Religious Prejudice Still Taught in Schools

Article excerpt

If you get a chance to visit Pakistan and meet its doctors, journalists, teachers, military officers, and even many farmers and shopkeepers, you'll find they speak in charmingly-accented English and offer genuine friendship to foreign visitors.

But a new study of Pakistan's textbooks, teachers, and schools, funded by a U.S. government commission, shows that a disturbing mixture of religious hatred and violence is being taught to the country's children. The study reports "clear expressions of bigotry" against Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Jews.

"Government issued textbooks teach students that Hindus are backward and superstitious, and given a chance, they would assert their power over the weak, especially Muslims, depriving them of education by pouring molten lead in their ears said one report cited in the study, which was released in November.

What was most disturbing was that it was not only the religious schools known as madrassas that taught bigotry. Public schools also taught bigotry and one third of students in those schools favored supporting violent jihadi groups.

Despite efforts by some Western academics to portray jihad as a non-violent intellectual effort to conquer one's weaknesses and become a better person, 90 percent of the public school teachers interviewed in the Pakistan study "believed the concept of jihad to refer to a violent struggle" the study said.

The study team analyzed over 100 textbooks and interviewed more than 500 madrassa and public school teachers and students. "The study found systemic and widespread prejudice against religious minorities," said the group which carried out the research and analysis--the Washington DC-based International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD). But the group also reported that it "found encouraging signs of progress in addressing these biases."

The most violent ideas were found among the thousands of madrassa religious schools that have sprung up in Pakistan since the 1980-1989 Soviet-Afghan War when Saudi and U.S. funds and weapons flowed into Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Some 70 percent of madrassa teachers supported "open war" to reclaim Kashmir from India.

ICRD has for the past few years run programs in Pakistani madrassas and trained 2,700 madrassa teachers and leaders to promote religious tolerance, critical thinking and human rights.

While it has long been assumed that Pakistani madrassas encourage violence against non-Muslims, the new study, published and funded by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has for the first time documented this activity.

The ICRD, working with a Pakistani think tank, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, went through textbooks used in religious and public school, interviewed students and teachers, and carried out focus groups to explore the thinking of students and teachers. The results are chilling. (The full report is on line at www.ICRD.com.)

"They [non-Muslims] are not good citizens," said one madrassa teacher. "There is a lot of difference between Muslims and non-Muslims. Allah had said Muslims are pure and non-Muslims are impure. From the point of view of their religious beliefs and practices, they are not good."

Another teacher said that "We wouldn't like to befriend non-Muslim teachers due to various reasons such as Christians are not trustworthy. …