In a way, this IS better than the most recent stories about American taxpayer monies being used to construct Muslim institutions within the shores of the 50 states. The US Army in Afghanistan is building roads, bridges, dams, schools and clinics the kind of things you would expect it to be doing to help the country reestablish an infrastructure destroyed by Taliban rule.
In Khost Province, the model for US counterinsurgency, we built 50 schools last year alone and broken ground on a 200-bed hospital. But we’ve also finished four mosques, with four more in the works, plus three madrassas, with plans for one in every district
Sorry folks you lost me with the Mosques and madrassas. Why is my hared earned money being used to promote Islam? Especially in a nation where it has proved to be represssive? Read on to learn more:
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MADRASSAS BUILT WITH YOUR TAXES By ANN MARLOVE
THE US Army’s combination of development with counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is admirable in all but one regard: We’re building mosques and madrassas, too. When it comes to building roads, bridges, dams, schools and clinics in the 14 eastern Afghan provinces under de facto US Army protection, our military has done far more than any charity, the US Agency for International Development or the Afghan government. In Khost Province, the model for US counterinsurgency, we built 50 schools last year alone and broken ground on a 200-bed hospital. But we’ve also finished four mosques, with four more in the works, plus three madrassas, with plans for one in every district (typically areas of 60,000-120,000 people). The Army is building mosques and madrassas with good intentions. But it’s far too likely to backfire in the long run. The case for it? Well, in rural communities in this part of the world, the mosque is an all-purpose community center, bar and coffee house rolled into one. And our longer-term plan for helping Afghanistan advance involves fostering a robust civil society – Afghans don’t cooperate in units larger than the family or tribe. Mosque-building also associates the US presence with the national faith. We mainly build mosques near the district centers or county seats; US troops usually live in barracks in the same compounds. The Army hopes mullahs will be more apt to preach cooperation with the people who built their mosque – but it’s not clear that the military has any way of monitoring what’s preached. Building madrassas, meanwhile, gives Afghan authorities some control over what’s taught to those students. Across the border in Pakistan, anything goes. On the other hand (as one senior officer told me), a better idea might be for us to infiltrate those Pakistani madrassas. The US-built, Afghan government-registered madrassas also are supposed to devote 40 percent of teaching to secular subjects, preparing graduates to work or get higher education. The typical private madrassa is all Koran, all the time. And the real goal is to make them all obsolete. Until ’06 or ’07, many districts in eastern Afghanistan didn’t even have schools; the US Army is building them now. Our long-term hope is that madrassa education will wither away as secular schooling gains ground. Finally, as Khost Gov. Arsala Jamal says, “We have to prove to our people that neither the Afghan government nor the Coalition Forces are against Islam but rather we the Afghan government are supporting Islam. If we do not touch the religion, the enemy will use it against us.” All fair enough. Yet there’s nothing like going to a 2,000-person Afghan village that has no electricity, running water or generators, and only a couple of literate men, but sports a huge, spanking-new madrassa to make you doubt the wisdom of US Army policy. These villagers are living just as they did before Islam came to Afghanistan – 1,200 years ago. In the madrassa, they’re only learning to chant the Koran – not how to read it, much less think about it. And the mosque is a social center for men only. In most of Afghanistan, women don’t worship in mosques, period – most mosques there don’t even have a section where they could. So we’re building “community centers” that half the community can’t enter. And our overall rationale for spending on development projects in Afghanistan is that the Afghans can’t do it for themselves: They don’t have the money or know-how to build asphalt roads. But they’ve had mosques since the start of the 8th century, when Islam came here. Villages where there’s no health care for hours around have a mosque – actually, two or three. (An Afghan-American member of Parliament, Daoud Sultanzoy, says: “There are mosques next to mosques next to other mosques.”) Early Islam emphasized the act of prayer, not the place of prayer. But mosques have become a status symbol in the Islamic world: Rich men build them, rather than clinics or schools, in their home villages. While 90 percent of Afghans may think putting another mosque in their village is the best use of US money, the other 10 percent knows better. They’d say so, too – were they not cowed by years of extremism. We do the progressive tenth no service by building another madrassa. There is no reason we have to subsidize the lowest-common-denominator elements of Afghan culture. Indeed, there’s every reason not to. Afghans admire us quite a bit. They’re a pragmatic people with a strong mercantile streak, and will at least take a good hard look at anything we value to see if it might work for them. We can tweak their society in useful directions – more education, more rationality, more economic activity – by providing them the right resources and showing we care about them. Let’s build real community centers, even if the culture obliges us to build separate ones for men and women. Let’s offer vocational-training programs, not madrassas. Not a single hard-earned dollar of the US taxpayer should be going to keep Afghans in the Middle Ages. Ann Marlowe has made 10 trips to Afghanistan since 2002. and done three embeds with US forces there.