Sunday, April 25, 2010

When your worst enemy is the one you created

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“For Dummies” books parody: “Jihad for Dummies”
Except, for kiddies
[source: Samuel at Gilgal]

If you ever wondered how or why the intense militant Islamic movement in the Middle-East could have spawned so relatively quickly over the course of only a few decades, it turns out the US may need to shoulder some of the blame, if not even a large part of it. According to this March of 2002-era report from The Washington Post, the US apparently had a policy during the Cold War era where they spent many years, and many millions of dollars, supplying Middle Eastern schoolchildren with textbooks that incorporated propaganda about jihad and Islamic fundamentalism and filled with war-themed imagery such as guns and tanks. Apparently, the government (or whatever small faction – that is, I’m hoping it was a small one – that launched this campaign) thought that this would be a good idea in the long run as it would increase the area’s anti-Soviet resistance efforts, all in the US’s best interests, of course.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

As Afghan schools reopen today, the United States is back in the business of providing schoolbooks. But now it is wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence.

Last month, a U.S. foreign aid official said, workers launched a "scrubbing" operation in neighboring Pakistan to purge from the books all references to rifles and killing. Many of the 4 million texts being trucked into Afghanistan, and millions more on the way, still feature Koranic verses and teach Muslim tenets.

There is so much that is purely and utterly wrong with this story that I scarcely know how even to react. I don’t know which is worse, here: that the geniuses in the government actually thought this was a good idea; that such an insane measure was actually green-lit, presumably by top-ranking government officials, and carried out; or that apparently, no-one in charge realized how very badly such a strategy would invariably turn out and put an end to it before it was too late. After all, filling impressionable kids’ heads with pro-war, pro-violence and pro-radical Islamic teachings when the region was already about as peaceful and stable as, well, the Middle East – yeah, great idea!

There’s a quote I often use, from Lisa in The Simpsons: “You can’t create a monster and then whine when it stomps on a few buildings.” I do believe the bitter irony, here, has just exploded to astronomical levels. In dealing with terrorism and Islamic extremism, all we’re doing is trying to mop up a mess that, as it turns out, is largely our own. Brilliant.

(via @ahtripp)