[OPINION] Only educational efforts of groups such as Hizmet can eradicate extremism

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Pakistani students of the private PakTurk International Schools and Colleges hold placards during a protest in Karachi on November 17, 2016 against the Pakistani government's ordered deportation of 130 teachers. / AFP PHOTO / ASIF HASSAN

By Dr. Ismail Mesut Sezgin
In order to please President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before his visit to Pakistan, the Pakistani government ordered more than 100 Turkish teachers from the Pak-Turk schools to leave the country within three days. By the time you read this article, these teachers and their families (about 450 men, women and children) will be in a very difficult position: They cannot return to Turkey because they will be persecuted there as well.
Pakistan is a sovereign country, of course, and is able to do whatever it pleases, but how ethical is this order? What does it mean for the world community? Should we be concerned about this?

At a time when the whole world is concerned about containing and defeating extremism and terrorism, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram in particular, it is worth paying special attention to this apparently trivial decision to deport teachers from Pakistan to please the Turkish president.

Boko Haram: Western education is forbidden
Boko Haram is less familiar than ISIL but shares many of ISIL’s aims and claims affiliation with it. Boko Haram’s name is translated as “Western-style education is forbidden.” This terrorist group intimidates communities into rejecting education, so they do not let their children go to school. They gained worldwide notoriety when they abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok so as to deter parents from educating their daughters. The world reacted with #BringBackOurGirls. Of course, Boko Haram did not release the girls. Only 57 of them have managed to escape, but the rest are still in captivity for the “crime” of going to a school rather than a madrasa.

So what we see is a group of people who claim to be religiously inspired but who terrorize others, kill, kidnap and bomb to deter people from secular education. The world has united to stand against it, as we should. But has this outspoken condemnation proven to be a solution? No, it hasn’t.

In sharp contrast to Boko Haram, there is a faith-inspired group, in this case a civil society movement that engages in education, dialogue and charitable activities and has grown out of Muslim grass roots. The Hizmet movement has been a phenomenon in Turkish society since the 1960s, and its participants are known for their efforts to promote secular education, interfaith dialogue and the alleviation of poverty, especially in the poorest parts of the world. They expanded their range in the 1990s when they started opening schools in the rest of the world as well.

This support for secular and scientific education is particularly effective and notable because it comes from a faith (Islamically) inspired movement. The first school established in Pakistan by movement supporters and participants opened in 1995, and it has been quite a success story since then. There are now 28 schools in Pakistan, established by using local funds and donations from Turkish philanthropists, and these schools have the highest standards of scientific secular education for approximately 10,000 boys and girls. As such, the schools represent a nightmare for groups such as Boko Haram and their destructive ideology.

The Hizmet-affiliated schools have come under much pressure since Erdoğan declared Hizmet public enemy number one in Turkey. He has used the coup attempt as a pretext to shut down 800 of the best secular schools in Turkey, none of which have any record of criminal activity; he has also closed thousands of NGOs and charities whose only fault was not being numbered among his supporters. He clamped down on critical media outlets and imprisoned 144 journalists so no one can tell any story different from the official narrative. He is also pressuring foreign governments to do the same in their countries.

Most sovereign governments have ignored this call, which they see as based on a personal vendetta rather than evidence of wrongdoing or any valid legal grounds, but some weaker states, such as Somalia, have given in. Pakistan initially removed all 23 Turkish principals from the schools and replaced them with Pakistani nationals. This was merely a problem for those individuals who had dedicated themselves to education but now had lost their jobs because the ownership or management of the schools, which served only as meaningful tools for the provision of better education, were not of great importance. Among the 1,500 or so staff members in 28 schools, only approximately 110 were Turks, that is, less than 10 percent of the total. Many who have graduated from these schools have already become teachers in them and are role models for future generations.

Now Nawaz Sharif’s government decided that they should please Erdoğan before his visit and so ordered Turkish personnel and their families to leave the country within three days. That is barely enough time to pack their bags, let alone sell their belongings and bid farewell to a country and a people that have been their home and their family, in some instances for more than 20 years.

ISIL: Swatting mosquitos or draining the swamp
Eradicating ISIL in Syria and Iraq is a difficult task but right now, the world is just effectively swatting at mosquitoes. To truly eradicate extremism, we need Muslims who believe in education and are willing to take responsibility and do something for the education of future generations. Currently, Pakistan, like Turkey, is a haven for recruiters to global terrorism. In the short and long term, only projects of the kind run by Hizmet, which offer a positive and hopeful contribution to communities, stand a chance of draining the swamp.

So it is very important that we do not remain passive bystanders as Pakistan deports teachers (exactly as Boko Haram would like them to). It will discourage a philanthropic spirit among Muslims, among people who care for our children and who invest money and effort in education. It will dishearten many volunteers and prevent and delay precisely the kind of work that will eventually finish off the mentality of ISIL and Boko Haram.
Don’t take my word for it. ISIL publications outline exactly how they hate the Hizmet movement’s efforts and why they see Hizmet as their “enemies.”

Don’t take my word for it. Check out how disturbed Boko Haram is about Hizmet’s education campaign, which offers opportunities for both boys and girls.

At a later date I will write about why Hizmet’s philosophy is considered so threatening by violent extremists, but until then let’s say #BringBackOurTeachers.

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