It’s not just the Taliban that destroys schools, Mohammed Hanif points out.
Last week, a girls’ high school was set ablaze in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. And no, the Taliban were not the culprits. A mob, enraged after allegations of blasphemy against a teacher, carried out the attack. Instead of taking action against them, the police arrested the school’s 77-year-old owner.
The accused teacher, who allegedly committed blasphemy by photocopying the wrong page of a book for homework, is in hiding.
We make fun of ourselves by saying “first world problem” – sometimes when we’re misdirecting our attention or worry, sometimes when we’re addressing an admittedly smaller-than-genocide item. What can ironists in Pakistan say about items like torching a school because a teacher photocopied the wrong page of a book for homework? What can ironists in a country with way too many uneducated religious fanatics say about religious fanatics torching a school for ludicrous religious fanatic reasons that in fact don’t even apply because the alleged “blasphemy” was just a matter of copying the wrong page by accident? “Third world problem” doesn’t quite seem ironic, somehow.
What is conveniently ignored in the debate over Malala is the fact that every 10th child in the world who doesn’t go to school is Pakistani. The Taliban are not the only ones keeping kids out of school. Some fairly secularly minded people think of Pakistan’s children as someone else’s children – not deserving the education that their money buys for their own kids. As such, Pakistan is a booming marketplace for private education. Ask anyone on the street, and they’ll tell you it’s the biggest business in Pakistan.
Hanif doesn’t mention madrassas. There are a lot of them in Pakistan, partly because public education is so neglected. They don’t teach anything – they just train children in rote recitation of the Koran in Arabic. Most of them are very conservative.
Listen to the Taliban, not to their cuddly intellectual friends, and you begin to get a clearer picture. Their apologists in political parties may try to prove that girls’ education is an invention of the infidels, but the Taliban seem to know what they are talking about. An educated female population is more threatening to them than armies equipped with all-seeing drones. Every girl who crams for a high-school exam, every woman who runs a hospital, and every semi-educated mother who makes sure her daughter gets a better education than she herself received, is a mortal threat to the Taliban’s declared ambition that every little girl who talks about school gets it in the head.
By abdicating its responsibility to educate our children, to protect those who manage to go to school and those who teach them, Pakistan is making it that much easier for the Taliban’s mission to succeed.
A third world problem. Irony is nowhere in sight.