A Hopeful Education and Cultural Experiment in Oman Is Not Transferable to Afghanistan ─ A Conservative View
© 2010 Peter Free
14 October 2010
First, the good news ─ Education appears to counter terrorism, when you actually implement it
Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof drew American attention to Oman’s success in using modern education to transform a formerly very isolated fundamentalist Islamic society into one that is generating peace and successful young leaders.
He did an excellent job of contrasting Oman’s past with its present and crediting the transformative difference that modern education made.
But Kristof’s take-away message for Afghanistan is questionable
Kristof concludes that:
President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he’s spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don’t have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.
Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.
[T]he lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let’s try investing less in bombs and more in schools.
© 2010 Nicholas D. Kristof, What Oman Can Teach Us, New York Times (13 October 2010)
But wait ─ Doesn’t Kristof’s solution put the education cart in front of the culture horse?
Mr. Kristof’s education solution obviously would require a change in the Islamic fundamentalism that grips Afghanistan. The dominant religious and cultural orientation there is hostile to Oman-style education, especially for women.
These difficult aspects of the Afghanistan situation are the President’s legitimate defenses against the implication that he is being silly for ignoring education and favoring guns.
Oman is not like Afghanistan
Kristof’s abbreviated history of Oman describes two factors that are not replicable in Afghanistan:
(1) Oman is a sultanate, which implies political homogeneity and effective centralized power.
(2) The former sultan’s modernistic son overthrew him, and then imposed his westernized will upon the formerly backward nation.
Afghanistan is historically not a place that responds to centralized dictates, much less allegedly “modern” ones, unless an armed and enforcing presence spreads them throughout the country.
President Obama might well think that extending the enforcing presence must precede an investment in education.
Otherwise, the United States would be faced with attempting to change fundamentalist minds in isolated places ─ in the hopes that enlightened approaches that eventually come from these will spread to the rest of the country.
That is not likely to happen within a period of time that Americans would tolerate. And the education solution seems to be a prescription for still more conflict in Afghanistan, as an established fundamentalist Islamic culture and an evolving more modern one battle for supremacy.
Therefore, Kristof does not have a solution that will attract the President’s support
Kristof’s American-sponsored education-first Afghanistan strategy is a questionable one, insofar as it proposes a workable solution to America’s presence there. The idea amounts to American outsiders forcing local people to change their cultural views.
Humanist that Nicholas Kristof admirably is, I suspect that he does not favor forcing people to do things. Yet in Afghanistan, the essential problem is that you either force change or you leave it mostly alone, with only invited incursions into helping with progress.
If Afghanistan is going to follow Oman’s happy example, the idea will have to come from within the country, not from Americans.
But I do emphatically agree with Mr. Kristof that American bullets and bombs in Afghanistan are not a good idea
I have said that repeatedly.