Extended Interview: Fareed Paracha
Fareed Paracha is the deputy secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest fundamentalist Islamist party. He is part of the religious right that has been trying to block curriculum reform and is currently protesting the Kerry-Lugar bill, which provides financial aid to Pakistan. He spoke with FRONTLINE/World’s David Montero about his positions on education in Pakistan. The interview has been edited for clarity.
David Montero: Do you support secular education in Pakistan for children?
Fareed Paracha: No. We think that education is rooted in the ideology and the social and cultural values of a nation. It should reflect the ideology. So we think our constitution places the responsibility on the state to develop an Islamic education system in the country. It is the responsibility of the state and duty of the state to develop that system, which is according to the constitution, according to the will of the people, according to the ideology of the Pakistanis, and according to our values, our moral values, our ethical values. According to us.
Do you think a secular education can provide that moral character and training, or only an Islamic education?
A: It's just a dream that there is secular education. No one throughout the country is completely secular. Even in the United States, even in the United Kingdom, even in any other country of the world. They have their own aims and objects, and their curriculum reflects their aim and objects, their nation, and their constitution. It is just a way of demanding here in Pakistan that our curriculum, our system of education, should reflect our constitution.
In 2002 the federal government tried curriculum reform. There were many accusations that the curriculum contained religious messages that were promoting Jihad, that were promoting differences between Hindus and Muslims. What did you think about that?
Before 9/11, there were no questions. The questions arose after 9/11. But these are not the questions in the minds of the people of Pakistan. These are questions imported from outside.
But even Pakistanis, your own countrymen, have studied the curriculum and written reports, and they have cited references to Jihad even in social science and science and biology classes. What is the place of this in education?
We think it is part of our religion. We can introduce Jihad not to mean aggression or terrorism. Jihad means to make an effort to give peace to the world. It is a part of our curriculum, but not in everything is Jihad introduced. Not in mathematics, not in physics, not in chemistry. It is part of our Islamic studies. We have our own heroes; we have to introduce our heroes to our new generation. This is not a thing that someone can criticize.
But why not keep them separate? Why do you need references like this in biology and social science?
There were only Koran verses in biology -- that the whole universe is a creation of a God. This is also the theory written in the Bible.
Yes, it’s taught in religious education, but in public schools that's not allowed.
Our society is based upon the belief in God, belief in Allah. In your society, your Western society, there is no concept of God. God is just a topic of church and not a topic of the whole society. But in our society, Allah and the Prophet are the topic of the whole society.
So you want to teach children that God and religion should be part of their entire life, not just what they do in the mosque?
It is part of our teachings, the teachings of Islam. There is not any criticism from students, from their parents, from the society, from our media. This whole criticism is from outside.
But weren’t the researchers Pakistani?
[They are] foreign funded. Foreign investment funds it for a reason, for some target. It is target-oriented funding. It is not just to develop education in our country. They have an idea and target to exclude our religious education and to introduce other topics.
Why do you think the West wants to do that? Why do you think the West wants to change the curriculum?
Have you read the book by Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations? Or The End of History by Francis Fukuyama? They have written that time has come to change the world. History has reached its end, and Western secular, democratic civilization now is the fate of humanity. Other civilizations, like Islamic civilization, they claim that it’s a bad civilization, so there should be a clash. We are expecting a clash between Western and Islamic civilizations.
It is a one-sided clash. We don't have anything in our mind to create a clash with the West. But they have started the clash after 1989. Before 1989, Muslims in Afghanistan were the partners of the West and America against the USSR. Then, everything was right. The Jihad was right, and they published pictures of Jihadists on Newsweek and Time magazines. They were the heroes. Now the perception of Jihad has changed.
Well, I think there was a feeling that the message of Jihad had gotten mixed up and was creating a dangerous explosion of people who were looking for war, and that it was dangerous for your society.
These people are a creation of the United States and a creation of India and Israel. These are not Jihadists. No Jihadists will be terrorists, according to the teaching of Islam. Killing one person is the killing of a whole society.
But you don't think any Pakistanis are involved in the recent terrorist attacks?
Maybe. Maybe Pakistanis are involved, but sponsored by some outside power. Not from any encouragement from the inside.
I want to go back to the curriculum. In 2002, when Education Minister Zobaida Jalal tried to reform the curriculum, how did you react to her efforts?
That change was not according to our constitution. We believe that our curriculum should be according to our constitution. We do not think that religious education should comprise the whole curriculum, but there should be a direction. There should be an objective aim of the education. We believe that those changes are not in the interest of our nation. Not in the interest of our new generation and not in the interest of our constitution.
Don't you think any Pakistanis support curriculum reform? I've talked to a lot of people here who want to see curriculum reform, a more secular curriculum.
No. There is no demand in Pakistan. There is no demand from any section, not from students, not from teachers, not from parents. We support any change in the curriculum that develops the most modern education in science, physics, and social sciences. If there is a more advanced research in the world, we believe we have to adopt it in our curriculum.
If you had your wish, would there be co-education in Pakistan?
No. No. No. It is not according to our values. There is no need, no demand, from even our female side. Our female education is on lesser side because there are no facilities for single-sex schools in many areas.
But you seem not to believe that there are people in Pakistan who think differently from you. You say that the whole country wants education to stay as it is, but I've met many Pakistanis who don't want this. Don’t you have to consider their views as well?
Education policy reflects the aim of the people. If there was any demand for co-education, then our education policy should adopt it. But there is no demand in Parliament, no demand in any other institutions. There is a great demand for single-sex schools. I have read many books on this topic. There are many surveys in which the results show that single-sex schools develop a higher quality of education than co-education schools.
Am I correct in saying you think that the West has an agenda to try and change the minds of young people here?
Yeah. Yeah. According to the Kerry-Lugar bill, the United States allocated 1.5 billion dollars for education. But it’s according to their agenda, not according to our agenda. Their agenda was quite clear.
What, in your mind, is that agenda?
The clash of civilizations is their agenda.
And how will you respond?
We will develop more educational institutions in our country.
Can you compete with 1.5 billion dollars? Are you worried about the effect of the Kerry-Lugar bill?
We are not in favor of the 1.5 billion dollars. There were many restrictions imposed upon our government and upon our values (to get that money). We are not in favor of the Kerry Lugar bill. We are not in favor of any foreign aid, actually.