What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Madrasa reading day

Well, don't be misled by the title. I'm not blogging here attending a madrasa right now. Which is something like an important point to start with.
If I was a student attending some ordinary madrasa somewhere in Pakistan, most likely I wouldn't have been taught the basic skills it takes to end up blogging. And of course this says much about whether it is correct to securitise madaras in general, thinking of them as factories of global terrorists. This is one of the most basic and important conclusions of an excellent journal article (pdf) by C. Christine Fair, which is the first source I'd recommend now to people about to work on the subject of religious education in Pakistan from a security studies perspective (having got to Christine Fair's personal webpage yesterday, via Charlie at Abu Muqawama). A very careful and critical review of the existing literature and data, it runs home everything fast.
Let me recite a few very basic things I see worth noting. So are all Pakistani madaras dangerous weapons of mass terrorist instruction? No. So you might want to pay somewhat more attention to Deobandi as opposed to Barelvi madaras in the first place. That's one important thing to look out for. For a major similarity not just between those two kinds of school, however, something that characterises Pakistan's entire education system (even the supposedly non-religious segment of public and private schools), teachers in the majority of places appear more radical in their worldview than their students. And secular schooling is not entirely secular in fact, as Islamic education is, in most places, part of the curriculum.
Well, is it really Islamic education that is the problem here? Christine Fair is critical of that sort of view, too. Here it's worth mentioning a 2005 study, quoted by her, carried out by Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey, summed up for the New York Times here. Bergen and Pandey looked at 75 high-profile terrorists' background (something like a G75 of recent terrorism, for a slightly biased sample). And predictably they found few with a past of madrasa education among them. That they have found nine who actually were involved in the Bali bombing is, one could say, even surprising, if one thinks about this a little. Because typically such recruits are just not ideal for really sophisticated operations. They are neither masterminds, nor tech-savvy covert operatives.
(Some additional note for the sociologically sensitive: don't connect Islamic education to social standing. It is common belief that madaras are the schools for the poor, but in fact the picture is a little more complicated as the upper stratum of Pakistani society sends its sons to be madrasa students, if they are not sent to a private school, showing greater preference of madaras to public schools than what the lowest stratum shows, proportionally, as demonstrated by data included in Christine Fair's paper. And poor families don't send all their sons to madaras which again is an indication of how not necessarily economic factors play a decisive role in their choice.)
There's one troubling issue, and it's not a minor one. Even the most basically trained recruit may be eligible to carry out certain kinds of operations. Of the sort that is often seen in Afghanistan nowadays. Not to mention how much such trigger-puller foot soldiers can be of evil use in inter-sectarian violence. So yeah, it's not a minor problem, as some madaras are producing such recruits in significant numbers. But one has to be able to single out the really important extremist madaras and be aware of the subtle differences in the positions of even their respective leadership. It's an interesting question what should happen then. Such 'singling out' can take this extreme form, as it did in the case of the Zia ul Uloom wa Taleemul Quran seminary. That was the seminary run by Maulana Liaqat (of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi), destroyed in a "mysterious" (either U.S. or Pakistani) air strike back in 2006, in Bajaur district in the FATA; with Maulana Liaqat killed in that strike, along with about 80 other people. But that's quite a controversial measure of course. Christine Fair puts it very politely: there might be diminishing margins of return for such supply side interventions. Public anger over what happens plus retaliation by the militant organisation concerned (in the 2006 case, TNSM retaliated by a massive bombing attack against the Pakistani Army a bit more than a week after the October 30 strike, on November 8).
Something should of course happen to Pakistan's education system that could transform it in some good direction, but Pakistan might complain of a colonial mentality in case some people outside Pakistan start publicly contemplating how to go about that. And there is some truth to that complaint - Zahid Shahab Ahmed's piece for the Costa Rica-based University for Peace's Peace and Conflict Monitor hints at how it once used to be fine and even encouraged to glorify mujahedeen in Pakistani textbooks, only to then come to a point when people studying from such textbooks are now seen as a threat.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, coalition forces are working on building madaras to have Afghan youth, sent to get religious education, stay on the Afghan side of the border rather; e.g., as I noted in a post last year, there are plans that the United Arab Emirates might build madaras for each of Uruzgan province's districts.
So the whole point of this post here was the very basic one that all observers of the region are already more than familiar with. That the madrasa issue, along with that of Pakistan's entire education system, is an important one. Which is why I'll be reading more now from the International Crisis Group on the subject. Their relevant papers can be downloaded from here. I tend to think a little state-centrically and assume that as long as Pakistani state policy, and the way the Pakistani establishment perceives its interests, doesn't change much, one may try hard to stimulate some transformation, but the effort may either be scarcely productive, in vain, or may even be counterproductive. But let's see where ICG's researchers stand on the issue.
I'll finish by posting my lunch here - just so you see what made me come up with these lengthy musings. Fighting a Saturday mourning wave of depression I decided that I wouldn't eat junk food today, but prepare something interesting myself instead. And here's the result. Fried celery with dates, raisins and chili, plus chicken with grape-fruit. No, I don't do such things every day. This was an experiment based on a stolen recipe that proved to be unexpectedly successful. A delicate act of open-source cuisine.


Joshua Foust said...

Fried celery? I would consider myself a foodie, but I've honestly never heard of it. Could you send me the recipe, even if it's just in approximate form? That sounds delicious.

Péter MARTON said...

Sure, here's the recipe. :)
The celery part is easy. You cut up the celery (take a kilo) with a knife into slices about a centimeter thick, then cut it up with a slicer into these thin stripes you can see on the pic. Pour lemon juice on it from time to time, to preserve the colour while you're in preparation for anything else, lest the celery stripes turn brown when exposed to air at length.
You have to fry them in a wok, mixing them together with the raisins and the dates (take out the seeds of course), take about a decagram of each of those. You fry it all by feel. A couple of minutes are enough. You add salt and pepper in the process, plus preferrably a lot of chili towards the end. The end result then is as good as anything else one likes to eat with meat.
The chicken part is even easier of course, so I don't go into that. Some Hungarian paprika might be useful for spicing the meat :) - along with pepper.
The really hard part is the grape fruit. It's perfect to counterbalance the hotness of the celery with the chili, but you have to peel each clove. And that is tiresome. But it's worth the effort. Although, coming to think of it, some other cold fruit might do it, too.
Have fun!