Whose teacher and whose book?

Respected journalist Robert Fisk believes that we are about to see – for the first time in history – the United States openly and actively supporting al-Qaeda militarily.

This, of course, is in the context of what at the time of writing was the imminent deployment of American, British and French troops to oust Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

The fig leaf for this attack on Syria is that President al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the rebels linked to al-Qaeda are responsible for the chemical weapon attack, but hey, this is America and any flimsy excuse to send in the troops will be jumped on. Remember Afghanistan and Iraq?

Syria, as Dr Paul Craig Roberts put it, is another “Western war crime in the making”.

Anyway, back to Robert Fisk.

Writing for UK paper The Independent, Fisk says: “There will be some ironies, of course. While the Americans drone al-Qaeda to death in Yemen and Pakistan – along, of course, with the usual flock of civilians – they will be giving them, with the help of Messrs Cameron, Hollande and the other Little General-politicians, material assistance in Syria by hitting al-Qaeda’s enemies. Indeed, you can bet your bottom dollar that the one target the Americans will not strike in Syria will be al-Qaeda or the Nusra front (an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting against President al-Assad).”

Where Fisk is wring though is in saying this will be the first time that the US will be assisting al-Qaeda. There is much direct and anecdotal evidence, for those who care to read, indicating that the terror group was created with American CIA assistance.

Truth be told, al-Qaeda is a nebulous concept; hard to define and almost impossible to decipher beyond the inadequate characterisations that we are given by competing political players who have their own reasons for classifying them as either terrorists or freedom fighters.

What we know for fact is that America was happy with al-Qaeda’s work in the 1980s when they led resistance to the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. Somewhere down the line, after Afghanistan did its reputation of being the “Graveyard of Empire” no harm by stiff-arming the USSR, a group aligned to al-Qaeda took over Kabul. It was known as the Taliban.

The Taliban fascinate me.

If you read Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” in particular, and to an extent “The Kite Runner”, you get some sort of insider perspective on the thinking of the Taliban.

They are at turns totally illogical and coldly rational in their pursuit and practice of power, and perhaps that is why they are such a tricky customer to deal with.

A more interesting insight into the thinking of the Taliban was recently offered by Adnan Rasheed, who Pacific Standard Magazine described as a senior officer of the grouping.

Adnan Rasheed this past week wrote a long letter to Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for girls’ education recently honoured by the UN after getting seriously injured in an attempted assassination when a Taliban-linked gunman boarded her school bus and opened fire on her and other children.

The letter, true to Taliban tradition, is both rambling and amazingly logical at turns. What really caught my attention in the letter was the reason for the Taliban’s attack on the girls education activist: it was not because the Taliban oppose education, but rather that they oppose mis-education.

Adnan Rasheed says to Malala Yousafzai: “I want to draw your attention to an extract from the (note) written by Sir TB Macaulay to British Parliament dated 2nd February 1835 about what type of education system is required in (the) Indian sub-continent to replace the Muslim education system.

“He stated ‘We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect’.

“This was and this is the plan and mission of this so-called education system for which you are ready to die, for which (the) UN takes you to their office to produce more and more Asians in blood but English in taste, to produce more and more Africans in colour but English in opinion, to produce more and more non-English people but English in (culture).” He then asks; “You say a teacher, a pen and a book can change the world, yes I agree with, but which teacher which pen and which book?”</p>

Rasheed goes onto to – again in turns – ramble and be incisive on a host of other issues. 

I can’t agree with some things he says but that does not detract from the fact that it is an interesting letter and those who can must make an effort to read it in full to not only get an insight into Taliban thinking, but also into the seeming inter-connectedness of the struggles of non-Westerners across the world.

The question “which teacher, which pen and which book” is for me the centre of the letter.

South Africa is in shock right now about the state of its education sector, which experts say is still very much colonial in nature.

Namibia has for two years been in the grip of a debate on how best to reform its education system so that it better reflects the realities that the country is faced with. Liberia this past week was reeling from the news that all 25 000 candidates failed to pass the entrance exam to get admission into one of two state universities.

Zimbabwe is plodding along, tinkering with its system but not making any real changes that will reflect the politico-economic objectives professed by its empowerment programmes.

The examples are endless. 

Africa is being mis-educated, but very few on the continent are willing to ask the question that Rasheed Adnan, in his rambling but incisive style asks: yes, education can change the world – but who are the teachers and whose books are we reading? 

September 2013
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