December 16, 2017

PAKISTAN: AP Reports On The Fear And Shame That Preserves Silence Of Child Sexual Abuse By Islamic Clerics (Imams) In Pakistan.

Associated Press
written by Kathy Gannon
Friday December 15, 2017

It began with sweets and pocket money when he was 10 years old — special attention from the religious cleric who ran the Pakistani madrassa, or Islamic school, the boy attended.

And it escalated to rape and months of sexual abuse, the now 28-year-old young man says.

“I feel rage now when I think after he raped me he took a bath and right away he left to lead the prayers,” the man, an economist who lives in Islamabad, told The Associated Press. “After that I came to know from three or four of my classmates that the mufti used to do the same with them.”

Speaking English, at times searching for the right words and at others apologizing for the explicitness of his conversation, he described the cleric’s advances: how he took him to another mosque that was not associated with the madrassa the boy attended and then raped him.

He said he suppressed memories of the abuse for years, but after reading an AP report last month revealing widespread abuse by clerics in Pakistan’s thousands of madrassas, they all came tumbling back.

“I read the story two times. The first time I was shocked. The things that were written there were everything I had lived. The second time I read it, the whole of my body was trembling because of the memories it brought back,” said the man, speaking on condition of anonymity, not only because of the shame he felt nearly two decades later but because he feared Pakistan’s religious leaders could retaliate against him either with violence or charges of blasphemy or being an apostate, both of which, he said, were tantamount to a death sentence.

He decided to approach his former classmates, to rally survivors of abuse to band together to speak out. But, he said, he was rebuffed, and firmly.

“They said ‘Stop talking. This is not something to discuss.’ It is so common in the madrassas here, but people don’t want to talk about it. We are ashamed,” the young man said.

There are more than 22,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan, and many thousands of unregistered ones, often grimy one- or two-room facilities in remote villages. The millions of students they teach are often among the country’s poorest, who receive food and an education for free.

But at the madrassa this young man attended — one of the largest in the Pakistani capital, which attracted students from other parts of the country — many of his fellow students were, like himself, from middle- and upper-middle class families, “sent to the madrassa to win favor for the family from God,” he said.

Naeema Kishwar, a federal lawmaker who last year helped change Pakistan’s laws to close a legal loophole that had allowed those who commit so-called “honor killings” to escape punishment, said that laws exist to tackle sexual abuse of minors, which she called a scourge in Pakistan, not only in madrassas but in public schools, at home and among the army of child workers who are employed in homes as domestic workers and in factories.

“Of course, it is the responsibility of the federal government to prevent abuse of children, but you must keep it in your mind that provincial governments are equally to be blamed for being unable to stop child abuse at all places, including private and government schools and madrassas,” she said. “This is a common problem.”

But Kishwar who is a member of the religious Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, a pro-Taliban party, took umbrage with a focus on sexual abuse in the madrassas. Her party operates thousands of religious schools. But like the clerics who dominate her party, Kishwar, despite data and evidence to the contrary, said the incidents of abuses in religious seminaries were isolated.

Taha Siddiqui, a prominent Pakistani blogger and journalist, who has come under attack by the military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan for his outspoken commentaries, said the AP report was widely shared on social media, whereas the mainstream media stayed mostly silent. He blamed fear among the mainstream media of antagonizing the country’s religious leaders and because sex, even if it involves abuse, is a taboo subject.

“Such topics rarely get any coverage on national television channels. And for that reason, there were discussions on social media which were much more encouraging,” he said.

Two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid, whose documentaries have given a voice to victims of acid attacks and “honor killings” in Pakistan, retweeted the story.

Sherry Rahman, a senator in Pakistan’s upper house of Parliament and a close ally of Pakistan’s slain leader, Benazir Bhutto, tweeted: “This is a subject we need to talk about so our children are better protected. Sexual abuse of children is pervasive at many levels of society across the class divide. We must give courage and hope for victims to speak out. ”

Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist and policy analyst, who moved to the United States after surviving an assassination attempt by members of the militant Lashkar-e-Janghvi group, tweeted: “This had to be said. For too long we have avoided confronting such brutalities. . . End #child #abuse in #Pakistan.”

But there were also virulent attacks, said Siddiqui. Some accused those who criticized madrassas of blasphemy, while others said it was a Western conspiracy to defame Islam.

Says the young economist and abuse survivor: “In Pakistan the mullahs have two weapons__ they can declare you an apostate or charge you with blasphemy. Both are a certain death sentence.”

Gannon reported from New York. Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.
The Washington Post
written by Tim Craig
December 16, 2015

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In a country that has more than 20,000 religious schools, Pakistani investigators say the madrassa where Tashfeen Malik studied the Koran doesn’t stand out as being especially radical or linked to past violence.

But experts here can’t say the same about every other madrassa in the country. Religious schools provide Koranic teachings to 3.5 million children and young adults in Pakistan, and officials and analysts think that a small but significant number of these institutions act as incubators of radicalism.

Malik’s killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — in an act carried out with her husband — has refocused attention on the roots of Islamist extremism here.

The Al-Huda Institute, where Malik studied, is relatively obscure and not known for being confrontational, although four female students at its affiliate in Ontario did leave Canada to try to join the Islamic State, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

But observers trace some of the strong currents of religious radicalism in Pakistan back to similar institutions. Critics argue that the government has fallen short on its promise to police the madrassas and that the most extreme among these institutions have allowed a radical and violent view of Islam to grow here, even beyond their walls.

If Malik was radicalized in Pakistan, it was because she was exposed to ways of thinking that these schools have helped to promote.

“They require people to isolate themselves from modernity — television is wrong, eating McDonald’s is wrong, mixing with [the] opposite gender is wrong,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based columnist who specializes in education issues. “And once you establish that isolation, then dehumanizing people is easy . . . and if you leave someone there, you have left them on a cliff.”

Wednesday was the first anniversary of a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 150 teachers and students. The attack galvanized the government and public around a significant military response as well as reforms to clamp down on extremist views. Madrassas were not excluded.

In January, the government released a 20-point action plan, which included the “registrations and regulation of madrassas.” But even though much of the plan is now being implemented — helping to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan this year — the government remains conflicted over how aggressively it should, and can, confront the country’s powerful network of Islamic religious leaders and teachers.

With Islamic study a key characteristic of Pakistani society, government officials say they are struggling to differentiate legitimate faith-based teachings from those that spew intolerance or actively recruit militants.

“Only a few madrassas can be dubbed as fomenting extremism, which nurture terrorism,” said one senior Interior Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely. “Muslims go to mosques and madrassas to pray and for religious education, and they send their children, too, but that doesn’t mean they are getting radicalized.”

Yet many security analysts are far more pessimistic about the nature of the threat.

Muhammad Amir Rana, a terrorism expert who helped draft the government’s response to the Peshawar school attack, said madrassas pose a “very serious threat” because they set their own criteria for who or what should be considered “enemies of Islam.”

“Terrorism has different shades,” Rana said, “but madrassas have been the nursery.”

Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a retired Pakistani physics professor who has extensively studied madrassas, said even moderate Islamic schools mix religion with politics and spend considerable time on topics such as jihad.

“They teach this kind of anger, an anger that many perhaps keep under control but others are not able to keep control over, and that anger comes out in the form of jihad,” Nayyar said.

Anti-Soviet bulwark

Although Pakistan’s religious seminaries predate the country’s founding in 1947, the numbers grew significantly during the 1980s.
Money supply and weapon supply and training happened during the Carter Democratic administration. The Iran Islamic theocratic sharia revolution also occurred during the Carter Democratic administration. (emphasis mine)
At that time, the United States and Saudi Arabia were pouring money into religious education in Pakistan in support of the Muslim rebels resisting the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Later, in the 1990s, some madrassas served as pipelines for militants associated with Pakistani-backed insurgents in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

It wasn’t until after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that Pakistani madrassas became a major source of international concern. In response, Pakistan began assessing how many madrassas had opened here over the previous three decades.

Today 26,000 madrassas are registered with an umbrella organization, Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris. Some Interior Ministry officials think that 9,000 others may be unregistered.

One ministry official estimated that 2 to 3 percent of Pakistan’s madrassas can be linked to the radicalization of students. Over the past year, the government has closed about 100 of these over suspected links to militancy.

Nayyar, however, estimates that 5 percent of Pakistan’s madrassas “are very active in jihad.” An additional 20 percent to 25 percent, he said, stand ready to provide logistical support to groups engaged in armed conflict.

“It is this collection that could be there for jihadis if there is a need,” Nayyar said. “They could be given places to hide and be the ones actually taking care of jihadists.”

On a recent visit to a madrassa in Mardan, in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, both students and administrators seemed well aware that their way of life is under heightened scrutiny.

The Darul Uloom-e-Islamia al-Arabia madrassa has 1,400 students, about 600 of whom live on-site for round-the-clock exposure to religious education.

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