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Social issues

Weap(e)ns of Mass Destruction

– by Yunnita D. Mattoha

I am Malala is an inspiring book about 17-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize winner in history. Because of her insistence to women’s right to education in her Taliban-controlled district, she was shot in the head on a school bus.

Not only is she miraculously still alive, she has continued to raise her voice on behalf of the millions of girls around the world who are being denied their right to go to school and realise their potential.

In the book, Malala recounts stories about school bombings in Pakistan when it was under the Taliban’s control in 2007–2009, especially with the reasoning behind it being “Women are meant to fulfil their responsibilities in the home. Only in emergencies can they go outside, but then they must wear the veil.”

According to Malala, the Taliban is against education because they think that when a child reads a book, learns English, or studies science, he or she will become Westernised. The situation has not changed much – very recently, more than 100 students in Peshawar died in a school massacre as the Taliban entered each class and gunned student and teacher alike down systematically.

‘When you are in Taliban you have 100 per cent life security’ … The Taliban would come to people’s houses, demanding money to buy Kalashnikovs, or to hand over their sons to fight with them. The poor had no choice… the sons were easy prey.

Elsewhere in the world, strings of school attacks in Nigeria, including bombings and mass shootings, perpetrated by radical Islamist organisation Boko Haram have emerged in recent years for the same reasons: hate towards the West, and the view that Western education is a sin

The tragedy of 9/11 and the ensuing ‘war on terror’ in particular have produced ramifications, as seen by the growth of radicalism and fundamentalism in certain regions in the last decade.

However, many believe that the reason why these radical groups are against education is not only based on the hatred towards the West. It is because they are afraid of one thing: the power of critical thinking that is flourished through education.

The argument follows that radicalism does not simply start because of the religious teachings which tell one to kill others who do not share the same faith. Radicalism starts from the lack of education and the ability to think critically about information by people who receive it, a skill especially important in an age where even the most irresponsible information can be disseminated freely. Thus, merely blaming religion is like blaming a knife when we cut ourselves instead of reflecting upon any carelessness while using it.

Those who live in poverty and lack easy access to a high-quality education may come to a certain stage in their lives where options in making a living are limited. For some, it seems as if using religion as their ‘heroic masks’ is the best survival tool to control others and further their own political interests.

In spite of the losses we suffered in 9/11, we might notice that radicalism in any form, whether religious or political, cannot be simply solved by another war or weapons of mass destruction, which has already cost the lives of innocent and ordinary people with no relation to the political conflicts among countries – in fact, it could serve as further fuel for radicalism.

Attempting to solve the issue of radicalism with another war would result in a snowball effect; the problem would keep growing and never end. As a society that has the privilege of freedom of education and a culture of critical thinking, let the focus not be distracted by mediocre judgments of certain religions or races, but instead to see the core problem is that radicalism flourishes because of poverty and the lack of education.

…more powerful than machine, guns, tanks or helicopters… we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.– Malala Yousafzai

There is a saying: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ We have yet to know whether the soft scribble of education can solve radicalism quickly or not. But what we know so far is that prolonging the snowball effect and the great crashing and booming of bombs and guns is not shutting radicalism down effectively.

Pens, knowledge and words must be used carefully; they must be used to teaching the next generation to gain perspectives from different point of views, to analyse information critically, to spread messages responsibly, and to clear ignorance.

Photo credits: sushrut shirole via Flickr

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