Anti-Americanism in Afghan Madrassas is not the Problem. It’s the Misogyny.

Update: I removed the screenshot I originally used for the image accompanying this post. That picture showed some of the children interviewed for the story and I removed it because the boys depicted are minors and I’m not comfortable linking their images to a story that 1) could come back to haunt them in the future, and 2) they might not have consented to being filmed for in the first place. Using the image of the boys was a bad move on my part. I know better and should be a better blogger than that.


In one of its Afghanistan Crossroads video segments, CNN recently drew attention to the problem of radical madrassas* instilling hate in young Afghan boys.  The school in the CNN segment is not run by the Taliban. Indistinguishable from thousands of similar schools throughout the country, it is a legal, private institution located in a mosque somewhere in Kabul province, close to the capital city and the seat of the Afghan government.  Inside the walls of the part-time school, young boys are taught that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot peacefully coexist and that Osama bin Laden is a fallen hero.

Regrettably, the clip, titled “Madrassa teaches children to hate US” misses the bigger picture. Virulent anti-Americanism isn’t the most insidious feature of the madrassa’s curriculum. Indeed, some of the students’ claims, such as one boy’s complaint that the United States unlawfully detains Afghan clerics, are not entirely baseless, even if they are wildly embellished. Instead, it is the proud, unapologetic instructor’s dedication to imparting on his impressionable students a narrow, misogynistic worldview that is the real story, and the problem with the most immediately devastating implications for Afghanistan.

As an almost throwaway comment near the mid-point in the video, the narrator mentions that students are taught that women who leave the confines of their homes are disgusting and in the wrong. The instilling of hatred of women –and yes, that is what it is, hatred—in a society where women are subjected to catastrophic levels of gender-based violence and discrimination threatens the few, precarious gains Afghan women have won since the Taliban regime was deposed in late 2001. Future husbands and fathers learn that their wives are their property and that daughters are to be endured grudgingly.

When school-age boys are being taught lessons  in repressing women and girls, that is a threat not only to security, but also, and more importantly, a menace to the still distant dream of an Afghanistan where most citizens are literate, where childbirth isn’t a game of Russian roulette, where disputes are resolved in the courts and at the ballot box, and where women are treated as an equal half —and not a lesser subset— of the human race.

* It is worth noting that many madrassas throughout the world, including in the West, are the Muslim equivalent of Catholic and Jewish parochial schools. They teach religious studies alongside math, literature, science, history and other essentials, and most of their students go on to attend secular universities and take up non-religious professions. Others are like Christian Sunday schools –a few hours of religious instruction weekly for students who otherwise receive a secular education.