“Warriors Are Created”: Author Zarqa Nawaz on her research for Jameela Green Ruins Everything

Author of Jameela Green Ruins Everything and creator of the hit show Little Mosque on the Prairie Zarqa Nawaz shares how researching American Foreign Policy and USAID led her to write her compulsively readable, no-holds barred satire.

After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Americans were panicked. They had lost Vietnam to Communism, and they were desperate to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to Afghanistan.

While doing research for Jameela Green Ruins Everything, I came across fascinating research about the extent the U.S. would go to make sure the Soviets were ousted. In Malala Yousafzai’s book, I Am Malala, there was a reference to educational textbooks being circulated in Afghani schools, created by the Americans, to indoctrinate children. A curriculum had been created to encourage violent jihad in children’s minds so they would grow up and resist Soviet occupation.

A shocking article in the Washington Post, revealed that the United States spent millions of dollars on primers that were printed in Virginia and were smuggled into madrassas in Afghanistan. These books didn’t have the usual drawings of cute animals, fruit, or cartoons, but instead, they had pictures of guns, bullets, and soldiers.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha received over 50 million dollars from U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) from 1984 to 1994 to create textbooks that encouraged violence and militancy in children even though organizations receiving funds had to certify that “AID-financed activities cannot result in religious indoctrination.” Any evidence that the books were printed in the U.S. were removed so their origins wouldn’t be known.

The White House tried to defend its actions, saying that the books “are fully in compliance with U.S. law and policy.” But according to Ayesha Khan, a legal director of the non-profit Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Taxpayer dollars cannot be used to supply materials that are religious.”

The books were written in both Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan’s two major languages, and had titles such as The Alphabet for Jihad Literacy. These books taught children from grades one to six to count with pictures of tanks, missiles, and land mines and encouraged a violent jihadist outlook. One lesson taught “T” is for “topak,” or gun. How do you use the word? “My uncle has a gun,” the lesson reads. “He does jihad with the gun.”

“The constant image of Afghans being natural warriors is wrong. Warriors are created. If you want a different kind of society, you have to create it.”

The books taught children to believe that Kabul can only be ruled by Muslims and that all Russians and invaders are nonbelievers. “I think we were perfectly happy to see these books trashing the Soviet Union,” said Chris Brown, head of book revision for AID’s Central Asia Task Force. The purpose of the books was to “stimulate resistance against the invasion,” explained Yaquib Roshan of Nebraska’s Afghanistan Center.

But not everyone was happy about these books. “We were quite shocked,” said Doug Pritchard, who belonged to a Canada-based Christian non-profit group. “The constant image of Afghans being natural warriors is wrong. Warriors are created. If you want a different kind of society, you have to create it.”

Some of these children would grow up and become members of the Taliban.

These books served as Afghanistan’s core curriculum for years. Even though UNICEF destroyed half a million of these “militarized” schoolbooks, they still exist according to Dana Burde, an assistant professor of international education at New York University. Burde has written a book, Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan about the unintended consequences of foreign aid policies in conflict zones. “Everybody today is horrified by the idea, obviously right? This is sort of a footnote in U.S. aid at the time. It was sort of an afterthought and probably not something that rose to many people’s consciousness event at the time.”

While reading about this incredible “footnote in US aid”, what struck me as a Muslim was that I had spent my career as a writer, trying to fight stereotypes of Muslims as violent people who were attracted to jihad. There are two types of jihad in Islam, the armed jihad to fight oppression and the ‘greater’ jihad to fight the demons within us such as anger. I had never been taught about armed jihad in my Islamic classes growing up.

Learning about those educational primers led me down a path of research about American Foreign Policy in the Middle East and how it affected the formation of other groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. That research informed a great deal of Jameela Green Ruins Everything. My hope is that when people read my novel, they get a greater understanding of how actions in one part of the world, albeit well-meaning, can have catastrophic results for another people that can last for generations.

*Author Photo Credit: Andrew Parry

About Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz:

Jameela Green has only one wish: to see her memoir on the New York Times bestseller list. When that doesn’t work out, she decides that her best next step is to make a deal with God, so she heads over to her local mosque. The idealistic new imam, Ibrahim Sultan, is appalled by Jameela’s shallowness but agrees to assist her, on one condition—that she perform a good deed. 

Jameela reluctantly accepts his terms, kicking off a series of unfortunate events. The homeless man they try to help gets recruited by a terrorist group, causing federal authorities to become suspicious of Ibrahim. When the imam mysteriously disappears, Jameela is certain that the CIA has captured her new friend for interrogation and possibly torture. 

Despite having no talent for this sort of thing, Jameela decides to set off on a one-woman operation to rescue him. Her quest soon lands her at the center of an international plan targeting the leader of the terrorist organization—a scheme that puts Jameela and count-less others, including her hapless husband and clever but disapproving daughter, at risk. 

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