It is always, morally speaking, a bit cheeky to state something indigestible or undesirable at the very outset while writing a piece for the general public, but at the very same time, intellectual ethics, as a rule, demand us to be honest and clear in our observation and expression. And, we should prefer intellectual honesty over anything else as it is the only means to achieve progression and prosperity – and to discover the reality.

So, I offer my due apologies for presenting something that is somewhat hard to ingest for some people.

Let’s take a closer look at the present-day Pakistani society – which is confused yet energetic – and sum up our general observation about the role and place of religion in our society, politics and state, and see how lies have been smartly confounded with the matters of truth. I shall try not to exaggerate things too much and will try to present them in an almost objective manner.

Most of the people of Pakistan live in rural areas and, fortunately, I myself belong to a remote district of Punjab, and have been studying at one of the most prestigious institutions of Pakistan for last four years. I mean to say, I have experienced both rural and urban patterns of life and have also seen the different cultures of Pakistan closely.

 A majority of Pakistani Muslims, wherever they get together, be it at a wedding ceremony, funeral of their loved one, a birthday party, or a café meetup, they love to talk about three things: First, they think their religion, Islam, is the complete code of life and has a glorious past. Second, they assure each other that only they are the true Muslims and those who are not practicing a different version of Islam are not true Muslims, and on Doomsday will be thrown into a pit of raging fire. Third, because of so-called Muslims who do not practice true Islam, the world is turning into hell.

This attitude further lays down the foundation of other collective behaviors which are, as a practice, based upon and backed by hatred, prejudice and intolerance; dangerous subjectivity.  Collectively, this process of thinking, from small get-togethers up to the wider spectrum of the society, turns the whole society into extremists, and, thus, violence begins and terror prevails over everything. 

Interestingly, the factions that claim to be true Muslims do not practice their entire religion, either. Instead, they believe in the principle of cherry picking: anything that benefits them is practiced, the rest of the religion is not considered important enough to be followed. It is also pathetic to observe that these small factions do not exploit other factions only, but hate and intolerance also prevails within the group.  

I was about to write this piece when my primary school teacher came to see me and I was really happy to meet him after almost three years. He is now a High School teacher.  Surprisingly, when I asked him about my school and how things are going over there, he was not happy to share what I was ardently wishing to hear. “Now, we have a Shia Headmaster, and one of our colleagues who was very courageous has now left,” he continued, “Now those [Shias] have a greater say than us in the affairs of the school,” he said in an almost sad tone. I was not surprised to see this, because in my own days, in my area there used to be three mosques (nominally) for Sunnis and Shias, and separate mosques for their subsects. Teachers used to encourage and appreciate those students who were from their own sects.

This harsh truth is, very unfortunately, not only limited to one school of a village. Instead, it is the case with almost all private and public departments and organizations in Pakistan (apart from a very few exceptions).

Moreover, it is a common practice in our society to religionize everything, and interpret things in a manner that benefits us and greatly exploits others.  This is why our education system has been, to a great extent, Islamized in a way that fresh thinking and the ability to question are totally dwindled. We have been imprisoned behind bars and are not allow to see beyond them. This trend actually is serving some groups at local, national, and international levels directly or indirectly.

It is because of incorrect and myopic religious interpretations that hypocrisy, dishonesty, extremism, and radicalism are prevailing in our society almost to an unbearable extent.

If you cannot agree with me, I request you to come out on the streets, meet people, have a conversion with them, and finally ask them for some help. I do not ask you to share your experience with me.

Or, just send a girl dressed up in a “modern” way to a bazar or in front of a Madrasah, or even in front of a Mosque and observe how people glare at that “Fahash larki”. 

But the question is, why is our so-called educated class involved in such activities that provoke extremism and hatred and incite violence? And how to root out this mess from our society?

The solution to our all social problems, in my humble opinion, lies in education.  Here, I propose a comprehensive framework of analysis:

Bertrand Russell wrote a book, titled On Education: Especially in Early Childhood, in 1926. I find this book a very important document that can help us in building a happy, peaceful, tolerant and honest society. Russell argues that we, the parents, inculcate bad habits in our children and then throughout their life, the children remain enslaved within them, with only a few trying to break this strong connection. So, Mr. Russell very kindly and carefully suggests that parents bring up their children in a way that in the future they become good human beings.

Russell divides his book into three parts. In first part, he convinces parents that despite a fundamental role on the part of the parents, there is a dire need for energetic educational propaganda for compressive educational reforms to eliminate the evils of most existing educational institutions. Then he talks about the postulates of modern educational theory. In brief he discusses two schools of thought: whether education should be useful, or should it be only ornamental? In his view both, utilitarian view and philosophical views on education that focus upon mental delight, are important and largely relevant. He further focuses on an alternate method of education that is, to reeducated external authority and increase self-discipline and enhance the learning capacity of the child. And lastly he states that the formation of habits start at an early age so our focus in early childhood should remain on reasonable character building.

Russel further asks the question: what is or should be the aim of education? He presents a historical account detailing how traditional China, modern Japan, the Jesuits, and America have developed their educational systems and what their drawbacks, intellectually are. In early education for character building, he suggests four characteristics which seem, he opines, jointly to form the basis of an ideal character: vitality, courage, sensitiveness and intelligence.

In the second part, in a more elaborate manner, Russel argues that the moral education of a child begins from his or her first year and it ought to be completed till their sixth year. In this part, Russell advises parents to take good care while handling their children so that they don’t develop any bad habits which form an obstacle in the way of obtaining good habits in later life.

He argues that all irrational fears should be abandoned and all rational fears must be apprehended rationally. And through plays and games, and other activities, a child must be taught the spirit of constructiveness because, to quote the man himself, “The elimination of thoughtless cruelty is to be effected most easily by developing an interest in construction and growth.” Russell propagates the ideas of justice and negates the idea of self-sacrifice for several psychological reasons. But he focuses more upon truthfulness and says, “I prefer a person who lies with full consciousness of what he is doing to a person who first sub-consciously deceives himself and then imagines that he is being virtuous and truthful.” This is what is happening at large in our society, and also in politics.

In the third part of the work, that is, “Intellectual Education”, Russell first lays down certain general principles which I think are necessary to be followed. Russell here focuses more upon learning intellectual skills rather than moral values. There are certain intellectual virtues which are needed in learning, argues Russell: “curiosity, open-mindedness, belief that knowledge is possible but difficult, patience, industry, concentration, and exactness.” These virtues are to be produced through education, believes Russell.

Technically, Russell believes that till the age of fourteen a child must study all introductory courses and, at fifteen, he/she should start specialization either in 1) classics 2) mathematics and science, or 3) modern humanities.

At the end of his book, Bertrand Russell talks about university education. He believes that universities have, in an academic sense, two purposes: “One, to train individuals for various professions. Two, to pursue learning and research without regard to immediate utility.”

But he sadly sobers up when he talks about university teachers who start teaching morality and ethics to students:  “The idea of old fashioned schoolmasters persists to some extent at universities. There is a desire to have a good moral effect on students, and a wish to drill them in old-fashioned, worthless information, largely known to be false, but supposed to be morally elevating.”

Now, let me be blunt about one important thing that I myself disagree, on some points with Russell in many particulars, including intellectual, moral and sociological. But I recognize his intellectual effort in outlining this beautiful and witty course for the creation of a better world.  Also, I agree with Russell’s basic argument that the fundamentals of society and of our lives should be based upon rationality and truth and not upon superstitious beliefs and lies.

Now when I look at my own society, things are much clearer.

We oppose science and rational thinking. We suppress those who question our sacred beliefs, even at our universities. We do not like to tell our children why or how things happen. We teach them that only our religion is the best, most practical and loveable, while believers of all ‘others’ are liars and forgers. We teach them that we are the only true Muslims and all others are ‘Kafir’.  We do not let science disturb the sentimental picture of the student and the teacher, and we do so by silencing our students.

We indoctrinate them at homes, at schools, and even at universities with morals of our choice, and then we innocently question: how can an educated person can be a suicide bomber?

We love to teach our students that we, in the past, destroyed everyone who disagreed with us, and then expect the same child to be constructive and humble.

We tell our children that anyone who, in their ideological outlook is not like us, is untouchable; and then we expect the same children to be humanitarian and self-sacrificing.

 In short, we inculcate almost all bad habits in our children and students, and then wait for them to become good human beings.

Why is this happening again and again? The answer is simple; we still do not know what type of individuals we want to produce. A person who learns about destruction can never think about construction and growth.

Let’s admit one reality now: ‘The fault is not in our stars/But in ourselves’.

So, what is the solution? The answer is: an energetic educational propaganda across the country to comprehensively reform our education system so that we produce good fathers, mothers and, above all, good human beings.

“The way is”, as Russell concludes, “simple”.