Ahmad Shawqi (may God rest his soul) once said in a poem, “If guidance comes from bias and vanity, then call it misleading.”
The most recent of Iraq’s tragedies is the current sectarian clash over the country’s curricula: should they be Sunni- or Shia-based, blessed by an Imam from a Hawza, or a Sheikh who specializes in Shariaa law?
Is this the Iraq we had hoped would be an oasis of democracy and education? Is this the Baghdad that we thought would be a bastion of modern science and an educational and scientific epicenter for people searching for knowledge after the fall of Saddam Hussein, only for it to end up in a battle over curricula, and whether they should be of a Sunni or Shia orientation? Since when has science been split through sectarianism?
In the past I have been critical of the educational sector in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere, but today my words apply to the entire Arab World unequivocally, for what we are seeking is education and educators, and if curricula have a sectarian hue, then what of the educators?
Our Arab history recounts that the first order of business for a coup d’etat is to besiege television stations in order to broadcast their first statement. Today, the first order of business for extremists is to besiege, intimidate and betray education and educators.
Isn’t it enough to see the present corruption in Iraq and amongst Iraqi people that we now also have to sow the seeds of corruption for Iraq’s future? Here we say: may God rest al Sayyab’s [Badr Shakir al Sayyab, prominent modern Arabic poet] soul in peace when he said, “In Iraq, a thousand serpents drink nectar”
In Iraq, and in all Arab nations, we seek educational systems that are not ideology-based; educational systems that encourage critical thinking and in-depth research and thought in order to avoid being herded like sheep behind everyone who raises a slogan or waves an umbrella other than that of reason. Even our religion – Islam – encourages learning and critical thinking, never once ascribing a religion or identity to knowledge.
We want an educational system that will prepare generations for the future and one that will transform our societies and economies into productive and active ones rather than ones that are dependent on living donations and grants. We want a sort of educational system that stimulates and instills within us a love for knowledge, without which we will not advance.
Today we see Japan, which had once signed a document of surrender to the United States, and has now come to compete with the economies of superpowers – particularly the US. Germany, which was once occupied by the allies, today has a thriving economy that surpasses all of Europe and rivals America’s. We see Muslim Malaysia, on account of its strong educational sector, negotiating projects with oil-rich Gulf States, while the Jamaat Islamia of Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, solicits economic aids from the same Gulf States, while the Indonesian government is burdened with the World Bank’s terms.
In our Arab world, we suffer from unemployment, terrorism and stumbling economies and subject our educational systems to political and fundamentalist agendas. What is sad is that in America and Europe, educational institutions afford religions all due respect, integrating them, without exception, into their knowledge-stimulating educational systems, while in the Arab world, we wrong our religion and educational systems because of bias and nothing but bias. We apologize to the Arab poet as we alter his verse: “for the longest time our educational star has fallen!”