But whereas thuggery operates against the will of the majority by intimidation, lobbies and interest groups can only succeed within a congenial and sympathetic, or at least a neutral and apathetic, public opinion, not against it.
(Daily Times, 16 January 2013)
The Indonesian government has decided to scrap the teaching of science in primary schools in favour of more religious studies. The Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh and other promoters of the new curriculum say that religious education from an early stage would create better citizens.
It is highly questionable whether religious education from an early age produces better citizens. But to scrap science in favour of any other subject of study at any stage of schooling is definitely a retrograde step. If the Pakistani experience with madrasa education is any guide, then certainly more religious education from an early age does not produce more good citizens.
Most studies done on this issue show the close relationship between science education and national advancement and technological progress (assuming other things being the same or similar). This correlation is best demonstrated by the astounding progress of Germany, Japan, South Korea and now China, all of which emphasize science education from an early age.
Most Indonesian pedagogues and parents would support science education in primary schools but the latest decision of the authorities is being implemented nevertheless because of pressure from the increasingly influential religious parties and groups. As in Pakistan and Israel, the religious parties in Indonesia wield an influence on national policy far in excess of their votes or the number of seats they hold in the national parliament.
We all know how even a few thugs are able to intimidate and oppress large groups of ordinary citizens on the streets and suburbs of any city in the world. Drug dealers, youth gangs, common street thugs and what we in South Asia call “goondas” (goons) hold entire suburbs hostage to their thuggery. Call that “hard power”, “willpower”, “group power” or whatever you like.
An excellent demonstration of this occurs in the natural world where a small pack of hyenas, lions or wild dogs can overpower a whole herd of huge wildebeests through better organization, concentration of forces and the threat or actual use of violence.
Much more sophisticated and subtle but far less obvious is the “soft power” of organized interest groups such as the gun lobby and the pro-Israeli lobby in the US and the religious parties in Pakistan and Israel. Even winning elections is not just a matter of public appeal or popular support, but organization, strategy, resources, campaign and leadership.
It is known that religious parties in Pakistan don’t get many votes and win few seats but they still wield significant, even decisive influence on the government. They force changes in policy to favour their own agenda and veto those potential changes which they do not like.
A good example is the capitulation of Prime Minster Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the Islamists on the Ahmadi issue in 1974 and his further concessions in 1977. When President General Pervez Musharraf wanted to remove the requirement to mention religion in Pakistani passports, the religious elements forced the powerful military dictator to retreat by threatening him with their “street power”.
A well-entrenched Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba influences all academic and administrative decisions in the Punjab University, although it represents a minority of students. Its parent organization, the Jamaat-e-Islami, is not even represented in the provincial or national government and barely represented in the parliaments in the best of times.
But whereas thuggery operates against the will of the majority by intimidation (through actual violence or threat of violence), lobbies and interest groups can only succeed within a congenial and sympathetic, or at least a neutral and apathetic, public opinion, not against it. To understand this, ask yourself if a “pro-India lobby” could exist in Pakistan, or a “pro-Pakistan” lobby could operate in India.
Take the “gun issue” in the United States. The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) has such clout that if feels it can stand up to a popularly elected US president and defy him. No matter how many deaths of innocent people (including school children) result from mass shootings, the gun lobby musters enough support in the US congress to pre-empt any legislation towards gun control.
Similarly, the pro-Israeli lobby has long influenced US Middle East policy to an extent which many American decision-makers find unacceptable. It has now reached a point that presidential candidates and nominees for the posts of secretary of defence or state have to pass the litmus test of steadfast loyalty towards Israel. And it does even suffice to express unequivocal support for Israel but it is also necessary to commit oneself to hostility towards Iran. Put simply, in the current environment, all decision-makers in the US have to foreswear to a policy of “kick ass (Iran); kiss ass (Israel)”.
It is important to note that the success of the gun lobby and the pro-Israeli lobby owes to the fact that they operate within a sympathetic or apathetic environment. In other words, they succeed because more people support them (or are neutral) than are against them. The American “gun lobby” draws its strength from the high level of gun ownership and membership of the NRA and bolstered by the Second Amendment. The pro-Israeli lobby draws its strength from the large number American Jews, good organization, excellent resources and leadership but also the support of Christian evangelical organizations and well-known personalities.
The NRA succeeds because although most Americans want an end to the killings in schools and shopping malls, many love their guns and most cherish their right to own guns. The pro-Israel lobby achieves one victory after another because most Americans regard the Israelis, rather than the Palestinians, as the victims, although they support the two-state solution.
The Indonesian ministry of education can scrap science classes in favour of religious studies because, while most Indonesians appreciate the need for science education, their love of religion superimposes over all else. Although most Pakistanis and Afghans disapprove of the Taliban’s methods, the Taliban flourish because most Pakistanis and Afghans endorse their Islamic agenda.
By Razi Azmi