Education crucial to ending extremism in Afghanistan

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The shooting of this young girl in early October for her advocacy of equal educational opportunities for females was an act of profound ignorance and fear.  Islam emphasizes the importance of education for all Muslims and education is the basic right of every man and every woman. Muslim religious leaders, around the world, have repeatedly condemned violence against education.

Educated women and girls can only thrive in communities where men are also enlightened and secure. And extremism cannot survive where people are engaged and active learners, connected to the world and not fearful of it. 

Our focus must be on educating both men and women in Afghan society. It is uneducated men who try to prevent the women from being educated. And most importantly, it is uneducated men who become suicide bombers or commit brutal acts of violence against women. 

Fighting with weapons can only result in more killing and more revenge. The best weapon to fight terrorism is education. It improves people’s lives and creates an environment for a hopeful future and inclusive development practices. When people are educated, they can take responsibility for their lives and they will have the resolve to make progress and begin the difficult work of developing society.

For instance, in the last ten years, Afghan people have not been included in the development process of Afghanistan. Much of it has been “top down”. As a result, people feel excluded. Therefore, the extremists have succeeded with their objectives. 

In rebuilding Afghanistan, education has not been a priority in the past ten years. Millions of students are going to schools all over the country, but numbers do not constitute a good education. Quality, and learning curves are what matter.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan and most of the countries in the region, our education method places priority on students memorizing information and repeating it after the teacher. This approach creates robots and not thinkers. 

Fighting with weapons might give us immediate satisfaction but it creates more animosity and is a detriment to our society. However, through education and economic development, we will accomplish so much more for our people. It is time to choose our weapons carefully and thoughtfully, if the objective is a peaceful world.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari issued a message on Malala Day, “We cannot sit idly by as our children are attacked. We must act. Urgently.”  And Afghan President Karzai said, ““Afghanistan will hunt for Malala’s attackers.”

All this sounds good but the question in the minds of many Afghans is, what actions have they taken since?

Quick reactions to make a statement and to pacify the people have proven to be dangerous and in fact, may have weakened our leaders in the long term.
It is unfortunate that Malala had to be shot for the world to pay attention to education in Pakistan. Pakistan has a problem with extremism and it must come to terms with it in the wake of this shooting.

The shooting reminds us once again of the importance of education and its role in bringing peace to the world. The absence of education has created terrorism, violence and distance between nations and religions.  It is time to change that.

Sherjan is founder and CEO of Aid Afghanistan for Education.