What will the children do now? [Archives:2005/851/Opinion]

June 16 2005

School is out and the children are now all over the streets wondering about, making slingshots, hitting at passing automobiles and checking out the houses to see when they will be empty so that they can have target practice at the windows of the master bedrooms in these houses Other kids are busy taking free rides behind anything on four wheels, in which the driver may see it is all clear in his rear view mirror, but the rear of his car could already have five kids with their feet dangling in mid air. The more mischievous genre are busy staking out the markets to see who can be easy prey for a quick pick from the gaping side pocket, or worse yet for a set up in which four or five kids would play out a scuffle with an innocent passerby in the middle not knowing that some of those hands are feeling out his pockets as he is trying to “break the fight”. Seconds after they have split in all directions, the poor guy realizes that his mobile has just been snatched away from his shirt pocket or side holster.

This is the summer fun that kids while away their hours with, because much of what they might be able to do cannot be done. They have very few leisure parks to go to and very few leisure activities to engage in. Neighborhoods have arisen so fast in the city of Sana'a, in such a random chaotic manner, without consideration to leaving open spaces for parks, gardens or playgrounds.

Many of these neighborhoods used to have summer schools for children to strengthen their Arabic and religious studies. These were either attached to neighborhood mosques or built by well-to-do philanthropists in the neighborhood on extra land they owned there, or donated by the government or an endowed estate. But with the war against the Houthis and the so-called Faithful Youth, these schools have been rendered empty and yearning for the pleasant voices of children reinforcing their reading abilities and language skills. Most of these schools were run by volunteers and even their teachers were volunteers, who found delight in being able to contribute to community development by enhancing the capabilities of the children of the neighborhood. These schools also organized trips for the children to the outskirts of Sana'a, where the children had a chance to enjoy some of the natural beuty that they will not find in their congested neighborhoods. These schools operated in the open and were quite different from the highly enclosed and barricaded secluded schools operated by the fundamentalist groups and organizations. In the latter, not even the parents have an inkling of what their children were being reared in behind those walls. People were often pleased to enroll their children in these open neighborhood schools, because they satisfied the desire of their parents to getting their children to learn the basics of religion, without getting bogged down in extremist dogma or worrying about being confronted a few weeks later with their children calling them kafirs (infidels) or deviates, because they are watching television or praying with their hands to the side. That is what the output of the latter form of “Qur'anic Schools” run by the well-funded and well entrenched fundamentalist institutions were doing. Yet, the latter schools are still operating freely and it seems that the Government closure of religious schools did not touch these shadowy dubious institutions. In fact, these institutions are trying to take away the children that could have gone to the more modest but more effective free neighborhood schools. The fundamentalists have been yearning for such an aura in a long time, because they realized that the open neighborhood schools were preventing them from further growth. More parents have now become more aware that the “Qur'anic Schools” of the so called “fundamentalist” or so called “orthodox” rendition of Islam are the ones out of which the extremists are graduating from. But they are now left perplexed, not knowing what to do with their children, because even if they are not enrolled by their parents in the latter schools, they will soon find that their children have been lured by the recruitment tactics of the fundamentalists and will find they have lost control of their kids altogether.

Therefore, it is paramount that the Government give parents the right to decide which kinds of schools their children must go to for obtaining their religious education. Why should the extremists be allowed to continue their schools, without any obstruction or hindrance, while the former become empty shells, some of which have now turned into places for wedding banquets. The Government should could have sent observers to these schools – and all religious schools for that matter – and monitor what kind of teaching they give. They will then find that by closing the neighborhood schools, they have done a great service to extremist schools and to children, who are easily tempted into mischief by removing a very effective service that was being given by the neighborhood schools.