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Inside a Pakistani school where children are being brainwashed into terrorists


Apr 5, 2009
Inside a Pakistani school where children are being brainwashed into terrorists, by John Humphrys | Mail Online

The Imam in charge of the madrassa could not have been more welcoming.

I sat on the carpeted floor of his office enjoying the cool of the air conditioning, thankful for this temporary refuge from the broiling streets of Karachi - perhaps the most overcrowded and dangerous city on the continent of Asia.

On the other side of the madrassa's high gates, 18million people were struggling to survive in the heat: the vast majority of them out of work with no hope of a job; millions living in slums as foul as anything I have seen anywhere in the world; small children dodging the lethal traffic, banging on the windows of cars stopped momentarily at a junction to beg for a few rupees, competing with old men and women doing the same.

And amongst them an unknown number of mostly young men playing an infinitely more dangerous game.

These are the men who threaten not only this city and the state of Pakistan, but who threaten us, too.

These are the men who are capable of walking into a mosque run by a moderate Muslim leader and blowing him to bits - as they did while I was here - or of driving a car loaded with high explosives into a hotel and reducing it to rubble, murdering dozens in the process.

Or strapping on a suicide belt and blowing themselves up on a London train.

It was because of men like them that I was here in the Jamia Binoria International Madrassa, the biggest in Karachi, pretending to enjoy the thick tea sweetened with condensed milk and several spoonfuls of sugar pressed upon me by the friendly imam, Mohammed Naeem.
I asked a 15-year-old boy from California how long he had been here. 'Two years,' he said. And how long will he stay? 'Until I have memorised the Koran from cover to cover.'

Is this really what he wanted to do with his teenage years, I wondered. 'Of course,' he said. 'I want to be a good Muslim.'
I raised that with two senior security officials in Karachi. They were perfectly happy to talk to me at their headquarters, but they asked me not to identify them: men like Imam Naeem wield a great deal of influence in this society.

Did they believe zakat paid for the madrassa? They did not. Did they believe the madrassa gave no succour to extremists? They did not. Could they prove it? They could not.

I asked why they did not simply raid madrassas in the way they would raid any other premises they suspected of harbouring terrorists. They merely smiled.

The question of where the money comes from is a crucial one. When I first reported from Pakistan in the early Seventies the number of madrassas could be counted in the dozens. Today, there are about 20,000.

And many - probably the majority - are funded by the most extreme Muslim denomination, the Wahhabis. There are relatively few Wahhabis compared to the Sunnis and Shias but their influence is out of all proportion to their size.
I spoke to one of Pakistan's most respected academics, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy of Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, who is appalled at what has been happening to education in Pakistan.

He told me about a primer distributed in private religious schools aimed at children in their first year.

Here's part of the 'alphabet':

A is for Allah.
B is for bandook (gun).
T is for thakrau (collision). The picture illustrating 'collision' was a jet airliner crashing into the side of the World Trade Centre.
Z is for zenmoub (sin). It is illustrated by pictures of alcohol, guitars, a television and a chess set.

Professor Hoodbhoy is a brave man. To speak out in the way he does against extremism and the imposition of Sharia law is seen by the militants as being hostile to Islam itself. The appropriate punishment for that, in their eyes, is death.

So why have Pakistani governments over recent years allowed this sort of thing to continue? Even more importantly, why did it take them so long to begin to crack down on the Taliban who pose such a threat to the security and stability of this country and its 170million people?

The simple answer is that the militant Taliban are a monster largely of Pakistan's own creation.

Cast your mind back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbour, in the Eighties. You may recall mujahideen who crossed the border to fight with their Muslim brothers, the Afghanis, against the might of the Soviet army and how we in the West cheered them on. They were brave, resourceful and ruthless.

The Soviets, our Cold War enemy, were eventually forced to pull out of Afghanistan, licking their wounds, in 1987.

But the mujahideen, who had been funded and encouraged by the Pakistan army, did not return to their villages and settle down to a quiet life. They turned their guns on to different targets, and they did so with the approval of the Pakistan army.

Hamid Gul is a former head of Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. He told the writer William Dalrymple recently that for more than 20 years the ISI has, for its own purposes, 'deliberately and consistently funded and incubated' a variety of Islamist groups including militant Taliban organisations. They saw them as an 'ingenious and cost-effective means of both dominating Afghanistan and bogging down the Indian army in Kashmir.'

The problem is that once you have trained and unleashed an attack dog you cannot be absolutely sure that it will not turn and bite you or your children - which is what has happened with the militant Taliban in Pakistan.

Nor can you negotiate with fundamentalists. The Pakistani government has tried that - giving way to them in the North West Frontier province, even allowing Sharia law to be introduced in parts of it. But the Taliban took what they were given, brutalised the people under their control, and demanded more.

Finally, the Pakistani army went in with their tanks, heavy artillery and helicopter gunships. While I was in Karachi the defence minister claimed victory - but many I spoke to in Pakistan were sceptical.

'Where are the bodies of the Taliban?' they asked me. 'Why have they not produced them for the cameras?'

The first time I came to Pakistan I was a fresh-faced young reporter and this country was barely 25 years old. It was fighting to survive as the state born from the partition of India in 1947. It lost. The eastern half of the country wanted independence and, when India went to war on its behalf, it got it. Pakistan surrendered and Bangladesh was born.

Now, nearly 40 years later, it feels as though Pakistan is, once again, fighting for its survival. I found no one who believes the Islamic extremists can take over the country - but what they can do is create fear. They have been very successful.

Pakistan is now regarded as a dangerous place to visit. British Airways no longer flies here.

The manager of the hotel where I stayed told me a big British bank had cancelled a conference of senior executives who were due to arrive the next day. They were afraid to come.

This is a fractured country, divided by obscene extremes of wealth, by language, by class and by ethnicity. Secessionist movements with their own military wings fight for independence just as East Pakistan fought in the Seventies. In some areas the military have effectively ceded control to them.

When a state is threatened by a foreign power its people rally behind the flag. But when the threat comes from within, they have to feel they have a real stake in the defeat of the enemy - and it's easy to see why many people in this country feel the state has not done enough for them to justify their unconditional support.

When you talk to some of the poorest as I did, you wonder what they have to lose when they already have nothing.

The risk - however remote - of this becoming a failed state prey to extremists should send a chill down the spines not just of the people of Pakistan, but of us in the West, too. When the nation split in half in 1971 it was a devastating blow to those who still called themselves Pakistanis.

But two things have changed since then. One is the rise of Islamic extremism. The other is that Pakistan now has nuclear weapons.

We must all hope that Pakistan can overcome what its own president has called the present threat to its survival.
I wanted to know whether his madrassa was one of those that gave shelter to these men or - even worse - brainwashed naive young people into believing that the best way to serve Allah was to murder those of us who do not share their views.



New Recruit

Jun 7, 2009
This is indeed a horrifying scenario and not just for Pakistan but for India and the world in general. Its like a vicious circle....successive Pakistan Govts have failed to take action against such organizations, that brainwash innocent young people, because of the fear of fundamentalist backlash. This inaction has only led to the strengthening of these fundamentalist forces.
I sincerely hope that right thinking Pakistani people (and I sure that they are in majority) stand up and force their govt. to do something about this menace which is eating up their society from within nd threatens their very existence.

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