Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press reported from Pakpattan in Punjab (Pakistan) in April: “An investigation by The Associated Press found dozens of police reports, known here as first information reports, alleging sexual harassment, rape and physical abuse by Islamic clerics teaching in madrasas or religious schools throughout Pakistan, where many of the country’s poorest study. The AP also documented cases of abuse through interviews with law enforcement officials, abuse victims and their parents.”
Madrasas are powerful in Pakistan for several reasons. They have provided fodder for the jihad going on for decades in neighbouring Afghanistan, some led by warriors who actually took part in the Islamic war ordained by the state and approved by the world when it was fighting the Soviet invasion in 1979. They burgeoned in regions where the writ of the state was traditionally thin like the tribal areas, Balochistan and south Punjab and gradually spread their power to the big cities. Because of Arab funding, they linked up with the Arab warriors fighting the Soviet Union and easily embraced Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The state shrivelled internally as it fought the international war. The power of the madrasa arose from the countryside and invaded the big cities. Lahore’s sleepy old seminaries from the pre-Partition days were soon eclipsed by the glamour of the new Arab-funded ones headed by warrior-kings, the city administration prostrating itself before them. Not long ago, Lashkar-e-Tayba leader Hafiz Saeed — today facing trial for terror under pressure from the international Forward Action Task Force (FATF) headed by China — had set up his courts to enforce Islamic punishments that the state of Pakistan was not willing to carry out. Al Qaeda and its associates had patronised the infamous Red Mosque in Islamabad, which President (General) Musharraf was forced to attack with commandos because China had complained about its shady anti-China activities.
Seminaries all over the world are known to have developed aberrant sexual behaviour since Boccaccio wrote his Decameron in the 14th century. The power felt by the cleric affected his behaviour in Pakistan and the 2,000 madrasas it has cared to count so far. State-run Urdu-medium schools too are badly managed and are often manned by teachers who have been taught at the madrasas. The textbooks they teach from are overladen with ideology and often authored by the clerics, especially in regard to subjects not related to the sciences. This phenomenon connects up with the state ideology and an economy that cannot afford to spend money on education.
What happens in the madrasas may happen in the schools too, but on a much lower scale. In higher education, if a teacher becomes learned and starts favouring a secular method of teaching, he can get into trouble with the already Islamised students and can even be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Lecturer Junaid Hafeez was arrested in madrasa-dominated South Punjab in 2013, accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. His lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead in 2014 after he agreed to defend him in the court of law.
Power affects sexual behaviour and isolation bends it into abnormality. The police and the lawyer community originate from the countryside and are heavily indoctrinated in the madrasa culture and its paedophilia. In the big cities, the lower classes are mostly communities that have migrated from the madrasa-dominated countryside. Most politicians hail from the rural hinterland and most of the officers of the army hail from areas dominated by the madrasas.
A secular general is difficult to find in Pakistan because most of them, if not all, have a deep ideological commitment. A “secular” Musharraf who dared attack the Red Mosque seminary in Islamabad is lying sick in Dubai after being given a death sentence by a court in Pakistan, while the chief cleric of the madrasa is being offered more land as compensation.
The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
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