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Education in Iraq and the Specter of Sectarianism - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The issue of changing the education curriculum of Iraq was raised once again last week by the Shiite religious authority in Najaf.

In comments carried by Asharq Al Awsat, Sheik Khalid Al Numani, Vice-President of the Najaf Provincial Council revealed that this demand for change of the curriculum has been made time and time again, and that the Minister of Education had also been made aware of this. He added that ‘it is the right of each community to study the ideas of its own community’ while Munther Al Hatimi, also a member of the Najaf Provincial Council reiterated this sentiment saying ‘It is our right to study our own history, as it is the right of others to do the same’.

Such talk, despite a disclaimer that is it not sectarian, cannot be understood except within the context of the menace of sectarianism that is sweeping throughout Iraq today, politically, culturally, and by force of arms. The political terrain today is infested with sectarianism, the sound of gunfire in the streets is the language of sectarianism, and the displacement which has affected so many is caused by sectarian pressure and fear, even discussion on issues of oil, the economy, or governmental appointments, have become cloaked in sectarianism.

This is the reality that threatens Iraq, and raises the fears of anyone who is sympathetic.

It is true that the Iraqi Shiites have grievances and complaints with regards to the practices of the former regime against them; this is a fact that nobody can deny. But what is also undeniable is that the injustice of the former regime also affected the Sunnis, as it affected others. The truth is that Saddam’s regime was only fair-handed with regards to its distribution of oppression and injustice, which was against all Iraqis. We cannot change the mistakes of the previous regime by making greater mistakes now, for as the old proverb goes, two wrongs do not make a right. Making new mistakes now will not rectify what happened in the past, but will be the cause of more mistakes in the future.

A country like Lebanon has paid a heavy price due to sectarianism and the affects this has had on the country, from internal woes to external maneuvering. This constitutionally metered sectarianism has filtered into the education curriculum, which is officially supposed to be unified, but is in reality marked throughout with the stamp of sectarianism. The result of this is that the future of Lebanon, as its past was, and present is, will be one susceptible to disruption and dispersal.

Sectarianism within education is more dangerous than a sectarian constitution, for education is the support structure for the upbringing of future generations, and it will be the greatest crime- more dangerous than all the crimes perpetrated by the Saddam regime- if education becomes a playing field for political conflict, or the scene for the ugly sectarian fighting which we see throughout Iraq today.

If Iraq is to recover from the many issues which plague it today, including the fears of a civil war, and sectarian inflammation which threatens its future and unity, then education must remain immune to sectarianism. Rather any modification to the Iraqi education curriculum should strengthen Iraqi unity and in the process keeping it away from any sectarian references.

It is in the interests of Iraq and those who sympathize with the Iraqis to strongly oppose any project to divide the education curriculum towards sectarianism, for this would secure the separation and damage to future Iraqi generations. Schools and universities must remain well-fortified against sectarianism, just as it is in the interests of Iraq for the curriculum to lead not to division, but to unification, and be a tool to educate future generations of Iraqis away from political outbidding and sectarianism.

In the past Iraqis have enjoyed a spirit of co-existence, and to preserve such a spirit, is to preserve the future of Iraq, and to immunize it against sectarian issues internally and externally.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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