English the divider
Sir-- The West's campaign to promote English is fracturing Afghanistan. The US under-secretary of state tells Muslims that they have a future if they learn English. The State Department's national strategy states that foreigners who learn English are less likely to become extremists (which is not necessarily true as the 9/11 terrorists all spoke English). The strategy also states that foreign languages (such as Arabic, Pashto, and Hindi) are inferior as they do not provide access to all the world's knowledge. Enlightenment (apparently) only comes in English.
None of the premises underlying the State Department's national strategy for English appears to be valid.
USAID's aggressive English language programmes are overwhelming Afghanistan and creating fractures in Afghan society between those who speak English and work for Westerners, and those who speak only Dari/Pashto. The latter are becoming second-class citizens. USAID is paying contractors up to $1,000 per day to teach English to Afghans. Afghan orphans may be learning to read and write in English before they do so in Dari and Pashto, which violates the Afghan education law. In Afghanistan, English language instruction is beginning in the fourth grade.
An Afghan deputy minister quits to work as an interpreter for a Western aid organisation because the job pays more. The English language programmes may be backfiring as English fluency makes it easier to emigrate out of Afghanistan. Last year, 600,000 fled the country. US tax dollars may be funding a programme which is counter to our strategy for Afghanistan. USAID seems to be acting without any comprehension of the potential consequences of its programmes.
The English language effort has given the Taliban an issue that it is using to rally nationalist sentiment. It also validates some of the warnings being issued by Osama bin Laden about the corrupting effects of Western influence.
Sir-- Re 'The Fogh of war' (5-11 November, Al-Ahram Weekly ), the primary directive of any hierarchy is self- perpetuation. Most of history's most terrible stories are the direct result of this simple truth. Unless someone points that out to Fogh and Albright and they find some way to reinvent the organisation in relevant terms, NATO will doubtlessly follow the same sad and sordid trajectory as many others throughout history.
Sir-- None of us want nuclear weapons in the region so why single out Iran? ('Distraction then destruction' 15-21 October, Al-Ahram Weekly ). Iran has declared many times that its intention is to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and has signed the NPT like many other countries. Guess who never signed the treaty? Israel.
Not what it says
Sir-- Re 'At home with the royals' (22-28 October, Al-Ahram Weekly ) Al-Tahra Palace: A Gem in a Majestic Garden, the second volume in a series of books on Egypt's presidential palaces, "was originally conceived as a group of complimentary books for presidential guests." No, the publications are the by-product of a three-year project that focuses on the "documentation of the presidential palaces". The project aims at highlighting, safeguarding and documenting our national treasures using the highest technologies available (databases, 3D scanning, virtual tours).
Heba Nayel Barakat is not the editor. We have a copy editor, Ms Leslie Tweddle; Barakat is the project manager and head of the research team.