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The ABC's of Neo-Imperialism: Educational Development Aid in Afghanistan

Education has traditionally been understood as cardinal to curating a society endowed with specific civic values and ideological leanings. This dispositional conceptualization of education has historically allowed it to be appropriated by political ambitions. The imperial era saw the emergence of a civilizing mission that dubbed the colonised as a ‘savage’ and the coloniser as a ‘liberator’: an ideological justification for colonisation that aided in satiating the public consciousness. Missionary schools cropped up across the colonies and actively instilled values of subjugation within the indigenous children during times of conflict. In the contemporary world, there remains an overt understanding of colonial structural dismantling yet under the banner of globalisation there emerges the harrowing paradigm of ‘neo-imperialism’. This term encompasses subtle forms of political, economic and cultural domination asserted by the developed nations upon the developing nations specifically through the use of education.

Afghanistan has long been the victim of neo-imperialistic ambitions through foreign interventions under the guise of conflict resolution and prevention. The decade of 1960 witnessed France and Britain actively restructure the local educational curriculum, introducing European civic values of modernity and the implementation of French and English as languages of the educated elites. The reformed educational system actively argued the local traditions to be archaic and regressive, advocating for western apparel and mannerisms: a mission that was haunted by echoes of the 19th centuries colonial civilizing missions. In the decade that followed, this curriculum went through another phase of rigorous restructuring and the Soviet imposition began: Russian became another elitist tongue, and Soviet propaganda became rampant in school curriculum.

With the US intervention the curriculum once more underwent meticulous reconfiguration and echoed the values typical to the American social civic understanding. However, this was prevaded by US sanctioned Jihadist literature: the ABCs were taught through terrorist allegories. The conflict that emerged in the light of Soviet centred radicalization, then, served as grounds for America’s neo-imperialist civilizing mission. The Afghani women became the face of America’s ‘liberation reasoning’, and many images of educational development aid projects featured young girls. A university was eventually set up where English was the mode of instruction and the curriculum was actively serving American interest on the land.

High school in Kabul, Afghanistan (2015). [VOA]

The long term impacts transcend the mere identity crisis that neo-imperialistic tendencies curate. The society that emerges from this educational system begins to negotiate their reality on American neo-imperialistic grounds: the progressiveness of Afghani society, in the post-USA pull out from the region, has been evaluated in the context of the veil and female social engagement. The veil has long been employed by the US as a symbol of religiously sanctioned oppression, however, in many regions across the globe, including Afghanistan the veil is not religiously governed but rather has social implications. The contemporary lens has been actively engineered by the American ideological interpretation of an indigenous piece of clothing. The classroom segregation was another extremely sensationalized headline, and remains interesting when one reviews the US aid backed schools that have been operational for nearly a decade now: many schools were actively gender specific to remain cognizant of local values. The decade long US educational intervention has created a society that appears actively alienated from discourses that are contextual to their reality rather their evaluations remain geared from a pseudo-western lens.

In this picture obtained from social media, students attend class under

new classroom conditions at Avicenna University in Kabul, Afghanistan

Sept. 6, 2021. (Reuters)

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