Extremism is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable”. Though religious extremism is singled out in today’s media reports, Pakistanis face several forms of it day in and day out.
In the following paragraphs, we will briefly study the three prominent categories of extremism in Pakistan along with relevant examples to give a fair idea of how, when, where and why segments of society are transitioning from seemingly liberal or moderate individuals into extremists.
1. Political Extremism – Becoming cult-followers of a political party to the extent that whatever the party leadership says or does is considered as definitive, credible and the divine truth.
2. Religious Extremism – Becoming hardcore followers of a religion (in general) school of thought or sect (in particular), to the extent that all others seem like heretics and severely misguided, if not “infidel”.
3. Ideological Extremism – Becoming radical adherents to a specific individual or group ideology, to the extent that all others are viewed as intellectually inferior beings.
Political Extremism: Pakistan has dozens of political parties from the left-wing, centrist and right-wing, to a combination of one or more, even some sub-nationalist and separatist groups inclined towards militancy. Some of the well-known mainstream political parties include the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami National Party et al.
On the other hand, there are some sub-nationalist political parties such as Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz in Sindh and Balawaristan National Front in Gilgit-Baltistan which more or less struggle for independence from the State of Pakistan. Separatist parties are most active in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, such as the Indian-funded Jeay Sindh Mutahhida Mahaz and Baloch Republican Party.
Many Pakistanis consider politics as the lifeline of the country’s national discourse; to some extent, they are right in thinking so. Politicians and their cronies who emerge from the neighborhood and communities of generally down-trodden and under-developed areas are given party tickets to fight for electoral victory in the national or provincial assemblies. In doing so, these politicians promise voters to fulfill vows made during elections campaigning for their socio-economic development, roads construction and access to clean drinking water and affordable medical and educational initiatives.
What happens in the most usual cases is that after emerging victorious in elections, certain politicians give special attention to their “area” i.e. locale from which they stood for elections. They provide privileges to their voters and ignore the others. In doing so, these politicians gather a considerable following of lifelong loyalists who commit their physical, emotional and financial resources to support their political cause. This is generally how a “political base” is developed.
These loyalists, who increase in number commensurate to the benefits most of them are given, turn into political extremists. With the passage of time, the benevolent and charismatic persona of their political lords gets so deeply ingrained in their psyche that they refuse to hear a single word of disagreement, hate or opposition to their political lords. Thus, these political extremists become radicalized. The terms “jaanisar kaarkun” (political worker willing to give his life), “jiyalas” (faithful political worker) can hence be understood. For generations, these political extremists and their offspring grow up listening to fantastic tales of achievement on behalf of their political lords. The reason I refer to them as extremists is because of their ignorance or conscious decision of not using logic and sense when viewing such politicians during election season and otherwise. If there was some rationality and common sense among these political extremists, the same parties which come to power in circles and loot the country in billions and trillions would not resurface again.
The very fact that such politicians get away with their heinous crimes time and again is because of the blind support they have gathered over the years. It is easy to “buy” loyalists these days. And when the struggle is for power and influence over the state, these loyalists become extremists who support their respective political parties with the ultimate aim of securing lucrative benefits and incentives if their party manages to establish its government in the capital.
Example: XYZ party is currently holding offices in the federal government. A natural calamity strikes so-and-so location. Because of their negligence and lack of seriousness to maintain advanced emergency disaster preparedness, thousands instead of a few hundred people perish. Furthermore, there are other logistics and paramedical issues. Instead of accepting their wrongdoings, political extremists start viciously defending their party’s negligence and accuse all opposition workers and critics of harboring unknown grudges against their party and its leadership. When moral integrity and shame are brushed under the carpet like this, political extremism thrives.
Religious Extremism: Perhaps the most dangerous of all forms of extremism for Pakistan in particular is religious extremism. What is even more disturbing is that 99% of Pakistan’s negative image overseas is directly related to religious bigotry, intolerance and lack of inter-faith harmony. The sort of vitriolic hate we listen to, read and see across various mediums in Pakistan from those who profess to be religious “scholars” is alarming.
To this day, religious extremism continues to dominate the narrative on internal security threats to Pakistan. Extremism breeds radicalization which can subsequently lead to terrorism against other groups (religions, sects) or the state. With a distorted and narrow worldview, religious extremists try to legitimize their savagery and sickening mindsets by quoting out-of-context verses from their holy books. In Muslims however, secondary sources are mostly quoted (such as weak hadith, lectures and books of firebrand “scholars” making inflammatory and provocative speeches against opponents which quickly incite passion for killing among their followers). This growing trend of religious extremism has not only threatened the lives of minorities in Pakistan, even the ordinary Muslims of the country are not safe.
Religious extremists thrive because of the lack of seriousness exhibited by the ordinary Muslim in reading and, most importantly, contemplating upon the teachings in The Qur’an. This lazy attitude has allowed the clergy to dominate themselves in our society as divinely-appointed guardians of religion whose every word and instruction is equivalent to what God would have said (God forbid!). These fake deities who manage to rule the hearts and minds of feeble, ignorant Muslims will cease to exist the day Muslims start to read and reflect upon The Qur’an themselves.
Example: A teenager in a seminary heard a powerful, emotionally-driven speech by his “mu’allim” (teacher) in which he cursed followers of a rival sect; he also aroused sentiments of his listeners by employing disinformation, propaganda and hearsay. On hearing this, the young boy’s emotional threshold lost its balance and he resorted to violence, committing murders and killings against those who were spoken against. With time, such feeble minds become desensitized to violence. This is perhaps the biggest and most dangerous by-product of religious extremism.
Ideological Extremism: “Nothing is more dangerous than the idea whose time has come”; so said Victor Hugo. And how true it is. Ideas have the tendency to change the course of events, bygone history and, naturally, affect future dynamics. History has been a witness to several forms of ideologies propping up across the world, some pro-actively and mostly, reactively, against certain oppressive norms/practices/beliefs.
Ideologies have the unique power of uniting people irrespective of race, caste, color, ethnicity, religion, etc into their fold. This makes them even more “dangerous”, insofar as mass mental susceptibility is concerned. Not that all ideologies are negative, but all those which tend to turn their followers into extremists are. These traits can compel people living across oceans and continents to unite together under the flag of an ideology and tackle the “rest of the world” head on i.e. people who do not necessarily subscribe to their ideas.
Example: The online movement “Anonymous” is a case in point. Shrouded in a cloak of secrecy with only a handful of masked digital actors caught by law-enforcement authorities, “Anonymous” is a concept which promotes ideological extremism to confront world governments, destroy them, expose their malpractices and instigate a global uprising against the so-called “New World Order”. Such massively rebellious and anti-societal thinking finds sympathies among millions of individuals around the world who desperately seek such opportunities to showcase their activism as regards “freedom of expression” and “liberty to decide” are concerned; populist slogans on the outset but hollow on the inside, these extremists have no formal alternative system of governance to propose.
Pakistan has been tremendously suffering from the above-mentioned types of extremism the most. The issue is not just about education, since most of the extremists turn out to be educated citizens. The reason why these forms of extremism spread their tentacles so rapidly inside every neighborhood of Pakistan can best be summarized as follows:
Parents have stopped giving time and attention to their children.
This is a front where the government, military or other law-enforcement agencies cannot interfere. The parents will have to understand their responsibilities towards the society they live in. It is their civic duty to instill in their children good morals, ethics, tolerance and respect for humanity. Furthermore, parents should also keep a vigilant eye on their children’s activities.