Taliban brings in ideological courses at Afghan universities

Lectures taught by loyalists seek to ‘turn everyone into a member of their party’, scholar says

September 22, 2023
Herat, Afghanistan
Source: iStock

Just weeks into the academic calendar for many Afghan universities, the Taliban has introduced compulsory ideological lectures in what scholars say is a concerning move to “brainwash” the country’s most educated citizens.

As the autumn semester commences, both students and lecturers at institutions across the country will be required to learn about the history of the Taliban and study the glorified achievements of its leaders, academics told Times Higher Education.  

Since the extremist group took over in August 2021, it has cracked down on freedoms, including in academia, most notably kicking women out of universities, prohibiting them from teaching or seeking higher degrees.

Last June, the group began to reform higher education in line with its conservative worldview, tripling required credits in Islamic studies and hiring hundreds of religious teachers into universities. In December, it scrapped a requirement for lecturers to take exams to become faculty – paving the way to installing its fighters in universities.

But the move to bring in Taliban-focused lectures is a new development, scholars said.

Abdul Saboor Matin, a former Herat University lecturer in law and currently a research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, said it was a classic move from the dictatorship playbook.

“One key aspect of such regimes’ strategies is the process of brainwashing,” he said. “It’s turning everyone into a new member of their own party.

“By controlling education systems, they can shape the narrative, beliefs and values of individuals from a young age. This allows them to mould minds…to their own agenda.”

This September, Afghanistan’s higher education ministry set up a special invitation and guidance committee to oversee these ideology classes across the country, which it expects to be carried out periodically throughout the academic year.

Already, some faculties at Dr Matin’s former institution have held their first sessions, with students taking exams in the subject and those who get top marks receiving a prize or monetary reward, he said.

He noted that the ideology lessons, likely to be given by Taliban loyalists with no academic background and present a “whitewashed” version of events, were especially “humiliating” for lecturers, who must also take part.

At Herat University, the drive comes amid a change in top leadership. Recently, its head was replaced with a Taliban fighter best known for his skill at persuading young suicide bombers to carry out their missions. His installation mirrors similar changes in leadership at universities elsewhere in the country, said Dr Matin.

A lecturer from Parwan University, a public institution in central Afghanistan, said that the chancellor there was both a PhD holder and a Taliban loyalist.

The scholar confirmed he had heard about the plan to further radicalise the curriculum, despite the fact that ideology lectures had yet to be phased in at his institution.

“But, as we see, these are the plans for all universities,” he said.


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