BLOGGERKatherine Marshall is a Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the Center's program on Religion and Global Development. After a long career in...
Faith in Action tracks the activities of people of faith across the globe and across religious traditions, with a focus on development issues. Posts are originally published by the Huffington Post. Older blog posts appeared on the Washington Post's Georgetown/On Faith site.
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AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES ON MUSLIM
April 24, 2009
The video shows the brutal beating of a young girl, well covered in her burka and red trousers, screaming and struggling as she is held down by a man and a woman. The scene symbolizes the tensions tearing Pakistan apart and it raises a host of questions. Is this what Sharia law is about? What does this primitive justice by bearded Taliban leaders portend for Pakistan? For south Asia? What's caused the Swat Valley, a region celebrated for peace, civility, and beauty, to change so rapidly? And what can be done about it?
The irony is that Pakistan had such a hopeful start. One of contemporary history's great leaders, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, set out to create a modern Islamic nation. The two central issues for Pakistan today, the rule of law and education, were at the heart of his vision. He was convinced that a state could truly be both Islamic and modern, not uneasily but drawing the best from Pakistan's founding faith and from the world of modernity. That's Pakistan's potential and its ideal.
The turmoil in Pakistan stems in part from the broader struggle within Muslim communities worldwide about the fundamental question of how this ancient faith, which valued ideas and learning from the start, can adapt to the changes sweeping today's world. It is also about manifest failures in implementing Jinnah's ideals. Pakistan's real potential remains an unfulfilled dream.
Pakistan's abysmal performance on education is at the heart of the problem. Parents want decent schools for their children, now. Pakistan lags behind most countries in the most basic educational performance indicators; it ranks 132nd in the Human Development index.
The education system perpetuates and exacerbates deep class cleavages. Impeccable top-grade schools contrast with a lumbering non-performing state system, while a chaotic array of unregulated private schools tumble into the void. And then there is the madrasa system, thousands of schools (no one knows how many) run by a wide range of Muslim institutions and leaders. There's lots of myth around madrasas, and some are abominations. But there are excellent madrasas (the word simply means school) and they respond to real needs. Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) and former U.S. diplomat Douglas Johnston, coming from very different angles, have shown on the ground in Pakistan that the educators and parents of madrasa schools can and will change given the right framework.
The perversion of Pakistan's police forces and judicial systems, incompetent and weakened administrative structures, and widespread and worsening corruption also explain the current turmoil. People who have lost faith in their government turn to pretty much anyone who promises basic security from murder and theft. In the case of the Swat valley, it's the bearded chiefs and mullahs in the video. But, Pakistanis from many places argue, this is out of desperation, not desire.
These are problems for Pakistanis to address, but the United States is no tepid bystander. The annual U.S. tab for support to Pakistan is about $5 billion a year. The consequences of Pakistan's further disintegration are horrendous. With such high stakes, nowhere is smart power more in demand. And talking truth is vital as a start.
So what's needed? First off, restore law and order. Ironically, the best model appears to be the inherited colonial system of district administrators, who were able to balance interests including police, army, local tribal chiefs, and the mullahs. That system was renowned as tough and fair, able to act and to respond. It represents an ideal of honesty, justice, and action. It's there and it's known. Then, at the same time, move swiftly and effectively to modernize education.
The video of brutal retrograde frontier "order" is not what modern Islam is about. Pakistan has some of the world's finest Muslim ideals and traditions to build on. But the Swat scene should be our wakeup call, demanding our urgent, and sustained attention.