Israel’s Madrassas

Schools in which religious fundamentalism are central to the curriculum have always existed. In the United States today, the education of Christian fundamentalists’ children is devalued by the teaching of “subjects” such as creationism. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the religious schools known as madrassas focus on teaching the Koran to the exclusion of preparing children for the modern world. But that’s the least of it. In a recent post at Focal Points, Michael Busch explains.

It’s hardly a secret that rich Saudi Arabians, including those running the government, have used their considerable oil wealth to spread political and ideological influence throughout the world. . . . In an astonishing [WikiLeaks] cable published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, however, it would seem that significant sums of Saudi money are fostering religious radicalism in previously moderate regions of Pakistan. . . . Bryan Hunt, then-principal officer at the US consulate in Lahore, reported a string of troubling findings on his forays into southern Punjab, where he “was repeatedly told that a sophisticated jihadi recruitment network had been developed.”

The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions’ growing . . . madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). . . .

These madrassas are generally in isolated areas and are kept small enough (under 100 students) so as not to draw significant attention. At these madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. . . . From there, “graduates” of the madrassas are supposedly either retained as teachers for the next generation of recruits, or are sent to a sort-of postgraduate school for jihadi training.

That includes “martyrdom,” a.k.a., becoming a suicide bomber.

Meanwhile, it may surprise you to know that Israel has its own form of madrassa. At Foreign Affairs, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation writes that:

. . . the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] population has grown . . . from 3 percent of the population in 1990 to over 10 percent today. . . . One notable phenomenon in the past decade and a half has been the rapid expansion of the state-funded but independent education system established by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. . . . In many provincial Israeli towns and neighborhoods, Shas schools have come to trump the state-school system in the provision of certain services, such as transportation and hot meals. . . . Over the past 20 years, the number of Jewish primary school students enrolled at ultra-Orthodox schools has grown from just over seven percent to more than 28 percent.

This trend has great implications for Israeli society and its economy: the Shas system and other ultra-Orthodox schools teach a narrowly religious curriculum that is less geared to providing pupils the skills necessary to compete in a modern economy.

At least they can claim that they’re not producing suicide bombers. In the end, though when the state fails to provide a good education or other services, theocrats rush in where the state no longer treads.