Oct 15, 2006

Fundamentalism in Pakistani Colleges

This Time article painted a unflattering picture of Pakistan's colleges. I wasn't too impressed with the manner by which the author made assumptions based on one college, Punjab University, and asserted them with such confidance as being applicable across the country. However, the author certainly brought to light a trend that seems to be rising in Pakistan. Though, the author does mention that the student group IJT has a small proportion of students, the power they enjoy is extravagant. Administrators and other student alike seem to be quiet when bullied. This is just another indication of moderates and liberals not having a voice. It's something that I have been feeling for a while now. Why can't the liberal and moderate voices unite in condemnation of this sort of stupidity? Why don't they speak out against it? Its their inability to act and to stand against the vile elements in their society that is bring such a terrible name to the religion and the culture. Only when the majority of the hard working, honest, moderates speak out, will there be any peace and reconciliation. Till that occurs, this cycle of fanatacism and east versus west name calling will continue.

Here are some interesting excerts...
This fall, when the university's administrators tried to introduce a program in musicology and performing arts, the campus erupted in protest. "Pakistan is an Islamic country, and our institutions must reflect that," says Umair Idrees, a master's degree student and secretary-general of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (I.J.T.), the biggest student group on campus. "The formation of these departments is an attack on Islam and a betrayal of Pakistan. They should not be part of the university curriculum."
The article talk about how this group, IJT has basically taken over the school. I can see it happening too. It bullies people into submission. According to the article and the student he interviewed, the administrators are scared of this student group, so much so that they change syllabi and classes, to accomodate the groups conservative demands.

An atmosphere of moral rigidity governs much of campus life. I.J.T. members have been known to physically assault students for drinking, flirting or kissing on campus. "We are compelled by our religion to use force if we witness immoral public behavior," says Naveed. "If I see someone doing something wrong, I can stop him and the I.J.T. will support me." Threats of a public reprimand or allegations of immoral behavior are enough to keep most students toeing the I.J.T. line. There is no university regulation segregating men from women in the dining halls, but students know that mingling is taboo. "If I talk to a girl in line at the canteen, I.J.T. members will tell me to get my food and get out," says Rehan Iqbal, 25, an M.B.A. student, who is sitting on the floor of a hallway with female classmate Malka Ikran, 22. It's a nice autumn day, and a shady green lawn beckons through an open window, but they dare not sit outside.It's too public. "There are certain places where I know I can't talk to my male friends," says Ikran. When asked what would happen if she alked to a boy at the library, for example, she just shrugs. "I don't know. I would ever try it. I'm too afraid."

This is so damn irritating. Its terribly embarrasing to read this in Time magazine. I feel so bad about this nonsense. I wish I had the power or the ability to do something about it....

It's not just students who feel stifled by the I.J.T.'s strict moral code. Faculty members at Punjab University say that if I.J.T. objects to a professor's leanings, or even his syllabus, it can cause problems. It doesn't take much to raise questions about a teacher's moral qualifications. "Those who could afford to leave, did so," says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a former professor of political science who is now a political analyst. "Those who stayed learned not to touch controversial subjects. The role of the university is to advance knowledge, but at P.U. the quality of education is undermined because one group with a narrow, straitjacketed worldview controls it."
Horrible how even those in charge can not do anything. This is because they don't the the public backing of the community, the police, the government. Its bloody taboo and unwise and plain stupid to stand up to these hoodlums in this day an age. However much fear there is, people need to realize that this is not the way to live. The government really needs to help out the majority of the people, who I hope atleast, desire to live without groups like this hounding them. This is how the article ends...

For now a future in politics is far from the minds of most P.U. students, who just want to enjoy their last few years on campus. "We would love to have a student union," says Iqbal. "Then we could plan events and activities and take care of the students' problems ourselves. Right now, only I.J.T. has that kind of power. If the I.J.T. had competition, that would change. Then you would see what students really think." But until free elections and campaigning are permitted, the religious groups will continue to walk large on campus. The same could be said of Pakistan.

I certainly hope not....

1 comment:

  1. Ever been to state run Universities and Colleges? I guess not, most of them are like this. In late 70's General Zia has outlawed student unions but promoted Islam in Educational Institutes. IJ is a big thing from his time. This is you get when you do not give energetic youths something to learn and explore. But we can't blame a weak ruler/dictator who need something to hold on to the power.