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I had already heard a BBC report about how Pakistani police had busted a radically strict Islamic religious school in Karachi where students claimed they were chained and beaten, brainwashed, and pressured to join the Talibani jihad movement.

The report appropriately referred to the school as a madrasa, a catch-all term used to describe schools that teach an Islamist-based curriculum. Madrasas may be elementary schools, high schools, or training grounds for older students. There are thousands of them, of varying quality and reputation. They are private institutions, and parents pay fees to send their children — even adult children — to the schools.

A number of the students in question had reportedly been sent to the school because it had a drug rehabilitation program — if you call putting men and boys in chains to keep the out of their parents’ hair “rehabilitation.”

What burned me was not the knowledge that such schools exist or that some of them practice brutal methods of “education” — that is old news. No, what got my goat is that the article in today’s newspaper repeatedly refers to the school as a “seminary.” Indeed the story headline in the News & Observer — which picked it up from the Los Angeles Times — was “Pakistan seminary raid finds students chained.” Several times, the story refers to the place as a seminary (the latest version on the LA Times website, by the way, has purged all but one use of the term.)

The school is no seminary. A seminary is a graduate school that prepares students to be ministers or priests. Generally, “seminary” refers to a Christian institution, though it’s occasionally used with reference to advanced yeshivas that train Jewish rabbis.

Seminaries vary widely in both their theological approach and the quality of education they offer, but what they have in common is that their students are adults who attend by their own choice, and usually pay their own fees, because they believe they have been called of God to ministry, and they want to prepare themselves for it. 

“Seminary” is not an appropriate term to describe a private school for Islamist indoctrination.

Come on, guys: reporting is not just about getting the facts sraight: you need to get the vocabulary right, too.

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