Books not bombs: Syria’s future depends on getting its children back in the classroom

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam
© Khalil Ashawi
If Syria has been hit by many great tragedies of late, none more than the fate of its children could prove more damaging – if not irreparable. Syria’s youth have been locked out of the classroom, and that is no trivial matter.

While Syria continues to put up a mighty fight against the ravages and advances of radicalism – with a courage that puts all of us to shame - its people stand to lose their future if the generation of children fails to receive an education.

As state officials, politicians and experts argue military tactics, civil reconstruction and political reforms, Syria’s future is being disappeared with little hope of redemption; tomorrow cannot survive on a foundation of illiteracy. For all the abominations Syrians were made to endure, for all the violations this one country survived, a failed education program could unravel the nation to a devastating extent.

To quote the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” If we hold this to be true, then what can be said about the ongoing 'un-education' of Syria's children? Indeed, knowledge remains our best line of defense against Terror.

Syria’s education crisis is not just Syria’s problem; it is not yet another humanitarian cause our governments will have to respond to with open checkbooks; it is not an issue you can brush aside with a “don’t care, can’t be bothered” attitude. With millions of children teetering on the verge of oblivion, if we don't care for the problem the radicals will.

Failed global initiatives

At a meeting in London in February, international donors recognized the importance of education for refugees, promising to get all of Syria’s refugee children into school by the end of 2017. Together they pledged over $1.4 billion; together they achieve almost nothing. Why? Because politics has gotten in the way. Because Western governments are not interested in reconstruction. You only have to look at debacle which is Libya to understand with which callousness the West has behaved.

According to the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugee children are currently out of school – this educational deficit will set Syria back decades, notwithstanding the social and economic repercussions such a reality will carry for the region.

Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute wrote in a report this August, “In the space of a single primary-school generation, Syria has suffered what may be the greatest education reversal in history. Enrollment rates for the country’s children are now well below the regional average for sub-Saharan Africa.”

Watkins confirmed that of $1.4 billion pledged only “a fraction has been delivered”, leaving hundreds of thousands of children out in the cold – deprived of a future, robbed of any hope for a better life.

If Syria’s future is not high on your priority list, then consider this: the law of physics teaches us that for every void created a something will come to fill it. What is this “something” which will come to fill Syria’s educational vortex? Given the current global dynamics Terror is the most probable culprit. Terror of course and its usual companion in arms: human exploitation.

As governments will most certainly attempt to wash their hands off of Syria for their corporate priorities are best served elsewhere, it is us – the people, who will have to live with the consequences of failed policies.

High price for failing

If we don’t heed the cries of Syria, we will lose Syria to the blade of the Black Flag Army. And much more than that: we will lose our future to Wahhabi takfirism. Our collective apathy and lack of empathy will walk us right where we most certainly fear to go: in the arms of radical sociopaths.

Is that the future we want for ourselves? I hope not.

Do not think yourself immune from the fallout of this new Syrian catastrophe. By now we should have learned that we stand interconnected. Our borders are but fictitious barriers – they do not act as an all-protective shield, and our neighbours’ troubles are bound to reflect upon us one way or the other. Following this logic, caring for Syria is self-defense, especially if we consider what demons we are trying to slay – radicalism and Co.

Much, if not all of Syria’s fight against Terror’s armies will be for nothing if we are to abandon Syrian children to ignorance. All of our governments’ grand gesture against the evil of radicalism – this cancer of the mind which feed on fear, despair, and poverty, will amount to nothing if Syria is not guaranteed a real future.

Education is more than just a word or even a concept. Education is a way out of poverty, a way out of the clutches of bigotry, and backwardness. Education offers many promises. Education will act a shining beacon against not just indoctrination but criminality. Education will give Syria a choice, a way forward and most importantly it will act a preventive shield against Terror.

Time here is not on our side! Too much time has already been wasted on empty promises and hollow political talks.

Saving Syria makes perfect sense, if not out of a sense of moral duty than in the name of self-preservation.

What happens when all traces of our past is gone?
What will happen to our identity and sense of self when the very memory of our past has been erased – to be replaced by the dogma of a violent ideology?

Will we then discuss education? Will we even remember?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.