Education v. indoctrination in the Arab world
Omar Dakhane is a pro-American, Arab blogger. Writing from his home-country of Algeria, Omar examines the rise of Islamic extremism throughout the Arab-world and the West. This month, Jpost Blogs is featuring a mini-series of Omar's writing. Last week, we heard from Omar about the troubling relationship between the far left and Islamists. This week, please find part-two of Omar's mini series, a detailed exploration of anti-Israel and anti-Western indoctrination rampant in the educational systems of the Arab world.
Teaching children and young adults hatred isn’t something new in Arab educational institutions. In fact, this type of “education” is a huge factor in creating societies within the Arab world that not only tolerate, but often times applaud and encourage terrorism. The basis of this hatred in the Arab world is a lack of secularism. Many Muslims in the Arab world believe that Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life. They believe that Islam has to be incorporated into every part of society. They also believe that Islam is superior to any of the world’s other religions, creating a climate of xenophobia and discouraging religious coexistence. Based on my personal observation, piousness in the Muslim world is often measured by how virulently one rejects people of other faiths.
The goal of fundamentalist Islam, as is the goal of certain other religions, is to spread Islam as the one true religion. The term “political Islam
” is often touted as a creation of the West during the twentieth century, but political Islam has existed from the first Islamic civilizations. And sadly, as far as I can tell, it is used the same way now as it was used then; to control people and keep them from thinking for themselves, lest they be accused of being a bad Muslim, which in some Arab countries can carry a death sentence.
This is where I come in. Growing up, I did not concern myself with religious issues. I was interested in art and music. With the Internet, the world was at my fingertips and I chose to expose myself to music from every culture and country I could find and to follow my passion for photography. That was my world. My father’s job took us to various countries in the Middle East and North Africa; however I grew up mostly in Dubai where religion was not the center of everything. When it came time for university, because I am an Algerian and the state provides university education to Algerian nationals, I went to my family’s hometown in Algeria to go to school.
Upon entering university, I expected to be taught the subjects of my major at a comprehensive level by academics preparing students to face the world. What I encountered was something I was wholly unprepared for. In fact, I had to leave for several years and returned to Dubai because I could not stomach what was being offered to me disguised as education in Algeria. I finally came back to finish my degree, but with my eyes open this time and the goal of being a more moderate voice for my fellow students. I was not a very political person when I initially arrived. However, the absence of a marketing major at my school led me to choose political science and international relations as a major and in time, I have grown to be more interested in these subjects, not because of what I was taught, but because of what I was not taught.
I am currently in my senior year at university and one of the required courses for my major is called “The Arab-Israeli Conflict.” The instructor of this class presents the topics from only one perspective. I don’t care who he personally believes is right or wrong, when you teach me a conflict in a scientific way, you must give me both points of views and let me reach the conclusion by myself, not reach the conclusion for me and then try to shove it into my brain.
The perspective from which this instructor teaches us is not even from a typical Arab perspective, but from a Hamas perspective. The instructor uses language that Hamas uses. He calls for the destruction of Israel, calls for the extermination of Jews, refers to suicide bombers as martyrs, and uses adjectives like malignant or criminal when referring to Israeli leaders. This language is purely emotional and does not provide students with a foundation that a university should be providing, which is a scientific method of weighing facts by providing information in the most unbiased and rational way possible. As a result of this instructor’s teaching methods, the students also refer to this conflict with the same emotional language.
The topic of this course during one quarter was “The Palestinian resistance and its effects on the peace process.” During the entire presentation of this topic, the students and the instructor did nothing more than praise Hamas and other terrorist organizations without the slightest criticism of these organizations for their attacks on children. I kept quiet because I knew if I spoke rationally and raised the obvious questions, I would be labeled many things and I would be forced to take a position. I try to remain as neutral as possible when I’m studying a topic, but if I come to a conclusion that is not in line with their view, it can be very dangerous for me. Their praise of Hamas made me realize that the sole purpose of this course was to justify everything that Hamas does, and I do mean everything!
The university does not have a lot of technological resources, so the instructor brings in his own laptop to show videos. On one particular day, the instructor opened his laptop at the end of class and asked the students to come closer because he had a clip from an important documentary to show them. When I heard the word documentary, my interest was piqued and I thought, “Wow, maybe it’s an actual documentary that would speak about the conflict and resistance in a neutral, academic way.” Boy was I wrong! The video started off the same way al Qaeda videos start, with radical songs about getting killed for the sake of Allah and the like. It was nothing but more Hamas propaganda, narrated with the same language that the instructor and Hamas uses.
I stopped watching the clip and began to look out of the window while the rest of the students gathered around the laptop to get brainwashed. I could still hear the narrator promoting terrorism in language so violent that I don’t even think an average Palestinian would speak that way to describe their views toward Jews. When the narrator spoke about Israeli leaders, including Rabin, he used very offensive words to label them. When the narrator spoke about Jews in general, he talked about the necessity of getting rid of them in the Middle East in order to liberate Palestine. This is not what any political science student should be taught. We should be taught the full story from all perspectives so we can judge appropriately. If you are a judge in a court of law, you cannot listen to one side and completely ignore the other and expect to be considered fair.
I have spoken up before in this class. The instructor was speaking as he usually does, portraying Muslims as the perpetual victim and justifying terrorism by attempting to convince the students that what al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations do are acts of self-defense. He tried to convince the class that all of the Islamic conquests throughout history were defensive acts and Muslims never invaded any land without provocation. He portrayed the United States as the number one enemy of Muslims. His speech left one believing that Muslims have the ultimate right to impose their views on others, but others are not entitled to defend their cultures.
I couldn’t believe my ears listening to this instructor trying to justify international terrorism. I tried to object by explaining that terrorism has no justification and that Islamic conquests were not defensive at all unless they were attacked in the Arabian Peninsula, since that is where Islam originated. The reaction I got from him and the other students was alarming. One student even stated that he could not wait to become a terrorist so he could kill me. We also discussed the previously mentioned concept of political Islam. The instructor insisted that this was a creation of the West, even though many Muslims will agree that Islam is a religion and state. This was the crux of the conflict of the Algerian civil war, secular generals in the Algerian army fought the Islamists.
The problem is obviously not confined to the curriculum. To my mind, it has a lot to do with how instructors view their role in teaching students. Many of them, including this particular instructor, seem to view their job as indoctrination as opposed to education. It is their goal to foment hatred of other nations and religions. I think they may even genuinely believe the dangers and conspiracies that are polluting their own thoughts and they don’t stop repeating the indoctrination until their students parrot their language. The result is students leaving schools in Arab countries with heads full of the same superstitious ideas held by their instructors.
This instructor in particular teaches hundreds of students each year. Because of this indoctrination, the students end up being a threat against their own societies before they are a threat to any other society. If you don’t agree with them, you are considered the enemy. It seems, in the end, we find that the amount of hatred in an educated Arab is the same as that of an uneducated Arab, the only difference being one of them holds a university degree that did not improve the way he thinks, and possibly even made his thinking worse.
With only a few months left until graduation, I do not have high hopes for most of my fellow students. I have been able to change a few minds outside of class, but for the most part, the indoctrination is complete.
This is why I focus on the problems on the Arab side of these issues instead of trying to blame America, Israel and the Jewish people for everything. There are millions in the Arab world who criticize Israel, Jews, and America, and even create lies about them. Hardly anyone from the Arab side of these issues asks our own people to address the innocent civilians being killed in Israel, or the aid that America pours into Arab countries. Why can’t I, or any other Arab, criticize my own people for what I see as wrong in our society without being labeled a traitor? What utter hypocrisy!
As much as this method of teaching (or indoctrination) in Arab schools upsets me, it doesn’t surprise me. It only fuels my desire to be one of the Arabs who chooses to recognize instead of ignore or make excuses for the existence of extremism in our communities with the hope of changing things for the better.
What does surprise me is when I hear about the existence of instructors like mine who teach in American and European universities, where many of the students come from open-minded families and at the end of their course of study, they leave the university with the same thinking found in third world countries. At least in third world countries, the educational systems don’t have any supervision and instructors can stuff the heads of their students with anything they choose. At least in third world countries, there is corruption where instructors can buy their jobs or use the influence of their contacts to obtain university jobs.
What excuse do first world countries have for this element to exist within their universities? How can Western universities allow professors and instructors who see America and Europe as the reason for every problem on the planet to teach their students? For now I’m focused on the Arab world, but I do hope to find the answer to these questions someday.
Nothing can be fixed in the Arab world until the educational institutions are fixed because they are where the foundation of thought is laid. With the existence of instructors who promote extremism and terrorism, the situation in the Arab world is never going to improve. Students, especially in their first years of school, spend a lot of time with their teachers. Their characters are shaped by the type of teachers they have and the kind of material they study. We, the Arabs, have got to start looking at ourselves more and fixing what is wrong within our societies before we can even begin to look outside at other influences.
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