Fundamentalists at Punjab University

The Pakistan literacy rate, defined by the CIA  factbook as those over 15 who can read and write is 49.9; divided at males: 63%; female: 36%. According to wikipedia, 6.3% of Pakistanis (8.9% of males and 3.5% of females) were university graduates as of 2007.

The fundamentalist group,  Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) are busy trying to undermine education at  Pakistani universities.

After philosophy students and faculty members rallied to denounce heavy-handed efforts to separate male and female students, Islamists on campus struck back: In the dead of night, witnesses say, the radicals showed up at a men’s dormitory armed with wooden sticks and bicycle chains.

They burst into dorm rooms, attacking philosophy students. One was pistol-whipped and hit on the head with a brick. Gunfire rang out, although no one was injured. Police were called, but nearly a month after the attack, no arrests have been made.

Without the backing of the police, administrators are powerless to do anything.

At another Lahore campus, the principal disdainfully refers to the Islamists as “a parallel administration.”

The organization’s clout illustrates the deep roots of Islamist extremism in Pakistani society, an influence that extends beyond radical religious schools and militant strongholds in the volatile tribal belt along the Afghan border.

Many feel that the result of these groups forcing their fundamentalist ideals onto the the entire system will have a deleterious effect on the future of the country. I wholeheartedly agree. They oppose any sort of exchange of ideas on campus

Fellow students and teachers regard them as Islamist vigilantes. In addition to trying to separate the sexes, they order shopkeepers not to sell Coca-Cola or Pepsi because they are American brands. When they overhear a cluster of fellow students debating topics, from capitalism to religion, they demand that the discussion stop and threaten violence if it continues.

As could be expected, the leader of the IJT, Zubair Safdar denied that violence is being used.

Seated at his desk in a small office at a dormitory dominated by IJT members, the 27-year-old sociology student said his organization is opposed to male and female students sitting together because “the university is not a date point, it’s a place of education.”

He also denied that IJT members rough up male students who resist. “We just talk to them,” he said. “We are trying to create an environment that puts students on the right path. We don’t forcibly push students onto that path.”

His concept of coercion is very different from mine.

Standing up to the IJT can trigger severe consequences. Last year, an environmental sciences professor, as head of the school’s disciplinary committee, expelled several IJT members for unruly behavior. A group of IJT students stormed into his office, beat him with metal rods and smashed a flowerpot over his head. He survived the attack.

Not everyone is totally intimidated by the IJT

When IJT members attacked the philosophy department dorm late last month, the students fought back, chasing the fundamentalists. Within 15 minutes, the IJT youths had fled.

“We’ve never been cowed by them,” Ali said. “So we’re on an island at this university.”

Administrators at the Government Islamia College, Qureshi consider the school to be under siege.

Last year, IJT members staged 33 protests in six months, often threatening to beat students and teachers if they didn’t join the rallies. The demonstrations created major disruptions in the college’s routine; many students refused to show up to classes for two or three days after a protest because they feared that the IJT would instigate more violence.

Qureshi says he lacks the means to fight back. The power to suspend or expel students lies with the college’s board of governors, which hasn’t convened since January because of a pending lawsuit filed by IJT students challenging the board’s authority. His attempts to get Punjab provincial education officials to clamp down on IJT behavior have been ignored.

In January, IJT members smashed the windshield and windows of Qureshi’s 1990 Nissan and broke down the front door of his office. He met with Punjab province’s education secretary and asked him to intervene.

“I explained what happened, but all I got from him was silence,” Qureshi said.

I haven’t done the research to determine if this is normal behaviour across the Islamic states. I suppose that it is not unique.

It does point out that freedom of speech is important, especially in our universities.  Religious authoritarianism is something that must be opposed at all costs. Many speak of religious tolerance, but that can only go so far.

On this side of the Atlantic, the Islamic fundamentalists have not been attacking our education system. I think we are a long ways away from anything of that sort. However, we must ensure that our principles of free speech are not curtailed in any way by religion.

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3 Responses to Fundamentalists at Punjab University

  1. Pingback: Christian Fundamentalism and Government | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  2. Pingback: Suicide rates and the media: chickens and eggs | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  3. fatimahussain92 says:
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