A curriculum against bigotry

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.


The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.


EVERYONE is offering solutions in the aftermath of the Peshawar outrage. Thanks to Lewis Carroll I can offer mine, after a quick backgrounder.


Suspected Kashmiri assassins killed an Indian diplomat in Birmingham in 1984. In revenge, Indira Gandhi hanged separatist Kashmiri leader Maqbool Butt who had been otherwise in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for an unrelated capital crime. Neither the Birmingham killers nor Indira Gandhi was going to address the heart of the matter, the Kashmir imbroglio, which, therefore, continues to fester and shed copious quantities of blood.


Likewise, Pakistan may abandon its civilised resolve and hang any number of convicts, particularly those who are dying to be in paradise post-haste anyway, the generals in Rawalpindi and their grudging civilian allies in Islamabad will only be venting their spleen, nothing more.


As for so-called military solutions, they have shown to be mere acts of desperation. The approach couldn’t stop the senseless killing of the schoolchildren at the Army Public School, nor the countless everyday outrages against innocent folks. Nor did it offer protection to more than 300 people, including almost 200 youngsters, slaughtered in a Russian school in 2004 by similarly indoctrinated men from Chechnya.


Of course, military campaigns can effect equations momentarily, but they may not on most occasions successfully weed out hateful terrorism, particularly the type laced with religious fanaticism, which usually retreats into its hideouts to trap you another day. Messrs Bush and Obama may or may not have learnt the lesson. Why are we still going down that route?


I promise you it will all be futile and also a self-defeating bid if alongside any stepped up military campaign against the Taliban, ordinary people are still allowed to hate, through textbooks or by cultural innuendo, or from the religious pulpits — ie if Shias continue to join Sunnis to regard Ahmedis as lesser humans or if middle-of-the-road Sunnis gravitate to the Salafis to proclaim Shias and Ahmedis deserving of death, or if Shia maulvis continue to make hateful speeches to their flock to garner narrow constituencies by abusing religious personalities sacred to Sunnis.


A few good answers to the intolerance ideated by the jihadis lie in the firm rejection of the jihadis by the people most directly affected by them.


If in the pursuit to make Pakistan a better, more open and liberal state — which in cricketing terms seems like a nearly impossible asking rate to chase — Hindus, Christians, Sikhs among others are left by the wayside, residual bigotry within us will checkmate the war against militant fanaticism.


A few good answers to the intolerance ideated by the jihadis lie in the firm rejection of the jihadis by the people most directly affected by them, in this case the schoolchildren. If their supposedly adult comforters could follow a slice of the school curriculum, for example, we would perhaps win half the battle.


A fellow journalist visited the wrecked school premises and found a page from a book that was caked in blood. A sentence on the page mentions Von Neumann stability analysis. For someone as archaic in maths and science as many in my generation were, raised as we have been on kindergarten-like Bodmas or memorised formulas, the stability analysis offered in the school curriculum exudes the flavour of rocket science. It was also the most traumatic thing I read or watched out of Peshawar last week.


Looking up Von Neumann’s argument, I found it linked inexorably to econometric discussions on game theory, which would have connected any sharp student (a school student) to Amartya Sen or even John Nash (of A Beautiful Mind fame).


A problem posed in this genre of intellectual inquiry takes us to a classic debate — ‘the prisoners’ dilemma’. The way my dictionary of economics (published by Penguin) explains the curious dilemma it sounds eminently relevant for anyone preparing to confront unreason with logic and rational thought.


The prisoners’ dilemma, where the force of Von Neumann’s mathematical logic led me, is based on an intriguing puzzle. A sheriff picks up two suspected criminals and puts them in separate cells.


He gives each the chance to confess to having committed the crime with the other, and tells them their fate with four choices. If you confess and your partner doesn’t confess, you will get three years in jail. If you confess and your partner confesses you will get four years. If your partner confesses and you don’t, you will get twelve years in jail. If neither your partner nor you confess, you will get two years in jail.


It is an unbelievably mind-boggling problem and I am not posing any statistical options for you to work out. I just wanted us to admire the youngster whose book the bloodied page came from.

Something else caught my eye in the reams of pictures flashed from the unfortunate school. I thought I saw a harmonium on the table near the stage. Did they have music classes at the Army Public School? Like garlic pods or a sign of the cross was to Dracula, the one thing that works like a great antidote to the Taliban and their ilk is music.


On closer look the harmonium turned into what could be a medical contraption left there by medical caregivers. A stethoscope and a pair of crutches lay on the table. If the harmonium I saw was an illusion, perhaps we should make it real and palpable, and mandatory. It is the only musical instrument that links all of South Asia. And it challenges the Taliban as nothing else does.


Courtesy Dawn

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