In the tiny farming town of Peshawar, the farming practices are as ancient as the city itself. The best facilities are those left behind by the British. While one can find the tracks, traditions, and warrior mentality of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and other conquerors who camped here before commencing their attack, this ancient city had the privilege to host libraries of USIS and the British Council. These served as oases of modernity and the only major source of Western literature. The gatekeeper at the USIS library would only allow adults. I was very lucky to be able to get in as that gatekeeper was my uncle. He invited me to check out the library when I was ten. When I entered this place, I was awstruck. The air was cool, dry, and clean. Unlike the hot and humid air full of polutants outside this building. The place was clean, cleaner than the Lady Reading hospital surgery ward. Large pictures of Jimmy Carter and other US presidents hung on the walls. A life size portrait of Neil Armstrong stood in front of a wall to wall picture of moon. As I entered the reading room, I was surrounded by all the magazines and books. I felt like a kid in the candy shop. My uncle gave me a fresh copy of the Readers Digest and pointed me to an empty table. I read it from start to end, all in one day. I lost track of time. While other kids spent their weekends flying kites and playing soccer, I could not get enough of these two libraries. Readers Digest, National Geographic, The Economist, the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Shakespeare became my favorites. Documentaries such as Roots and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon fueled my imagination. These institutions created a fondness and respect for Western culture, its people, and the technological advancement. It inspired a dream in me. A dream to get advanced education in science and technology from the U.K. and U.S. and become a part of this civilized world.
What I learned in these libraries was in stark contrast to what I learned from mullahs. Equivalent to Sunday school teachers in Christian churches—except with more access to children, mullahs preach and teach in Mosques and play an important role in shaping beliefs of Muslim kids—religious, political, and social. In general, these mullahs are orphans or come from poor families and have no education beyond high school, if that. Most Mosques are underfunded and can’t attract educated men. Most of what mullahs learn is passed down by older mullahs. Their understanding of Christianity, Judaism and the West are often based on dark memories of British colonization, the Hollywood movies, and the Western celebrities with their addictions and dissolute behavior.
Not until I attended a Christian church in the U.S. did I realized the ignorance and misinformation perpetuated by mullahs. This ignorance is one of two major causes of terrorism against the West.
If educated people could be attracted to serve a few years as mullahs, then in a few years mosques would establish a tradition and reputation as centers of learning.
Bombing raids will only breed next generation of Osamas and suicide bombers. These people have been overrun by hundreds of strong conquerors for thousands of years—and they remain defiant. They did not yield to Russian attacks. What makes us think we can succeed with our troops.
It is ironic that the U.S. and the British libraries my friends and I benefited from have been closed down after the cold war ended. How is that we can spend billions on bombing raid but cant fund a handful of libraries.
Wouldn’t it be nice to re-direct the billions budgeted for war to attacking such ignorance? Instead of sending troops, lets send books. Instead of putting economic restrictions, lets re-open those libraries. There are plenty of surplus books in this country.Why not buy these books and bomard the East with knowledge and technology. Why not create a grass root change that will have lasting effect by funding these Mosques to retire the old Mullahs, modernize the facilities, and attract well-educated teachers who can help shape the young minds with hope for prosperity.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.