Friday, February 16, 2007

Afghan Villages Protect Their Schools Against the Taliban

The Taliban are famous for their opposition to schools -- by which they mean schools that teach a curriculum of subjects commonly taught in the West, geography, history, science. They themselves are, presumably, graduates of schools that teach, essentially, the memorization of the Quran. So the Taliban are not actually opposed to schools as such. It is the curriculum that is at stake -- a familiar topic of dispute among Muslims in the modern world, especially since the nineteenth century. The Afghanistan peoples have generally been open to all the learning they could get; only a small segment of the population have opposed a curriculum that went beyond Quranic learning. Some folks, especially Pushtuns, have been sensitive about co-education. It is unclear what the Taliban hope to accomplish, other than to disrupt the ordinary course of affairs in Afghanistan; and of course they want all "foreigners" -- meaning Western expatriates -- to leave. The complicating factor now is the presence of Islamists from the Arab world whose agendas are much more intensely anti-western. So far, those foreigners have found a sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal territories and elsewhere.

The following is excerpted from the article, Afghan schools take on the Taliban, written by Laura King of the Los Angeles Times:

"...suspected Taliban militants set fire to all five "classrooms," housed in canvas tents donated by a humanitarian agency."

"...nearly 200 schools across the country [were] burned in the last year by Islamic insurgents.Four hundred more schools were closed by threats and intimidation, driving more than 130,000 students from their classrooms..."
"Over the last three months, however, the rate of attacks has fallen dramatically..."
"...officials attribute the decrease at least in part to a nationwide drive to create local 'defense committees' for schools, enlisting the help of tribal elders, Islamic clerics and, in some cases, homegrown militias."
"There are no reliable figures, but the ministry believes more than half the country's 9,000 schools are under some form of locally organized protection..."
"The mullah on the committee has been using mosque sermons to emphasize that nothing in the Koran forbids girls from receiving an education..."
" 'People hated it during the time of the Taliban, when their daughters could not study and when nothing was taught in the schools but theology,' said Mohammed... [a] headmaster."

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