US revising curricula in Afghan schools

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2002 17:24:24 -0000

THE PRIMERS, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings
of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the
Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the
American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human
faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code. 

As Afghan schools reopen today, the United States is back in the
business of providing schoolbooks. But now it is wrestling with the
unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic
fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context
of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude
tool that steeped a generation in violence. 


Last month, a U.S. foreign aid official said, workers launched a
"scrubbing" operation in neighboring Pakistan to purge from the books
all references to rifles and killing. Many of the 4 million texts being
trucked into Afghanistan, and millions more on the way, still feature
Koranic verses and teach Muslim tenets. 

The White House defends the religious content, saying that Islamic
principles permeate Afghan culture and that the books "are fully in
compliance with U.S. law and policy." Legal experts, however, question
whether the books violate a constitutional ban on using tax dollars to
promote religion. Advertisement 

Organizations accepting funding from the U.S. Agency for International
Development must certify that tax dollars will not be used to advance
religion. The certification states that AID "will finance only programs
that have a secular purpose. . . . AID-financed activities cannot result
in religious indoctrination of the ultimate beneficiaries." 

The issue of textbook content reflects growing concern among U.S.
policymakers about school teachings in some Muslim countries in which
Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism are on the rise. A number of
government agencies are discussing what can be done to counter these

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have repeatedly spotlighted the
Afghan textbooks in recent weeks. Last Saturday, Bush announced during
his weekly radio address that the 10 million U.S.-supplied books being
trucked to Afghan schools would teach "respect for human dignity,
instead of indoctrinating students with fanaticism and bigotry." 

'It's not AID's policy to support religious instruction. But we went
ahead with this project because the primary purpose . . . is to educate
children, which is predominantly a secular activity.' 

The first lady stood alongside Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai on
Jan. 29 to announce that AID would givethe University of Nebraska at
Omaha $6.5 million to provide textbooks and teacher training kits. 

AID officials said in interviews that they left the Islamic materials
intact because they feared Afghan educators would reject books lacking a
strong dose of Muslim thought. The agency removed its logo and any
mention of the U.S. government from the religious texts, AID spokeswoman
Kathryn Stratos said. 

"It's not AID's policy to support religious instruction," Stratos said.
"But we went ahead with this project because the primary purpose . . .
is to educate children, which is predominantly a secular activity." 

Some legal experts disagreed. A 1991 federal appeals court ruling
against AID's former director established that taxpayers' funds may not
pay for religious instruction overseas, said Herman Schwartz, a
constitutional law expert at American University, who litigated the case
for the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Ayesha Khan, legal director of the nonprofit Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, said the White House has "not a legal
leg to stand on" in distributing the books. 

"Taxpayer dollars cannot be used to supply materials that are
religious," she said. 

Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the
textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under an AID grant to the
University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. The
agency spent $51 million on the university's education programs in
Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994. 

During that time of Soviet occupation, regional military leaders in
Afghanistan helped the U.S. smuggle books into the country. They
demanded that the primers contain anti-Soviet passages. Children were
taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land
mines, agency officials said. They acknowledged that at the time it also
suited U.S. interests to stoke hatred of foreign invaders. 

"I think we were perfectly happy to see these books trashing the Soviet
Union," said Chris Brown, head of book revision for AID's Central Asia
Task Force. 

AID dropped funding of Afghan programs in 1994. But the textbooks
continued to circulate in various versions, even after the Taliban
seized power in 1996. 

Officials said private humanitarian groups paid for continued
reprintings during the Taliban years. Today, the books remain widely
available in schools and shops, to the chagrin of international aid

"The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the
texts are even much worse," said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator
who is a program coordinator for Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a
Pakistan-based nonprofit. 


An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and
counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages. 

The military content was included to "stimulate resistance against
invasion," explained Yaquib Roshan of Nebraska's Afghanistan center.
"Even in January, the books were absolutely the same . . . pictures of
bullets and Kalashnikovs and you name it." 

During the Taliban era, censors purged human images from the books. One
page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a
bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier's head
is missing. 

Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute
to the mujaheddin, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will
sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the
government, the text says. 

"We were quite shocked," said Doug Pritchard, who reviewed the primers
in December while visiting Pakistan on behalf of a Canada-based
Christian nonprofit group. "The constant image of Afghans being natural
warriors is wrong. Warriors are created. If you want a different kind of
society, you have to create it." 


After the United States launched a military campaign last year, the
United Nations education agency, UNICEF, began preparing to reopen
Afghanistan's schools, using new books developed with 70 Afghan
educators and 24 private aid groups. In early January, UNICEF began
printing new texts for many subjects but arranged to supply copies of
the old, unrevised U.S. books for other subjects, including Islamic

Within days, the Afghan interim government announced that it would use
the old AID-produced texts for its core school curriculum. UNICEF's new
texts could be used only as supplements. 

Earlier this year, the United States tapped into its $296 million aid
package for rebuilding Afghanistan to reprint the old books, but decided
to purge the violent references. 

About 18 of the 200 titles the United States is republishing are
primarily Islamic instructional books, which agency officials refer to
as "civics" courses. Some books teach how to live according to the
Koran, Brown said, and "how to be a good Muslim." 

UNICEF is left with 500,000 copies of the old "militarized" books, a
$200,000 investment that it has decided to destroy, according to U.N.

On Feb. 4, Brown arrived in Peshawar, the Pakistani border town in which
the textbooks were to be printed, to oversee hasty revisions to the
printing plates. Ten Afghan educators labored night and day, scrambling
to replace rough drawings of weapons with sketches of pomegranates and
oranges, Brown said. 

"We turned it from a wartime curriculum to a peacetime curriculum," he

Source:  Washington Post

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