First published in english daily The Islamabad Dateline [28th April, 2010]
Ugay na maut Zamin par tou aur kya hoga / Key beej zehar key bantay gae kisano’n mayn!
I was born in 80’s. I grew up in 90′s, in a Pakistan with school curriculum preaching religious intolerance, state organs that colored geo strategic interests of our establishment in ‘holy’ flavor, Intelligentsia that fathered militant organizations, right leaning media that propagated conspiracy theories and a public sentiment that endorsed militancy, by open call for ‘Jihad’ in other countries.
I was more interested in Tom & Jerry then, but as I grew older and skimmed through unbiased political and religio-political history of Pakistan, I realized why our youth exhibit symptoms of being radicalized easily.
By radicalization I mean intolerance to others opinions (political, social or religious) and having a militant or extremist answer instead of agreeing to disagree peacefully. Many of us born in 70’s and 80’s were already pre-radicalized by constant bombardment and brainwashing by establishment, media and right wing political parties.
Many analysts of contemporary times believe socio-economic conditions and lack of education leads to radicalization but I beg to differ; Osama bin Laden is a civil engineer, Al-Zawahiri a surgeon, Omer Sheikh (famous for kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl) studied from London School of Economics, Faisal Shahzad is a financial analyst and in fact top leadership of all militant organizations are reasonably well-educated and come from rich families.
I witness three stages of radicalization in Pakistan. Pre-radicalization, radicalization and post radicalization. Endorsing a radical discourse is pre-radicalization. Radicalization is joining an extremist organization and blatant activism for the same. Post-radicalization is after joining a radical cause, now living a normal a life.
Madrassas have obviously played a vital role in providing a regular stream of radical minded youth. I had the pleasure to meet a senior official at NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority) who revealed that time of summer vacations in these religious schools is very crucial as it is the time when they are taught the art of ‘takfir’ (judging as kaafir) and militancy. A 2008 estimate puts the number of madrassas in Pakistan as over 40,000 with an approximated 2 million youth enrolled. Every religious militant in Pakistan and from Pakistan spent time in a madrassa.
No one can deny the three stages of radicalization in Pakistan. The intensity of which unveiled when Governor Salman Taseer was murdered and almost 80 % of ‘educated’ youth were cheering for the assassin, on religious grounds.
What to do now? We have a huge youth bulge, many of them silently support radical causes and many exhibit high potential for joining radical causes.
Bear in mind here that every radical is not a terrorist but every terrorist is a radical.
Only counter and de-radicalization can serve to be the anti-dote to the venom of radicalization in Pakistan. Counter-radicalization on national level, like Zia’s radicalization programs, we ought to initiate counter-radicalization grass root initiatives spreading tolerance, peace and interfaith harmony. Countering radicalization should also involve reforming madrassas, keeping a strict check on religious discourse even in mosques where religious hatred is fed like en masse. This would mitigate the pre-radicalization mindset prevalent in masses.
De-radicalization for those already radicalized, like the famous rehab facility of would-be suicide bombers caught in Pakistan.
We cannot close our eyes to this monster when only in last years, 35000 Pakistanis lost their lives including top notch generals, politicians and ordinary citizens. We have to disrupt the extremist infrastructure, militant outfits, condemn biased journalism and instigate a multi-faced counter-radicalization strategy to prevent further abuse of our religion for political ends and stop following myopic U.S. policies and denounce Saudi/Iran sponsored intolerant religious discourse which have played a pivotal role in radicalizing Pakistan.
Key policy reformation is required in immediate future, hovering a broader objective, specifically targeting the younger generation else we will not move forward, but revolve in circles.
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi