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Tierney hearing probes Pakistan ghost schools

Peabody-In Pakistan, they are known as ghost schools, where the young are groomed with extremist anti-American sentiments and taught the tenets of waging a holy war or jihad against the non-Islamic world.These religious schools, or madrassas, can easily become a breeding ground for terror, says U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney, a Salem Democrat and chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Pakistan.Today, Tierney opens a hearing in Washington, D.C., focused on Pakistani religious schools that teach a pro-jihad curriculum, hoping a strategy might emerge to address the dangers these institutions pose to the U.S. and its allies. Interestingly enough, Pakistan hosts these schools while benefiting from millions of dollars in U.S. aid.The hearing is titled “Extremist Madrassas, Ghost Schools, and U.S. Aid to Pakistan: Are We Making the Grade on the 9/11 Commission Report Card?”Tierney called the hearing, in part, because of the low marks given to the Bush Administration’s policies in preventing extremism in Pakistan on the 9/11 Commission Report Card and how that affects U.S. national security interests.Information about Islamic ghost schools, gleaned by government agents, scholars and journalists, shows that many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan, where a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam ? known as Wahhabism ? is taught.From 1979-89, the number of madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan grew exponentially as the Afghans waged jihad against the occupying Soviets. Experts have concluded that these madrassas were different than previous ones because they were more concerned with warring against infidels than scholarship. During the 1980s, the Soviet military was the enemy, since replaced by the U.S.Tierney said madrassas are attractive to parents because the educational systems in Pakistan and Afghanistan are inadequate, and the ghost schools are generally free. “Unfortunately, madrassas fill that void in countries with poor education systems, and not all of them are teaching innocent things.”In Pakistan, 13 million out of 27 million children between the ages of 5-9 do not attend any kind of school, and half the others drop out before they finish.The congressman said the 9/11 Commission made a strong case that the U.S. use all its powers ? intelligence, diplomacy, military, economic development and supportive education ? to truly make an impact toward diminishing hostilities against American in the long run.”Obviously that hasn’t happened,” said Tierney, noting the Bush Administration scored poorly on the 9/11 report card. “The message from those poor grades is that you have an opportunity here to address people who could be supportive of our values or could go the other way and support Muslim extremists.”Accountability is also an issue, said Tierney, noting that the U.S. gave Pakistan $971 million in military aid and $64 million in educational support during 2006. “The disparity between the two is clear,” he said. “And a lot of the money isn’t accounted for, especially the cash. We can only wonder where that is going.”Instead of using the military aid to ferret terrorist cells within Pakistan, some of it has been diverted to bolster defenses against neighboring India.”If we are going to continue giving them money, we have to have some accountability and some results from things that are mutually important to us, like the education issue,” said Tierney, referring to demands by the U.S. that Pakistan register its madrassas and seminaries and their respective curriculums so that the more militant might be closed.”It makes sense for us to invest in those countries who would benefit from a good education system,” he said.Not all madrassas are thought to be terrorist indoctrination centers with teachings more about Kalashnikovs than the Koran. After all, a madrassa can be anything from an elementary school to the equivale

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