In July of 2009, President Obama made a speech in Ghana in which he said, “It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars.” Although the conscription of children in wars is a phenomenon often associated with Africa, it is a problem that has infected many other areas of the world as well. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other countries in the region, the use of children by extremist militants is systematic and disturbing.
Watching videos that depict the training of children to become “warriors,” it is hard not to ask yourself, “How could you ever send your son here?” That’s because from a western perspective, it’s incomprehensible. In these areas, however, families are so poor that it seems to them that the best future for their children is religious schools. These schools provide necessities that the parents sometimes can’t. Yet they sometimes also provide something else. A future headed toward hate and, death.
Of course, this is not always the case. In the West the term madrassa (which in Arabic literally means, a place where learning or studying is done) has gotten a negative connotation mistaken to mean “terrorist training camps.” But most madrassas are simply schools. Religious or secular, madrassa can refer to a variety of different kinds of learning institutions. They usually refer to schools that provide training to become imams, or religious leaders. A very small portion, however, are training children to become soldiers in a “holy war.”
In targeting the root of this problem, it would be difficult to go after those who run these schools. For them, the ideology is set, their mission seems clear, and if one “school” is destroyed another could easily pop up the next day. Targeting the values of a society would be the alternative. In an article by the Christian Science Monitor, mothers of children recruited for extremism in Pakistan’s South Waziristan express their concerns for their sons. Their placement in society as women of very conservative, traditional families makes their opinion stifled and suppressed. They are afraid to protest the action of family members, but do not agree with them.
Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, believes that educating women can transform these societies. Not only would education bring greater economic prosperity for their families and communities, it could also help change the currents of extremism that so brutally take hold of these areas. At Barakat, we agree. We believe that the best future for the children of these areas is one of hope, not one of ignorance. In our upcoming printed newsletter we also discuss how important educating boys is. These mothers currently cannot provide a better future for their sons. It may seem hopeless but it doesn’t have to be. Education can be the first step to a brighter future for these little boys and their mothers.