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Purifying False Tongues

Hot religion is doing its worst in Somalia. The al Shabaab rebels – an extreme Salafi/Wahhabi sect – are doing everything they can to cripple the next generation by wrecking the schools.  Reuters reports:

Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels have banned English from schools in the southern port city of Kismayu…

In a statement posted on al Shabaab’s website, the militants said they took this step because they felt students were learning values in Christian and Hindu curriculums…

“The reason we want to impose this is to eradicate every curriculum against the Islamic sharia and we want to promote Islamic studies. We will take steps to control the educational system of our children,” the group said in a statement. “Parents have to make sure they teach their children the principles of Islamic jihad,” said the group.

In much of the world, Islamic educators prefer English as a medium of instruction; I have visited madrassas and Islamic universities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where both teachers and students were proud of their success in English.  The Somalis seem to lack the sophistication of Islamic educators in these other countries.  One suspects that the educators banning English are less conversant with Islamic history and thought than those who support it.

The situation in Somalia is particularly dire because the war torn country has a grave teacher shortage, and most of the available teachers in much of the country are non-Arabic speaking Kenyans. And until the bigots imposed the ban, students used Sudanese, Kenyan or Malaysian material (written in English) as hopeful preparation for entrance into foreign universities.  One suspects economic as well as religious forces are at work; why, some Somalis must reason, should all those foreigners get salaries that could be going to the home team?

It is easy and perhaps obligatory to mock the ignorance and bigotry of the self-destructive Somali fanatics, but the problem of language in education is real.  Should students learn Arabic, English, French or something local?  With an estimated 3000 African languages, 400 million Christians, 300 million Muslims and 100 million indigenous religious adherents, Africa can expect more wars of words.

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  • Kris

    Where do those reactionary fanatics think they are? Quebec?

  • Toni

    English is now the world’s lingua franca, and it’s also infinitely adaptable to local needs. I don’t think I’m chauvinistic or elitist to suggest that common educational materials in English would be useful. Even radically pared to suit fervent Muslims.

    However, Dr. Mead points out that these disputes often aren’t sensible of reasonable. Still, English would be useful and also portable to most portions of the world.

  • Parvin Kouliev

    It seems that a new Taliban power emerging in Somalia. These rebels try to enforce sharia law by putting fear in people’s minds. Democratization of Islamic societies is important factor in increasing tolerance toward other beliefs and cultures. Islamic militants will keep using sharia laws for their benefit as long as there is despotic regimes abusing power for getting filthy rich.

  • Dick Pickett

    Maybe the Somali fanatics are not too off course in their defense of Islamic sharia. After all, there are successful precedents:

    “According to the biblical account, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where they resolved to build a city with a tower “with its top in the heavens…lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Earth.” God came down to see what they did and said: “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.” So God said, “Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel “because God there confounded the language of all the Earth.”(Genesis 11:5-8).”

  • Gabriel

    Why am I reminded of Julian the Apostate’s edict banning Christians from giving instruction on the classics?

  • Jim.

    Here’s an article on a study you may want to look into, regarding religion as a cause of war:

    What do you think of the Kalevi J. Holsti’s 1991 book Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and International Order, 1648-1989? ( )

    How about the Correlates of War project? ( )

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