The threshold of perceptions about us keeps getting lower. A US State Department report declares Pakistan the fifth most unstable country in the world. Is it any consolation that Israel is just a notch above us, and India not too far ahead? For once, it is difficult to indulge in our favourite pastime and label this as a Hindu-Jewish conspiracy. The standard-bearers of these religions find a place of dishonour fairly close to us. But should this be a source of satisfaction or a time to reflect and look within? Blaming others for our failures is an exercise in absolution, an attempt to forgive ourselves of our sins. It is an egregious evasion of responsibility. This was visible in the explanations that some gave for the tragic attack on Ahmedi places of worship. RAW is doing it was one, Israel another. It was as if to say that our attitudes towards minorities and the failure of our law enforcement agencies had nothing to do with it. The more reprehensible were those who felt they asked for it, because of their religious beliefs.
Unless we recognise our shortcomings, no change, no turnaround is possible.
Among our many faults is the allowing of a small, strident, minority to drive us into cowardice. This is what the Taliban did to some of us. This is what the confrontationist Mullahs have been doing for a long time. The saddest part is that some in the media, directly or through “strategic” silence, support them.
The politicians have been no better. While most have condemned terrorism, they have not spoken a word about the status of the Ahmedis. It is in this context that Nawaz Sharif’s statement is so politically brave. By declaring that Ahmedis are our brothers, he has staked a position far ahead of many who claim a copyright on liberalism.
This has stunned both the left and the right. The liberals unwilling or unable to say anything nice about him are busy explaining that he was pushed into it by public opinion. The mullahs are after his blood and have asked him to retract, or else. And those right-wingers in the media who consider it their duty to rave about everything that the Sharifs do have been shocked into silence.
Leading the charge against Nawaz Sharif is an organisation representing religious schools. This just gives us some idea of what these people are teaching in their institutions. No wonder many of the religious schools have become factories of hate. They don’t have to give terrorist training, as many of them loudly protest they do not. They create the enabling environment for terrorism to sprout.
It is also an act of cowardice that we don’t do anything about these schools. We are busy fighting a war against militancy in which brave sons of this nation are giving the ultimate sacrifice. Yet we are unable, or unwilling, to recognise that unless we turn off the terrorist stream, this fight will go on forever.
It is time that religious schools are brought within the national mainstream. They must follow a prescribed syllabus that has an emphasis on Islamic learning but should also have other subjects. The product that emerges from these schools should not only have a strong Islamic base but a wide knowledge of the world we live in.
A role model for such a mix of knowledge is Mr Javed Ghamdi. Please notice that I am not using Maulana or any such honorific before his name because he does not claim any. There are many charlatans going about the land claiming religious titles who know next to nothing about Islam.
Mr Ghamdi is a true scholar and his knowledge of Islamic literature, other religions and world affairs is legendary. What has this made him into? Not a fanatic who wants to kill everyone who does not precisely share his beliefs. But someone who understands modern knowledge and seeks to place Islamic teaching within a context that is accessible to the educated mind. He is no less a Muslim than anyone, but would he take up a gun to force his belief on others?
This is the kind of product that needs to emerge from the religious schools. It may not be of the same learning and stature as Ghamdi, but someone within whom comfortably reside own beliefs and the teachings of science, technology and the modern world.
This would mean that such a person would be tolerant of differences. These could be of race, colour, language, ethnicity and, most importantly, religious belief. It will not be easy to create such a personality because most of us don’t even tolerate a difference of opinion in a discussion. Even the very educated get hot under the collar when someone disagrees with them. But we have to try.
Why, because our future depends on it. Our national psyche is too divided between products of English- and Urdu-medium education and those coming from religious schools. Add to this mix the illiterate, who know little or nothing. How can we build a nation that is separated by so many different mindsets?
The battle on the education front is crucial for the survival and, indeed prosperity, of this nation. We have to become in real terms one people. This has many dimensions. But following similar curriculum nationwide is fundamental to this.
And, yes, this includes the plethora of privately-owned English-medium schools that follow the O or A level examination system. They will resist a uniform curriculum as much as the mullahs, but if the others are made to bend to a common national thought, they cannot be an exception.
This does not mean a lowering of standards for the private schools. They can teach whatever textbooks they like. And, indeed, for a long, long time, or perhaps ever, some schools would be better than others. But their students and the government or madressah school children must take the same exam.
It will still mean that most students from the better managed and -funded private schools will do better, but it will allow the bright children from the other schools also to rise if they work hard enough. More importantly, they will all be judged on the same norm and will, over time, develop a reasonably similar mental frame of reference.
This will create the kind of citizen that will help to push Pakistan forward. A citizen with different capabilities, different background and social status, yet with a thought process that is broadly similar when it comes to nationhood, human rights and knowledge of the world.
The good part is that it takes only a generation to create a broadly similar framework. The more difficult is taking a start. We have not done this for sixty three years and we don’t seem close to doing it now. The moment we cross this bridge, we will be on our way.
[Reality check, Friday, June 11, 2010, Courtesy The News, http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=244337 ]
[‘Creating Common Mindset’ by Shafqat Mahmoodm ]