Weapons Of Mass Assimilation
By Usman Majeed
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
-- Steve Biko
The U.S., like Britain before it, suffers from the colonizer's most odious characteristic: a delusional conviction that its own culture, values, and beliefs are superior to everyone else's. It then tries to impose these "superior" beliefs onto the colonized in an attempt to mould them to its own liking and "civilize" them.
The United States Agency for International Development has awarded American companies like Creative Associates International, Inc. and Research Triangle Incorporated $63 million for the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education project. This includes supplying school materials and equipment, training teachers, "developing a new curriculum framework", and possibly providing textbooks.
According to an April 23 article in the U.S. publication Education Week by assistant editor Mary Ann Zehr, Middle East experts agree that rewritten textbooks will have to "omit references to the ideology of the Baath Party". With what will the colonizer replace this? Will USAID and the Department of State allow seminal anticolonial works like Edward Said's Orientalism, Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, or Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America to be studied in Iraqi classrooms? Does getting rid of Baath-party ideology mean that any criticism of laissez-faire economics and American imperialism will not be allowed?
Another goal, according to USAID, is to promote "child-centered, inquiry-based, participatory teaching methods that lay a foundation for democratic practices and attitudes among children and educators". Although such a model might work in the West, there is much reason to doubt that it will be compatible with Middle Eastern culture and traditions. Andrea Rugh, an American anthropologist and independent education consultant who has spent considerable time in the Middle East, points out some of these potential pitfalls in an April 16 article by Zehr in Education Week (which is both a print and on-line publication of Editorial Projects in Education, Inc., a Washington, D.C.based nonprofit organization). Rugh says, for example, that children in Middle Eastern countries are more accustomed to memory work and that they have more of a sense of responsibilities than of rights. She goes on to say that the proposed U.S. model is "definitely out of touch", that "it's a patched-together effort with a lot of assumptions that may not be true," and that such a system "doesn't seem to reflect the realities of Iraq, and could be a recipe for failure".
There is also the question of religion. Yet another Zehr piece in Education Week, this one appearing on June 11, points out that "a 1991 ruling by a federal appeals court in New York held that U.S. taxpayers' money could not be used to pay for religious education abroad." Islamic studies, however, is an important subject in public schools, not just in Iraq but also in Islamic countries all the way from Morocco to Malaysia.
Considering the pitiful state of the American education system itself, the fact that the U.S., of all countries, is behind revamping Iraq's education system should be a cause for serious concern to Iraqis. In his book Stupid White Men, social critic Michael Moore explains how there are "forty-four million Americans who cannot read or write above a fourth grade level--in other words, who are functioning illiterates."
A 2002 National Geographic/Roper survey assessing geographic knowledge of 18- to 24-year-olds discovered that one out of 10 young Americans could not locate their own country on a world map. Almost 30 percent were unable to identify the Pacific Ocean, 30 percent thought the U.S. population was one to two billion, and although less than 15 percent were able to identify Israel, Iraq, or Afghanistan, more than a third knew that the most recent series of the TV show Survivor was filmed in the South Pacific. Statistics like these have caused Moore to call the U.S. the "Dumbest Country on Earth".
Compare all this to a March 2003 UNESCO report stating that the Iraqi education system prior to the 1991 Gulf War "was one of the best in the region, with over 100% Gross Enrolment Rate for primary schooling and high levels of literacy, both of men and women". The report described Iraq's higher education, especially the scientific and technological institutions, as being "of an international standard, staffed by high quality personnel".
Also, if the U.S. was genuinely interested in education, it would have done more to protect academic institutions and places of learning like the National Archeological Museum, the National Library of Archives, the Koranic Library of the Ministry of Religious Endowment, and the Ministry of Higher Education and Computer Science from looting and burning. As British journalist Robert Fisk has pointed out, the fact that the only buildings protected by U.S. troops were the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Oil clearly shows what is of importance to the colonizer.
The pedagogic needs of oppressed peoples in the Third World contrast vastly with the colonial whitewashing to which the U.S. wants to subject them. Children in Iraq need to learn about their own history, about Islam, and participate in creating a society most suited to themselves. Meanwhile, the U.S. has its own priorities as a colonizing force. On the USAID Web site, "furthering U.S. foreign policy interests" is stated as one of its primary objectives. As University of Illinois anthropology and geography professor J. M. Blaut explains in The Colonizer's Model of the World, what "modernization" means to the colonizer is "diffusion of a modern economy (with major corporations owned by the colonizer), a modern public administration (the colonial political structure), a modern technical infrastructure (bridges, dams, and the like, built by the colonizer), and so on".
The U.S. has enough major problems of its own. Considering that more of its population of black men are in jail than in college, the fact that it has more than doubled the funding for USAID's international "basic education" program to $217 million since 2001 is shocking. This is not out of benevolence and altruism. It's an attempt to exploit and oppress the Third World, and to brainwash its citizens into thinking that the American way is inevitable and best.
Iraqi schools are not about to be modernized; they are about to be westernized.