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Tackling extremist ideology

The decision to put Hafiz Saeed under house arrest has been received well by the small minority of liberals and lured them into believing that this time the state really means business and has a dogged determination to stamp out the scourge of religious extremism.

Similar hopes were also pinned on the ‘enlightened’ Musharraf whose alliance with retrogressive forces led to the resurgence of the Taliban, enabling them to rock the country with a spate of audacious attacks and endless suicide bombings. The attacks may have been reduced to a great extent in recent years but they have yet to be eliminated.

It is strange to notice that this small minority – which advocates the abolition of the death penalty, corporal punishment and a myriad other laws that might disturb their tender humanistic feelings – has been making vociferous demands to mow down extremists through military might.

They are also comfortable with the blanket bombing of certain areas, which is likely to reduce everything – from picturesque valleys to houses – to ashes. The lesson of history teaches us that force only revitalises what it aims to suppress. But the elite is adamant that might is the only answer.

Guns and tanks did not work in the 300 or more districts of India called ‘The Red Corridor’ where the Maoists hold sway. Force could not bring any miracles in the jungles of Colombia where the revolutionary guerrillas have been waging war for decades.

The Turkish blitz proved to be ineffective in snuffing out the Kurdish insurgency while carpet bombing failed to subdue the battle-hardened Afghan Taliban.

The need is to delve into the causes of religious extremism. The mere absence of democracy and state patronage did not strengthen the obscurantist forces. Had that been the case then the largest democracy on the earth would not have the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’ as its prime minister. Religious forces occupied the space ceded by the liberal and progressive elements.

In fact, liberal economic philosophy disburdened the state from its basic responsibility of providing health, education and other amenities, prompting the right-wing forces to fill the vacuum. The RSS and Shiv Sena in India, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and a myriad of other religious organisations in Pakistan, Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Fethullah Golen in Turkey seized this opportunity. They set up a network of social welfare which earned them public sympathy and support.

Today, the JuD’s charity wing is believed to be one of the major ambulance service providers in the country. It is a bitter fact that bearded men – not graduates of prestigious liberal institutions – were rescuing children, women and the elderly in the quake-hit areas of Kashmir. They were also seen trudging along the flooded areas of rural Sindh and parts of KP a few years ago, extending aid and succour to the affected population.

Indoctrination and institutional work is another source of the religious right’s strength. Indonesia, which used to house the third largest communist party in the world, is in the ideological grip of religious extremists now. The reason is simple: extremists have penetrated various institutions, including the ones run by the state.

And the over 35,000 religious seminaries with boarding and lodging facilities have more attraction and appeal for the impoverished people of Pakistan than the prestigious liberal institutions of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi with their staggering financial cost. From Data Darbar and Abdullah Shah Ghazi to Bari Imam to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, these shrines – which offer food – are much more tempting for the haggard masses than the conference halls of expensive hotels where monotonous lectures on human rights send everyone yawning.

For the toiling working man, musical concerts, expensive theatre and costly journeys to other parts of Pakistan is unimaginable. He prefers to accompany preaching groups which will not only buy him a train ticket but also offer him free food.

With the privatisation of education, the religious right also set up a network of schools, imparting science education with a religious flavour. Two leading muftis of Karachi, who were very close to the Afghan Taliban, coined the idea of such schools.

The followers of these muftis have 10,000 such schools now, a leading religious political party has 9,000 and a Lahore-based jihadi organisation has over 300. In addition to this, religious groups have also set up their own TV channels, interacting with people on a daily basis. They have also formed preaching groups that proselytise thousands of people every year. Their numbers are swelling with every passing day.

Pakistanis may be socially and religiously conservative but they still make rational choices. Even a woman from a remote village will prefer to see her son graduating from a medical college and become a doctor than being taught by a mullah at a religious seminary. Such a situation can only be challenged by setting up thousands of modern schools with boarding and lodging facilities. The enrolment of such schools will skyrocket if the parents of each child are given a monthly stipend of Rs10,000.

Reform efforts for seminaries and military operations have not been completely successful in tiding over the indoctrination of the religious right and the menace of extremism. But this simple formula might work.

The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444@gmail.com

Abdul Sattar, "Tackling extremist ideology," The News. 2017-02-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Jamaat-ud-dawa , Political parties , Suicide bombings , Terrorism , Geopolitics , Jihad , Shia , Sunni , Extremism , Taliban , Democracy , Fethullah Golen , Shahbaz Qalandar , Lahore , Karachi , RSS