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Thursday, October 1, 2020
Pakistan Press on National Curriculum and Intra-Afghan Peace Talks: New Age Islam's Selection, 1 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 October 2020
• Let Us Have Faith in Our Children and Give Them a Chance to Develop Into Intelligent Human Beings Leading
By Anjum Altaf
• The Sociology of Intra-Afghan Peace Talks
By Inam Ul Haque
• The Alchemist in the White House
By Imran Jan
Let Us Have Faith in Our Children and Give Them a Chance to Develop Into Intelligent Human Beings Leading
By Anjum Altaf
October 1, 2020
The Single National Curriculum has some very laudable objectives including raising good human beings and promoting inclusiveness and tolerance. It has decided on a methodology to achieve these aims. For the sake of discussion, I am suggesting an alternative to the proposed methodology.
The chosen methodology leans heavily on religion as the vehicle for raising good human beings. Muslim children will be introduced to Ahadees, Ayaat and Quranic injunctions in support of habits that include speaking the truth, respecting one’s elders, being kind to fellow humans and animals; and of beliefs that all citizens have an equal standing in society regardless of religion, ethnicity, language, gender and colour.
Muslim children will be learning these good things by memorizing the relevant Ahadees, Ayaat, and Quranic injunctions – and will be tested on them. While Muslim children are attending the class on their religion, all non-Muslim students would leave and go to segregated classes, separate for all religions, where they would be taught exactly the same good habits drawing from their own scriptures.
Religion can be a very good vehicle for teaching these basic lessons but dividing children, who might otherwise be very close friends, into separate groups every day may not be the best of ideas. Young children would inevitably ask why some of them have to leave the class and would have to be told that it is so because they are different. The consciousness of difference would be ingrained from day one. The aim of inclusiveness would be compromised and that of tolerance would be strained.
Could exactly the same goals be achieved without sacrificing inclusion and incurring the negative psychic costs of physical separation? How about experimenting with the following alternative: All children stay together and learn together. This is possible because all controversial material has already been sensibly removed from the SNC. Thus, if the lesson is about speaking the truth, the relevant messages from all religions can be listed on the blackboard. Similarly, for lessons pertaining to respecting elders, treating others with kindness, etc.
It is hard to imagine that any religion would have messages contrary to the essential traits of good conduct. It would be a huge gain if by going through such a collective exercise, children learn in a convivial environment about other religions and also that all religions emphasise similar good things – they are different roads leading to the same destination.
These collective exercises could be extended by exploring what the places of worship of different religions look like, on what date the new year begins for different religions and how it is celebrated, what are the different rituals at birth, marriage, death, etc. At a certain stage, students can be taken on visits to different places of worship and encouraged to engage with the caretakers to satisfy their queries.
Such an approach would encourage curiosity, prompt students to ask questions, and promote mutual understanding in a positive and non-artificial manner. It would also obviate the need to memorize anything. Anyone who has been close to education knows that memorization, especially of material that cannot be imagined, is detrimental in every way. It stunts the intellectual development of children.
Good habits pertain not just to conduct. Good mental habits are equally important and they cannot be inculcated by memorization. In fact, excessive memorization of normative content dulls mental capacity by taking away agency and replacing behaviour based on intelligence by that based on fear of punishment. And why persist with a failed approach in any case?
Educationists who have kept up with the subject also know that children learn in very different ways – some respond more to aural stimuli, others to visual cues, and yet others to tactile inputs. Some love to put things together, others to take them apart. If allowed the freedom, children gravitate to what excites them most. Instead of regimenting all children into a standard format and boring most of them to tears, the first few years are the time when a teacher observes and groups children by how they learn best. Once their learning ability is unleashed, they progress much faster than children raised in the equivalent of chicken coops or cattle stalls.
Let us have faith in our children and give them a chance to develop into intelligent human beings leading fulfilling lives. Yes, they will ask questions but what kind of an adult is afraid of questions children might ask?
Anjum Altaf is a former dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS.
Last week, in this space, some ‘constants’ from Afghan sociology were distilled following an inter-disciplinary approach. This column would discuss the sociology of the intra-Afghan dialogue that is underway in Doha.
Following on from the Taliban/Pashtun sociology, peace talks with the United States took almost a year’s painstaking efforts to iron-out the February 29, 2020 peace agreement. Contrary to belief, the Afghan is a tough negotiator; and had there been no Afghans like Zalmay Khalilzad on the US side, this process would have faltered. The Afghan government was cleverly side-stepped. Now expecting a degraded Afghan conflict resolution mechanism (CRM) to take on and resolve the nagging issues amongst the Afghans is wishful. Since at least one party — the Afghan government — is looking over their shoulder to their foreign backers — the US. The Taliban willingness to share the table with them stems from the compromise, wherein they see the Afghan government as an extension of the US.
The intra-Afghan dialogue is actually an Afghan Jirga. The Taliban, the dominant party, would have clear talking points and positions, conceding only marginally to negotiate the bigger issues. And the bigger issues are the nature of the Afghan state, power-sharing between the stakeholders, a ceasefire, sustenance of the future of Afghanistan’s government, and other minor issues like the status of women/minorities, freedoms and the Afghan Constitution, etc.
First, the nature of the Afghan state. The Taliban movement has Islam as its stated ideology and Sharia as the operative framework to run the affairs of the state. It is well-nigh impossible for them to agree to any other form or format of government. It is interesting to note that the almost month-long dialogue is stuck on issues such as the Taliban calling their fight against the Amreeki forces a jihad — holy war. And the Afghan government seems to be at a loss to give this war a name. Agreeing it to be a jihad would render those opposing it culpable. It would be interesting to see how this issue is resolved.
The Taliban subscribe predominantly to the Hanafi School of Islamic theology. However, Hanafi jurisprudence to be the basis of their governance would be challenging in a multi-faith Afghan society. Countries like Saudi Arabia stick to one fiqah as state theology. The possibility of separate fiqahs side by side, like Fiqah-e-Jafferia for populations like the Hazara Shias, remains a possible way out.
Second, power-sharing by far remains the most complex issue. For Taliban interlocutors agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement without a lion’s share for the Taliban is an extremely low probability. As in that case, their rank and file, who gave their sweat, blood, life and limbs for two decades fighting the occupation forces and their local backers, would be up in arms.
Sociologically, almost two Afghan generations came of age during the endemic violence, knowing nothing else. The Taliban movement has internalised violence and has learned to live with it. For the Taliban field cadre to accept anything other than a complete victory or its appearance thereof, would be a very tough call. Any perceived appeasement would split the Taliban movement. And their Doha interlocutors know it very well. The miniscule Kabul elite is a non-representative, directionless and Westernised microcosm in a vast ocean of rural, pro-Taliban and battle-hardened Afghans.
Third, the future sustenance of the Afghan government. The rough annual financial outlay for the Afghan government including the cost of the war and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including police, is close to $10 billion. Most of this is provided for by the international community, as agreed to in the Bonn Agreement in 2001. The Taliban are likely to claim this continued support as reparations for the death and destruction wrought in by more than 50 countries over the last 20 years.
Fourth, as far as the ceasefire goes, it is not in the Taliban’s priority list, hence the fighting and talking. However, they commit to a future ceasefire hoping for an end to war. It was emphasised in this space that any ceasefire — without the Taliban “actually controlling the levers of power,” and their rank and file absorbed in the power structure is risky for the movement. Such a ceasefire is being strongly opposed by their field commanders, therefore not expected. A partial ceasefire is practicable and may be offered as a confidence building measure. A Taliban negotiating team member told NBC News in Doha, “If we stop fighting, then what does there remain to talk about?” Khalilzad considers the current negotiations as the best way of reducing the violence.
Fifth, as far as the auxiliary issues like the Afghan Constitution, minority/women’s rights and freedoms are concerned, the two sides would be poles apart in their aspirations for the country. Whereas the Afghan government team is trying to safeguard the Constitution and all the rights that women, minorities, and others have gained in the last 20 years; the Taliban want to define all rights according to the Sharia. This, for them, makes the Constitution and all the cited aspects superfluous.
The Taliban are hostile to an imposed value system, in particular a Western one. Agreeing to a value system they fought for so many years, is not knowing sociology of the movement, which is rural and Pakhtun. The Taliban, however, would concede some aspects like women’s education and employment, as a departure from their hardline policies of the 1990s. As the younger generation of Taliban leaders is more flexible, thanks to the global influences of social media.
And the Taliban have repeatedly shown that they can be both ideological and pragmatic, in line with their social underpinning. As previously mentioned, in any conflict with riwaj (tradition) and Islam; riwaj generally wins. Likewise, if presented with sufficiently compelling reasons, the Taliban can interpret even the religious injunctions in accordance with the ground realities. However, such deviation is short-term, transient and religiously sanctioned.
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge to the intra-Afghan talks is from the internal divisions among the Afghan political factions. The composition of the High Council for National Reconciliation, the body overseeing the negotiations with the Taliban, is not yet final. Most Ashraf Ghani appointees were rejected by his political rival and the council’s head, Abdullah Abdullah. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (former warlord-politician) is openly calling for separate, divided negotiations with the Taliban, representing a trend wherein a much larger number of Afghan leaders are quietly interacting with the Taliban in a typical Afghan hedging game.
So the Kabul team is pitted against a well-organised and united Taliban negotiating team. The Afghan government would further erode its leverage after the withdrawal of all US forces. Both President Donald Trump and his election rival former vice-president Joe Biden want to see the US forces leave Afghanistan.
The February 29 peace deal enabled the start of the peace talks; the Taliban would conclude these.
Back in the day, people around the world had great and charismatic leaders because that is what people valued. Charismatic not as in The Apprentice, or Pakistani morning shows, but charismatic as in leaders who read and wrote books and inspired people with their wisdom. People frequenting libraries seems centuries ago if you ask me. Libraries are replaced by shopping malls, book reading has been invaded by binge watching, family time is infected with phone screen time.
When we were kids, our parents were angry at us for playing outside all day. Today, we literally have to yell at children to quit their gaming console and go out and play. Before, parents used to stop their children from eating soil. Today’s parents have to stop children from eating McDonald’s. I’m confident the soil eating was less harmful.
In the book, The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho, the boy (Santiago) travels enormous distances and faces gruelling hardships to find the truth about alchemy. He eventually finds that it was possible to make gold, and the man who knew alchemy (the alchemist) was a pious man in the story. The alchemist reminds the boy that while it was possible to make gold, it was not supposed to be the ultimate aim of life.
This week the ever hungry-for-a-scoop investigative journalists of The New York Times found President Trump’s tax return. Turns out Trump is the alchemist of our times. This alchemist does not live in the oasis nearby an Arab Bedouin camp, but rather in the White House. Trump’s alchemy is made of con artistry instead of piety and knowledge. He is the master of tax alchemy. He made his empire of billions but displayed losses to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to avoid paying taxes. His public bragging of calling himself being “really rich” gave him celebrity status and eventually even the White House while the private claims of failing businesses allowed him to avoid paying any taxes. He truly had it both ways.
The revelation by The Times also further solidifies the long held belief that Trump did not run for president in 2016 to win. He rather wanted to inject life into his fading brand. The fame that comes with running for president helps many candidates land book contracts and so forth. Trump never expected — and as mindboggling as it may sound — never wanted to win. Michael Wolff, in his book, Fire and Fury, had quoted Trump’s son, Trump Jr, saying that his father “looked as if he had seen a ghost”, on the night of the 2016 election when it became clear that Trump had won. Melania Trump was “in tears — and not of joy”.
While the real alchemist stopped living for gold after he achieved the mastery of alchemy, the con artist-cum-tax alchemist in the White House wanted even the presidency for money.
But given people’s values in today’s day and age, this is the best you can get. The world we live in is one where young boys and girls are raped and then killed, where many people are starving to death while some have so much food that mega corporations are in the business of cleaning up the extra food thrown in trash; where millions are refugees in search of food and shelter, while some drive custom built BMWs made of gold and diamonds; where for some the biggest complaint is the latest iPhone is no different than the previous one, while the miseries of many such as the Kashmiris and the Palestinians are no different than the previous year.
Sure, that is how today’s alchemists are going to look like. Because like it or not, that is who we are. Trump and many leaders like him are our very own reflection. It is not Trump, it is us.