Promoting education and ignorance

Have I a verdict on Greg Mortenson now that I’ve had a chance to see him? He’s an incredibly likable guy, doing great good; to my values, doing fantastic work. But I’m a secular westerner, concerned about preserving the ideals of the enlightenment, and worried about the challenge posed by overpopulation. Are these the concerns of Islam? Do fundamentalist Muslims favor personal fulfillment of the individual and smaller families?

Greg Mortenson is advancing my agenda and I’d certainly like to think this will lead to prosperity and peace for everyone, but in the meantime I’m certain these actions are antagonistic to Muslims. I’d prefer we consult with Islamic leaders about prospects for peaceful coexistence, not peace engineered on curbing their numbers.

Perhaps Greg can champion the educating of Americans to tolerate other belief systems, some of which may not value literacy above family and religion.

Westerners subject themselves to schooling because it’s the cultural conditioning with which we equip ourselves for our complex post-agrarian world. Does everyone need it? Do Pakistani girls who are going to marry by age twelve need to be literate? Critical thinking and scientific understanding are values of ours. Getting married at a later age, and having fewer children, are values of ours.

If Islamic fundamentalists are rushing to indoctrinate adherents with the intention of recruiting Jihadists to attack western encroachment, you have to admit Mortenson’s conquest by education would be one of the causes. Mortenson’s methods are infinitely preferable to our military’s, but they are invasive all the same.

Central Institute AsiaThe disservice of Greg Mortenson’s lecture tour may be that he’s selling an over-simplified solution. Mortenson preached a message of hope not fear, hurrah, to an audience that really wants to hope. With Pennies for Peace, we can hope that kids’ pocket change will bring us closer to world peace. With the Central Asia Institute, we can hope to end-run our own government’s incurable ways. Is it true, do you think?

The white elephant in the room was so palpably invisible Dr. Greg may well have trained with David Copperfield. Not even lip service to it: Capitalism.

Mortenson’s idealism does not address globalization, the World Bank, debt, impoverishment by design, intentional destabilization, protracted war-making, etc. We the People may want world peace, we the people of the world could possibly come together through education, but will our industrial mechanisms allow it? Americans can’t even fraternize with Mexico!

The fantastic promise of Mortenson’s efforts would distract Americans from the more difficult challenge at hand, for which many of us perhaps are finding it harder to muster hope: arresting the destructiveness of our market forces, our government and its corporate oligarchy. Putting our hopes in schooling the children of Islam will be of little avail if our military-driven economies increase their plundering and exploitation all the while.

That’s who I think is behind the promotion of Three Cups of Tea. That’s why the Center of Homeland Security sponsored Mortenson’s visit. That’s why a self-defined hapless do-gooder is getting such traction. He’s selling a fix so easy it requires no introspection. Nothing to fix here, it’s the Muslim who needs learnin’.

14 thoughts on “Promoting education and ignorance

  1. Good post. Thanks for voicing what has been nagging at me about this book and event. I haven’t read the book but many in my circle of friends and family have and the turn out for Mortenson’s talk at Shove Chapel was apparently huge with the overflow crowd filling Armstrong Hall for a CCTV broadcast. I didn’t go and was beginning to feel a bit of curmudgeonly about this. It seems that every book club in the US has read this book.

    But the premise of someone from the US going into these countries to educate them strikes me as cultural arrogance and meddling. It is easy to see why this effort might appeal to people- on the surface it is a safe feel good cause and the idea of someone behaving altruistically is always a rarity. Yet the whole thing seems empty and detracts from the real issues you identified. I am sure that many of the people who flocked to Shove to hear Mortenson would argue that our wars of aggression and the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan are justified. Many of the people I know who went to hear him voted for Bush in ’00 and again in ’04. It would be far more meaningful to have speaker like Noam Chomsky or Naomi Klein come to CC. Now that I would turn out for.

  2. Thanks for your comments. After hearing that my children are being encouraged to support Pennies for Peace, I have been looking for information about Mortenson. You have convinced me that some of the things he is doing are exactly what need to be done. Islam is messed up, and by teaching them some of the best ideas of the western world we will helping them learn to have a better more equitable society.

  3. Pennies for Peace is a good organization. It mimics the Save the World, it Just Takes Cents program. The community builds the school, unlike the occupiers, so the terrorists don’t tear it down.

    It is kind of the same concept as Habitat for Humanity. Sweat Equity. People who build something themselves take pride in it. Habitat homes are better that homes that are given to people.

    I have helped people do things, and done things for people. When I do things for people, they don’t appreciate it. It is the same concept. When I help them, they take care of it.

    I also think helping woman and girls is key. Check out The CARE organization’s website. They help women around the world build schools, homes, with irrigation, micro-loans, etc. They are empowering women take control of their health. Teaching about AIDS, and so on. Women must be empowered in order to stop poverty in 3rd world countries.

  4. The idea of western superiority makes me sick. Does bombing and killing millions in Iraq, say something about Christianity or Christians. Saying that Islam is messed is a slap in the face of what Mortenson is trying to achieve.

    Here is a quote from Mortenson himself:
    “There are many stereotypes and misperceptions about Islam and the good people of Pakistan and Afghanistan , who aspire to the same values, goals and hopes as Americans and it’s important that their voice be heard if we are to ever live in a world of peace.”

    In is not about religion, it is about the economy stupid!!! The people Mortenson is trying to help are in the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where regular NGOs don’t operate. Even the local governments don’t have any influence. He is a one man show who works day in day out to help people on the other side of the planet.

    In this modern world it is easy to be cynical and get carried away with conspiracy theories, but sometimes we need to believe that there are some people out there who are better than us and are doing more than us.

    So my questions is: “When was the last time you helped a stranger”

  5. I fully support Mortenson’s hands-on efforts. I only wanted to clarify that I doubt his secular assault on Islam will lead to peace. No conspiracy theory there.

    I’d go easy on asking your holier-than-thou question of people who are voicing concern. What about “when was the last time you took responsibility for your own thinking?”

    I presume you’d not “help” a drunkard to more alcohol, simply because that was his need. No, we owe it to everyone to think about the consequences of our actions.

  6. “Do Pakistani girls who are going to marry by age twelve need to be literate? Critical thinking and scientific understanding are values of ours. Getting married at a later age, and having fewer children, are values of ours.”

    This comment is deeply misogynistic. Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant — as long as they belong to some other culture, eh?

    Providing education for girls directly helps to lower infant mortality and bring down birth rates—which in turn reduces the ignorance and poverty that help fuel religious extremism.

    Here’s something to consider when you denounce the need for education for girls living in 3rd world countries:

    “A large body of research over the years has linked education for women and girls with lower birth rates. Indeed, recent data from many less developed countries have shown that women with at least a secondary-level education eventually give birth to one-third to one-half as many children as women with no formal education.” (source: Population Reference Bureau)

    We need more people in this world like Greg Mortenson who are willing to work toward helping others. We already have plenty of people willing to write uninformed essays. Your final comment about Homeland Security “sponsoring” Mortenson is absurd. I suggest you learn more about Mortenson’s history before you make even more of a fool of yourself in print.

  7. That’s all very sweet, DSL, but the thought that we Americans are about to liberate the women folk of the evil Muslim savages schtick that Mortenson is all about leaves me quite totally cold. Maybe Mortenson does have a good heart and all that but his self promotion really is giving plastic America the delusion that their sorry ass government really does have some right to be over there in Afghanistan and nearby Pakistan messing with people’s lives.

    This supposedly private campaign to save the women folk of the official enemy is just rather stale at this point, don’t you think? Want to help young girls, Mortenson? How about campaigning here in the US to get them guaranteed medical coverage?

  8. First of all, who says Islam doesn’t promote education? Islamic values teach that it is extremely important to educate girls. What is religiously believed, and what is culturally practiced are two different things.

    If you read the book, you’ll understand that the villages GM is helping, all WANT education for their girls..but are unable to do it due to financial, or physical barriers. The first village needed a bridge to allow the girls to travel to the schoolhouse…these are remote mountainous regions. The villages could not afford to pay the fees to allow a teacher to come in and teach full time in their village, so the children had to travel to the neighbouring village. Some of the children would sit in their classrooms without a teacher, all doing preassigned work the teacher had left for them. These children WANT to learn. Their parents WANT them to learn. Their religion tells them to teach their girls, but many cannot financially, so they opt to send their boys only away to school since they think they will be the ones who will need to work and provide for their future families. This is a cultural trend, not a religious one.

    If you ever helped someone or people who were truly in need you would understand why GM continues to do so.

  9. I must say it’s such a bore when someone assumes your criticisms can be answered by: 1) learning more about Greg Mortenson, or 2) reading Three Cups of Tea more closely.

    Did my article reflect so uninformed an analysis of Mortenson’s construction projects or CAI’s curriculum? Hardly. I would suggest that you read about circumstances in Pakistan from other than Greg’s book!

    And to imply that I may never have helped someone in need… is a laughably misplaced put down. I can certainly understand Greg’s motive to help others, indeed it’s the only motive worth having.

  10. ‘If you ever helped someone or people who were truly in need you would understand why GM continues to do so.’

    Isn’t this standard pseudo-liberal clap-trap? Pseudo-liberals spouting Right Wing ideologies are always so damn presumptuous with their self righteous assumptions.

    It’s almost always, ‘You don’t understand!’ or ‘You Just don’t care!’ when you reject their Right Wing aligned agendas.

    CC, Toby, DSL, we care about the people in Afghanistan, all right? Get it yet? And, DSL, your claim that the author of this commentary has supposedly denounced the need for educating young girls in Third World countries is just so much bullshit. Education needs to come from inside the cultural context, and not as some superficial importation from an imperialism loving clown like Mortenson.

    Afghanistan is now a NATO/US colony, and the US government is deeply involved in propping up military dictatorship in the neighboring country of Pakistan. Nowhere in this discussion of Mortenson has there been any realization of the context of his manipulations from any of his supporters. Get the US out of this region NOW!

    You guys seem to act as if in some sort of total political vacuum, where the Pentagon seems to have suctioned out any common sense and left total gullibility in its stead. Rather sad, I think. You have become cheerleaders for the disinformation that America is some great sort of civilizer Sick….

  11. Maybe if the attitudes in some of the wealthiest Muslim nations, all supported by U.S. troops, were evaluated and then Elevated in the same manner.

    “our” good friends the Saudi’s scourging a young woman for BEING raped is kind of way out there.

    GM, bud, you got your work cut out for you, but why not ask the Saudis for a few of their few trillion pennies as well?

    I don’t see a Culture Gap so much as a Rich v. Poor gap.

    For instance, I “help” the Good People of Westboro Baptist with some friendly criticism and some selective Bible Thumpin’ of my own.

    I am a Baptist, you would think that counts for something but apparently not.

    As for the English or Western civilizations being somewhat superior, it was western european Rome which burned Jews and Christians as a response to the fires of Rome. Not that the Persians (including the Afghans) had initially had any better tolerance, But.. Judaism, Christianity … all foreign ideas to Western civilization just as much as Islam is.

    The Persians had a decimal notation system while their “More Enlightened” western brethren were still using the letters of their alphabets to count.

    Try working out an algebra (persian invention) problem using Roman Numerals and see how quickly you start to admire the “backwards” Persians.

    And this from BEFORE the Westerners were working out who was more barbaric, the English who painted themselves blue, stripped naked and lit their hair on fire before going into battle, and sliced and diced quite a few Romans, or the Romans who crucified them for doing so.

    That was kind of rambling and hit all corners I suppose.

    The Mahareshi Mohesh Yogi was but one of a series of missionaries the Hindu peoples sent to the west as a way of Thank You and payment-in-kind for the West’s very generous donation of missionaries to the Naked Savages of India.

    Just underscores the way the attitude gets presented.

    What upsets me more than anything else, if this guy is doing good work, why would Homeland Security be promoting it? It’s not like they had a fundamental change of heart or anything.

    Maybe it’s a ‘carrot and stick’ thing and the torture, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo and Mother Of All Bombs gigs are, of course, the carrot.

  12. Eric. You did write this:
    “Westerners subject themselves to schooling because it’s the cultural conditioning with which we equip ourselves for our complex post-agrarian world. Does everyone need it? Do Pakistani girls who are going to marry by age twelve need to be literate? Critical thinking and scientific understanding are values of ours. Getting married at a later age, and having fewer children, are values of ours.”
    That is about the worst kind of homegrown pale excuse of depriving kids of education, as I have ever heard.
    Anyone who has spent time in a third world country more than a tourist trip, will know that the want of schools for kids is theirs, not ours. And that marriages at twelve is not what people want, if they have a CHOICE. Is choice what you don’t want for them?
    Sorry Eric your comments just fell through.

  13. Greg Mortenson stumbled into this, he did what he thought was right. Well before 9/11.

    If you have truly explored the world and gone off the ‘beaten path’ you would know that what he did for those people was out of love and respect, nothing to do with religion.

    So he wrote a book, how can you criticize him?

    Fiction books are only written for money and what do you learn from those?

    Travel people travel, then come back and take a good look at yourself. How did you do? Did you help? did you make mates? did you learn anything?
    If not shame on you.

  14. Eric runs a bookstore. i am writing this slowly because some people can not read very quickly.

    What right would any author or fans of that author have to demand or imply that somebody should not write criticisms of the works of that author, especially if somebody is a bookstore owner and has as a part of his job reviewing books?

    We have also run into Homeland Security a Few Times Right Here, without having to go to Afghanistan to find them.

    They are some very nasty mean ugly individuals. I also am very leery of any enterprise those Freaks endorse.

    I would not be very surprised if they brought back Burning at the Stake, Drawing and Quartering and Crucifixion as “pre-emptive” measures to persuade people to their sick point of view.

    one question, is this issue hot-keyed into peoples search engines, any mention of TCOT with negative connotations gets a whole zombie army of Three Cups fans posting to the discussion?

    That’s kind of Cult-Like behavior there. Weird.

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