Everything that can go wrong is going wrong with my life right now and I honestly do not notice/read/watch much these days except for what’s going on around me, but there is one news item that kinda caught my eye. The Taliban in Orakzai Agency have razed 11 houses belonging to the local Sikh community after they refused to pay jizya (a tax that early Islamic rulers demanded from their non-Muslim subjects to live in Muslim countries).
It reminded me of a conversation I had approximately 8 years ago with a ten-year-old boy. I was working as a research assistant to a professor working on Madressahs along Pakistan Afghan border and I was assisting him in the field research. I used to take field notes, record the proceedings of focus group discussions and community debates and made sure that everything is stored and recorded in chronological order. As we had to speak with a lot of kids, we made sure that we take, along with us, a lot of sweets and some cheap toys from Karachi for madressah students and it helped tremendously in breaking the ice. Zar Wali was that ten-year-old boy I mentioned earlier; he grew quite fond of me and would always tag along asking me a million questions about the camera I was using, my ancient recording equipment and a laptop that weighed just a little less than the CPU of a desktop.
One afternoon after a meeting with administrators of two madressahs, I was writing my observations and Zar Wali was sitting by me when we had this conversation, here is a brief part of that conversation.
Zar Wali (ZW): Will you see me if I come to Karachi.
Me: Sure, do you plan to come to Karachi?
ZW: May be I will get a job there when I finish with the madressah.
Me: (although I knew about the curriculum, I just wanted to know what he thinks about his education and asked.) So what is it that you study at the madressah that will get you a job in Karachi?
ZW: I only memorize Quran and learn to use some light weapon, but you know that already, you ask everyone the same question.
Me: So you don’t study Mathematics or Science, right?
ZW: Of course not. They are the teachings of infidels.
Me: Really? Who told you that?
ZW: My teacher at the madressah, who else?
Me: Do you know that there is a branch of mathematics called Algebra and it owes a lot to a Muslim scientist called Ibn-e-Musa al-Khwarizmi? He was a mathematician and a Muslim.
ZW: I don’t know, I just know that my teacher says that it is for infidels only.
Me: So what will you do when you graduate from the madressah?
ZW: I will go for jihad.
ZW: I don’t know? Afghanistan or Kashmir.
Me: If you have Islamic governments in both, Afghanistan and Kashmir, then what will you do, you can’t fight jihad all your life?
ZW: I don’t know, I guess they will send me to fight somewhere else.
Me: Ok, suppose you have conquered the whole world and everyone is living under Muslim rule, then what? You have no money making skills and you will not be able to land a job. What will you do then, should you not learn something other than learning to use light weapons?
ZW: No, I will continue with jihad.
Me: (Exasperated) But who will you fight against?
ZW: Men who do not keep beards and women who do not observe purdah.
Me: I do not observe purdah; will you kill me as well?
ZW: If I am told, yes, I will do it.
I was laughing when I asked this question and was expecting a vehement head shake with a “No, I will never kill you” kind of response. Imagine how I felt when the little boy who told me, repeatedly, that I am best girl in the world apart from his mother because I gave him a plastic scooter would feel no compunction in killing me if instructed. I did not take the extent of his indoctrination that seriously in 2001 but now, this conversation keeps haunting me. Every time a school got blown, every time a man was beheaded or a girl was flogged, Zar Wali comes back to haunt me and ask me, “What were we all doing when they were training our children to become terror mongers and killers.