Army chief says Pakistan should 'revisit' madrassas, cites need to prepare students for the modern world

Pakistani children participate in a rally during a religious celebration in Lahore on December 1, 2017. Pakistan’s army chief on Thursday says the country needs to “revisit” the religious school concept to avoid the radicalization of youngsters. (AFP / ARIF ALI)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Army chief says Pakistan should 'revisit' madrassas, cites need to prepare students for the modern world

QUETTA, Pakistan: Pakistan’s army chief on Thursday criticized madrassas that have mushroomed nationwide for mostly teaching only Islamic theology, saying the country needs to “revisit” the religious school concept.
Modernizing madrassa education is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalization of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks, apparently off-the-cuff during a prepared speech, were a rare example of an army chief criticizing madrassas, which are often built adjacent to mosques and underpin Islamization efforts by religious hard-liners.
Bajwa said a madrassa education in Pakistan was inadequate because it did not prepare students for the modern world.
“I am not against madrassas, but we have lost the essence of madrassas,” Bajwa told a youth conference in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Bajwa said he was recently told that 2.5 million students were being taught in madrassas belonging to the Deobandi, a Sunni Muslim sub-sect.
“So what will they become: will they become Maulvis (clerics) or they will become terrorists?” Bajwa asked, saying it was impossible to build enough mosques to employ the huge number of madrassa students.
“We need to look (at) and revisit the concept of madrassas...We need to give them a worldly education.”
Pakistan has over 20,000 registered madrassas, though there are believed to be thousands more unregistered ones. Some are single-room schools with a handful of students studying the Qur'an.
Security services have kept a close eye on madrassas associated with radicalising youths and feeding recruits to Islamist militant outfits that have killed tens of thousands of people in the South Asian country since 2000.
But only a handful of the schools have been shut down, the authorities’ hand stayed by fears of a religious backlash.
Islamist hard-liners hold great sway in Pakistani society, with the capital, Islamabad, paralyzed for nearly three weeks last month by a blockade staged by a newly formed ultra-religious party.
Bajwa said poor education was holding back the nation of 207 million people, and especially in madrassas.
“Most of them are just teaching theology. So what are their chances? What is their future in this country?“
The military last year proposed a plan to deradicalize religious hard-liners by “mainstreaming” some into political parties, a plan initially rejected by the civilian government but which now appears to be taking form.


Brooklyn Diocese to pay $27.5M to settle 4 sex abuse claims

In this May 15, 2018, file photo, acting New York state Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood speaks in Albany, N.Y. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Brooklyn Diocese to pay $27.5M to settle 4 sex abuse claims

  • These were boys who were abused in second grade through sixth grade, for years for some of them

NEW YORK: Four men who said they were sexually abused as boys by a teacher at a Catholic church have reached a $27.5 million settlement with the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The New York Times reports Tuesday that the agreement is one of the largest settlements ever awarded to sexual abuse victims within the Catholic Church. The men will each receive about $6.8 million.
The settlement comes just two weeks after the New York attorney general subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state as part of an investigation into the handling of sex abuse allegations. A grand jury report this summer found rampant sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 priests in Pennsylvania.
“These were boys who were abused in second grade through sixth grade, for years for some of them,” said Ben Rubinowitz, one of the lawyers for the victims. “The egregious nature of the conduct is the reason that the church paid what they did.”
Lawyers for the victims say 67-year-old Angelo Serrano, a lay teacher of religion at St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn, repeatedly abused the victims between 2003 and 2009. Serrano is serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2011 to inappropriate course of sexual conduct with a child.
“We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for these claimants,” the Diocese of Brooklyn said in a statement. “The Diocese remains committed to ensuring that its parishes, schools and youth programs remain safe and secure for the young people who are entrusted to our care.”
The statement added that Serrano was a “volunteer worker” at a local parish and “was not clergy or an employee of the Diocese or parish.”
Since June 2017, 414 victims have applied for settlements through the Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program in Brooklyn. Other dioceses in the state run similar programs.
The latest settlement comes just two weeks after New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state as part of an investigation into the handling of sex abuse allegations.