Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Madrasas: Islam's schools of terror

William Dalrymple investigates Islamic colleges involved in terrorist activities:

In Islamabad, I went to see Pervez Hoodbhoy, an expert on education and the author of an important study of the madrasas. Hoodbhoy teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, the Pakistani Oxbridge, and as we sat in the spacious campus, he described the depressing changes he had witnessed since joining the staff in the 1970s. Not only had there been a general decline in educational standards, he said, but beards, burkas and hijabs, unknown in the early 1980s, were now the norm. He estimated that only one-third of his students now resist showing some visible sign of their Islamic propriety. "And this," he added, "is by far the most liberal university in Pakistan.

"There is definitely a change in the temper of this society," he said. "The students are much less interested in the world and show much less curiosity - instead we have this mad, unthinking rush towards religiosity, and the steady erosion of the liberal elite."

I asked Hoodbhoy about his prognosis for the future.

"I am very anxious," he said. "The state educational system has reached the point of collapse. The only long-term solution has to be improved secular government schools: at the moment they are so bad that even where they exist, no one will willingly go to them.

"But the biggest problem we have," he continued, "is the US. Their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have hugely strengthened the hands of the extremists and depleted the strength of those who want to see a modern, non-fundamentalist future for this country. Before the invasion of Iraq, I called the US ambassador and warned her: if you attack Saddam, you may gain Iraq, but you'll lose Pakistan. I hope I was wrong - but I fear that I may yet be proved right."

More evidence that the invasion of Iraq is not in the best long-term interests of the United States.


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