One of the tactics Hitler used to control public opinion in Germany was limiting access to knowledge or eradicating it completely. The Nazis tried to ‘cleanse’ the society by burning thousands of books that did not fit their wicked ideology.
Books would have encouraged freedom of thought— something Hitler wanted to avoid. He wanted people to follow him without questioning his ideals. He knew that restricting access to knowledge would breed ignorance, which would prove vital to his strength as an oppressor.
Unfortunately, ISIS has also figured this out.
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Swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq are under ISIS control now. Beheadings, stonings, mass executions, and other grave violations of human rights have become the norm. In order to subjugate the population, ISIS like the Nazis, has also started a campaign against knowledge.
In Mosul, Iraq, ISIS is reported to have burnt more than 6000 books on religion, science and culture. ISIS has banned music, art, religious studies, and important scientific theories like evolution from the curriculum. Books on Christianity and other religions are also being removed from school libraries. A teacher in Syria has reported that ISIS considers chemistry and physics ‘unholy’.
ISIS is trying to justify this assault on human intellect by hiding behind the name of Islam— an insult to a religion that promotes secular as well as religious knowledge. The Islamic scripture, the Holy Quran, encourages human beings to ponder over God’s creation because God has not created anything in vain (3:192).
As an educator and a Muslim, I find this assault on knowledge deplorable.
If ISIS remains in power, the students in Syria and Iraq might never find out that Damascus was once a flourishing capitol of Islamic culture and art. The intricate Islamic architecture found in Spanish and Turkish mosques is a result of Islam’s support of art and beauty. Muslims poets like Rumi have produced some of the world’s most renowned literature.
The Islamic world itself has produced many scientists, mathematicians and artists who have contributed greatly to human civilization. Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi introduced us to the concept of Algebra, while Doctor Abdus Salam of Pakistan was awarded Nobel Prize for his contributions to physics. Avicenna made countless contributions to the field of medicine and established a relationship between physical health and human mind. Who is to say that a cure to a debilitating disease like Ebola isn’t stirring in a brain of an Iraqi or Syrian student? If ISIS’ oppressive regime stays in place, we might never know.
The students who grow up under ISIS will be deprived of their very own heritage. More, these students might never realize how tiny their lives are in this vast universe, yet how significant their potential is to human advancement on Earth.
Even worse, potential of thousands, perhaps millions, will perish under ISIS rule. Why? Because ISIS is adamant about restricting access to knowledge and preventing independent thought. ISIS knows that by limiting knowledge, it is gaining control of human conscience. The students that live under ISIS rule will never know a world beyond oppression. These students are bound to grow up brainwashed and ignorant of their own abilities and potentials. It is the greatest disservice to mankind.
As a teacher, my job is to hone student potential and bring out the very best in my pupils. Every child, under the right circumstances, has the ability to be the next best philosopher, writer, poet, scientist, astronomer, and so much more. Human minds flourish greatly when exposed to a wide array of knowledge. The students in Iraq and Syria have the same potential as the students who sit in my own classroom.
While the United States is doing its best to halt the advances of ISIS through military means, we must never forget that restoration of knowledge is key to instilling hope in Syria and Iraq. In a dark world, knowledge is a powerful fire that can light their way. After witnessing terrible atrocities under ISIS, people in Syria and Iraq need a reason to believe in this world again. Through the power of knowledge, they will know that many before them faced injustice, but were able to stand up once again.