Hege Storhaug, HRS
The background to the story is as follows: our political leaders decided that over a period of five years, 150 million kroner should be spent to support education in Pakistan. Five to six million kroner would be handed over directly to Koran schools, including some in northwestern Pakistan, an area that must be described as the world’s prime hatchery for terrorism. All together, 115 private Koran schools in Pakistan have received financial support from Norway. The government admitted back in 2007 that it had not set any requirements regarding the content of the education being offered at these schools; it had only set requirements for the upgrading of the schools’ infrastructure (rest rooms for girls, for example) and so-called “willingness to cooperate.” The responsibility for carrying out the project was placed entirely on the shoulders of Pakistani authorities. When this story emerged two years ago, the Norwegian embassy in Islamabad said this: “By offering the schools this arrangement, we hope to create a foundation for the introduction of secular school books. But if we dictate the curriculum, the schools will isolate themselves.”
We’re hoping. But we’re not setting any requirements, because if we do, yes, they’ll close their doors to us. Are the authorities themselves thus affirming that extremism, not tolerance, reigns in these schools, and that the traffic on the bridge of dialogue goes only one way?
Our then and current Minister of Development Cooperation, Erik Solheim of the Socialist Left Party, has gone a long way toward confirming my assertion. In 2007 he said that the project’s purpose was “to promote religious tolerance” and to “promote dialogue.” Solheim maintained – without much in the way of meaningful documentation – that the schools that “choose to take part in the project” have it as their objective “to represent a counterweight to fundamentalism.” He added: “This doesn’t mean that Norway will run the curriculum.” The thinking is thus as follows: Give a nice sum of money to a few mullahs and pray to God that the mullahs choose to educate children in tolerance, human rights, history, mathematics, and so forth.
And as if that weren’t enough, on October 11 of this year Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre made the following claim in an op-ed for VG: “An independent evaluation of the project was performed in 2008. It concluded that Norwegian funds are not being used for any purpose other than those for which they were earmarked, and that careful controls had been placed on the payments.” The Foreign Minister must have wretched sources of information in his organization, or else he believes that he can get away with saying such things – that nobody will check out whether they’re true or not. Last year, reports TV2, Oslo College performed a study assessing the project, and its conclusions are contained in a report entitled “Islamic education in Pakistan.” It turns out that the study assessed only 16 of the 115 sponsored Koran schools. The whole job took one week. And that’s not all: none of the sponsored schools in Swat, which was controlled by the Taliban for several years until the army took over six months ago, was included in the study. TV2 went to Swat, and discovered that four out of seven Norwegian-sponsored schools had been closed since the army took control of the area. The schools supported the Taliban, and it was also revealed that some of them were nothing but jihadist training camps. One so-called Koran school, Jamia Darul Ulooom Swat, received 60,000 kroner in Norwegian support. The school principal was so extreme that he was killed by the army, according to TV2. This school, which is one of the four schools that the army closed after it regained control of Swat, has now resumed its activities under new leadership.
That the Norwegian government is actively trying to seduce the Norwegian people into believing that “educational support” is under control is also confirmed by a statement dating back to March of this year: “An independent scrutiny of the entire project has been successful. Children have received non-religious education and girls have been given access to education in an area where they did not have other alternatives.” So claimed the Socialist Left’s parliamentary secretary Håkon Arald Guldbrandsen in a bulletin by the NTB news agency. The government makes similar pronouncements today, and places the responsibility for the use of its financial aid entirely on Pakistani authorities! “It is Pakistani authorities that keep track of these schools, and I don’t have details of how many of them have been closed in the present turbulent situation. It is up to Pakistani authorities to keep track of this and to make the decisions.” These words belong to the Foreign Ministry’s communications advisor, Cecilie Willoch.
One must ask oneself: what will it take for the government to admit that the project may not be functioning the way it was meant to? What will it take for the government to apologize for its naïveté and call a halt to the project? Will it take a suicide bombing in Oslo by someone whose training turns out to have been paid for with the help of Norwegian taxpayers?
Add to all this the fact that HRS has documented, in a government-supported project, that schools in Pakistan generally are dominated by extremism. I am referring here to the public schools, not Koran schools. If you examine the national curricula in Pakistan, you will discover that Islam and nationalism figure centrally in the teaching of most subjects. Take Urdu classes. A second-grade Urdu textbook contains these sentences: “Pakistan is an Islamic country. Muslims live here. Muslims believe in the oneness of Allah. They do good deeds.”
These curricula make it clear that children should learn that the Islamic way of life is superior to other people’s way of life. They are also supposed to be taught to love jihad and martyrdom. In social studies, English, and Pakistani history alike, the central objective is the same: to indoctrinate pupils in the Pakistani national ideology and teach them to hate Hindus and India.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is highly respected internationally, has warned against this inculcation of hate and hostility toward all non-Muslim societies. An HRCP newsletter entitled “Teaching Hatred” (April 25, 2004) warns that narrow views of religion and the direct promotion of jihad still reign in Pakistani schools. The newsletter was based on an official national report on the subject, which revealed that textbooks across the country advocate differential treatment of and direct discrimination against religious minorities, and encourage hate by presenting distorted accounts of history and of non-Muslim societies. HRCP accuses Pakistani officials of creating conditions which will lead to militant extremism and intolerance, and HRCP fears that these conditions will only get worse.
It would, of course, be a very good thing if Norway could help introduce other attitudes into Pakistan’s public schools and Koran schools. But in today’s climate it is more than naïve to believe that our money can make any kind of positive difference. Alas. As I wrote in 2007: “Pakistan is incontrovertibly moving only in one direction. It is Islamism that is spreading, all the way into the classrooms of little children.”
The parliamentary opposition should now grab hold of the opportunity before it and demand a full investigation into the entire project, from its conception to the present situation in the Koran schools. The whole thing stinks of scandal.
Translated by Bruce Bawer