan's 141-million population grows, and public schools fail to keep pace, it is madrassahs that are taking up the slack, and shaping the next generation.

While there are no official figures, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a New Delhi-based think-tank, estimates that there are more than 15,000 madrassahs in Pakistan today, up from fewer than 2,000 in 1979.

"What's the price of ignorance? It's more costly than educating people," says Ardeshir Cowasjee, a longtime columnist for the Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper.

"In Pakistan, we have eight births a minute. That's almost 500 births an hour, 12,000 a day, 4 million a year. You need funds to build schools for all these children, and the funds don't match," Mr. Cowasjee says.

In 1994, a group of madrassah students answered the call of a charismatic recluse, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to overthrow Afghanistan's unruly mujahideen warlords and purify the country.

Even today, Pakistan's madrassahs frequently empty their halls to send young men to fight for the Taliban during Afghanistan's warmer warring season.

The Christian Science Monitor goes on to assure us that not ALL madrassahs are the same:

Not all madrassahs are alike, however. While many offer only the most rudimentary math and science, others are more sophisticated, aiming at the same level of education found in Pakistan's more-elite schools.

One of the better-funded madrassahs is the Anjuman Faizul Islam in Rawalpindi.

Here, boys and girls - nearly 700 of whom are orphans - study together up until fifth grade, and then continue their studies separately until grade 10.

This madrassah's library is full of books in both English and the national language, Urdu, from "Gone with the Wind" to "How to Build a Hydropower Dam." The chemistry lab would not look out of place at any American public school. The curriculum includes Islamic studies, to be sure, but the emphasis is on achievement, not on Islamic political causes.

Even the children know that their future, and the future of Pakistan, is directly attached to education:

"We are the future of Pakistan, we have to make it a better country," says Ali, who attended a madrassah for two years before coming to St. Paul's last year.

"We'll try our best, and in 10 years, Pakistan will be a great country."

Behind him, a number of students whisper reflexively, in unison, Inshallah, "If God wills it."

This points to two things, major things, that the United States can and should assist with:

  1. Funding SECULAR public education
  2. Funding after school SECULAR programs

According to CSIS reporting(pdf), the United States has tied it's aid to Pakistan with expected reforms within the country. Part of the aid provided was in the form of $34million for social reform funds. The administration has pledged an additional $100million per year for education reform specifically.

Another project underway under the auspices of CARE:

Nancy J. Powell, Ambassador to Pakistan:Earlier today, I was pleased to announce another U.S. government grant, this one for an exciting new program that will be administered by the non-government organization, CARE, under the stewardship of Ms. Seema Aziz. Starting next month, CARE will begin teaching English to 60 fifteen-and sixteen-year olds from underprivileged urban neighborhoods here in Lahore. The goal of this two-year program is to adequately prepare bright, disadvantaged students in written and spoken English so that they can gain admission to Pakistan's universities, thus permitting them to compete more effectively with more privileged students fortunate enough to have studied in English medium schools.

(...)Our flagship is the five-year, $100 million education program with the Ministry of Education to provide quality education for the girls and boys of Pakistan. Just within the last year, we have trained 2,500 Pakistani teachers both here and in the United States; introduced early childhood education programs in more than 200 schools; provided classroom materials and playground equipment; refurbished 1,200 schools; and established 100 literacy centers for out of school youth and adults. We are helping District Education Officers in Sindh and Balochistan improve planning, budgeting, and management. We are also rebuilding and furnishing 130 schools in FATA. We will expand these programs in the coming year.

And this is only Pakistan, but surely, Pakistan border lands are supplying the most young men to the Taliban who continue to attempt to take back Afghanistan, the country which sponsored Osama bin Laden and his terrorist training camps. According to The Center for Contemporary Conflict, many of the madrassahs are privately funded, but some are funded by the state through a yearly 2.5% tax on Sunni Muslim bank accounts:

One of the unique characteristics of the Pakistani educational system is the reliance on religious schools commonly known as Madrassahs. Historically these schools were founded as centers of learning for the next generation of Islamic scholars and clerics. As Singer (2001) notes, however, during the 1980s the Madrassah system changed significantly. First, as part of its Islamization policy the Zia regime stepped up funding for the schools. Funds were dispersed at the local level to institutions deemed worthy of support by religious leaders, creating new incentives for opening religious schools. At the same time, the war in Afghanistan produced millions of refugees and the radicalism of a jihad movement.

Today, the schools are funded both by private donations from Middle Eastern countries and by the "zakat," a 2.5 percent tax collected by the Pakistani government from the bank accounts of Sunni Muslims once a year. The tax results in millions of dollars each year being directed to the schools. Foreign donations come mainly from rich individuals and Islamic charities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

A major reason for the popularity of the Madrassahs in Pakistan is that the country's public school system is in shambles, and many families cannot afford the small fees that are charged. Madrassahs offer an attractive alternative: free education, free meals, free schoolbooks and even in some cases a stipend. While the exact numbers are unobtainable, estimates are that over a million and a half students study at more than 10,000 of these schools.

A number -- probably a significant fraction -- of these schools have built extremely close ties with radical militant groups. In this capacity they have increasingly played a critical role in sustaining the international terrorist network

Several suggestions are made by the CCC on how the United States can assist with the education reforms as well as the difficulties of the project being a longterm investment and not seeing immediate success:

Given the limited reforms likely in the Madrassahs in the near future, the United States and other donor countries should seriously consider using foreign aid and assistance to facilitate educational reform in Pakistan. As a start, the United States plans to provide nearly $35 million in 2002 to bolster the country's state school system. At this juncture, the critical questions involve the most effective and efficient ways to proceed.

Singer has explored several of the options that might be worth considering. Logically, the United States could help the Pakistani government with one or more of the following options:

  1. Developing a public Madrassah system as an alternative to the current private Madrassahs.
  2. Developing a secular public education system that provides Pakistani families with a superior alternative to the Madrassahs.
  3. Developing alternatives and supplements outside the formal educational system
  4. Obtaining educational aid from a variety of international sources.

If you read the entire paper, it gives more specifics about what the Unites States could do to augment this program, the challenges and possibilities of success. This type of policy will work in some countries, but has to be augmented and shaped based on that country's fiscal and population structure.

Similar education dollars are given to Egypt and even Jordan. While not as much aid goes to Saudi Arabia for this issue, certainly there is pressure from the United States to reform their educational system. According to Mr. Simon Henderson to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept 10, 2003:

Since Afghanistan there have also been the issues of Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia that have emerged as concerns for the “Islam strand” of Saudi foreign policy. In each case Saudi Arabia allowed or facilitated hundreds, if not thousands, of young Saudi male volunteers to go as relief workers or fighters.

This transfer of Saudi volunteers had, to my understanding, both a domestic and foreign policy purpose. These young men were graduates of the Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia, colleges where religious degrees are obtained rather than a technical qualification more conventionally useful for the job market. Apart from a religious education, the graduates are also imbibed with an Islamic spirit and energy with which the kingdom has difficulty coping. Sending these men abroad re-directed their energies. Some died in the fighting, others eventually returned home. For those still determined to be Islamic activists, jobs were found for them in the mutawa, the religious police, who administer such restrictions as making sure shops are shut at prayer times and women wear appropriate clothing. Others, who had perhaps matured and no longer wanted to be zealots, married, found jobs and settled down.

We'll be looking at Saudi Arabia and the roll of universities in developing Islamist terrorists in our next look at "Indoctrinating the Youth". To be sure, what this points to is that we are fighting against a well established mechanism for developing the leaders and foot soldiers of organized terror and we must work harder and faster to interdict this development.

The most important fact we must all come to terms with: this will not end with the capture or death of Osama bin Laden and Aiyman al Zawahiri. They are but steps on the ladder. We must be able to cut the legs out from underneath this organization. This will be long. It may even encompass more military action, even in countries we did not expect to.

Whatever it is, this will not be over soon.

1 comment:

91ghost said...

No, it won't be over soon...I don't know how achievable an "end" really is, at-least any time in the near future.