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Islamabad to eliminate biases from school textbooks

ICC Note:
Pakistan’s Education Ministry is changing history textbooks to show that in the formation of their country, the Pakistani state was not meant to exclude non-Muslims from full participation in society – conservative Muslims attacked the government for doing this and are planning a nation-wide mass rally to protest.

by Qaiser Felix
AsiaNews (1/11/07) – Pakistan’s Education Ministry is making important changes to the school curriculum so that textbooks used across the country will be free from biases against non Muslim groups. New textbooks will include substantial chapters dealing with equality between the sexes, peace, ethics and moral values, and they will be open about the country’s economic, social and cultural foundations.

History textbooks for 9 and 10 graders will look at the Two-Nation theory in pre-partition India and explain that in the post-1947 period the Pakistani state was not meant to ‘exclude’ non-Muslims from the one Pakistani nation in which “all citizens, regardless of caste, colour or creed, have equal rights.”

Rightwing conservative political forces did not wait long before reacting to the plan. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a six-party Muslim alliance, strongly attacked the government for taking this step accusing it of “following Washington’s orders”. A nation-wide mass rally has already been announced.

For some activists, the Islamists’ violent protest stems from their fear of losing influence among students, especially on campuses. In fact it is in such places that nationalist and extremist groups recruit followers to spread sectarian hatred.

For his part, Pakistan’s Education Minister Javed Ashraf Qazi defended the reform on TV talk show. “We are reforming our text books for the development of our children and the people who are involved in this process are Pakistanis—we don’t have any American expert with us and we have not received any money from the US for reviewing our curriculum,” he said.

Unlike Islamist groups, liberal groups and religious minorities have welcomed the proposed changes.

Mehboob Sada, director of the Christian Study Centre, said he was “very hopeful about positive changes to the situation. We have suggested to the government that students of all faiths, including Muslims, should be able to study texts about all religions, if they are so inclined.”

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the [Catholic] National Commission for Justice and Peace, said however that usually “the government is very slow in reforming the education system. None the less, the Commission will meet to come up with ideas and suggestions to present to the government.”