Combating Religious Extremism
The recent bombing in Karachi on October 19th, one the deadliest terrorist attacks which killed around 136 and injured 290, has led many young Pakistanis to think about the future of their country, and, more importantly, their responsibility in shaping the future of their people. Such questions being raised are all the more expected after what we been through in Pakistan particularly during the last few. Aspiring for a positive outcome, one must effort to avoid cynicism and hopelessness in those who finally managed to think beyond their own individual selves.
After pondering over some of question marks that emerged from the Karachi carnage, I have drawn some observations which will, hopefully, be my small yet positive contribution to the larger debates and discussions about the future of Pakistan.
First, the religious extremist elements are one the verge of extinction in Pakistan. This may sound surprising, even preposterous, but, as history informs, the dying forces make the most savage and brutal attempts for a comeback right before their ultimate destruction. The religious extremist groups were in more powerful position during the preceding decades. However, now they are loosing power every day and they are feeling frustrated over that. As the religious extremists are pushed to the end of their life line, they are going to make some last attempts to ensure their survival – attempts that will necessarily be extreme.
Second, the most challenging job in eliminating a force which is regressive and reactionary, much like our extremist fellows, is serving the final blow. It is the most difficult to give the final shove, to force a man to let go of the end of the life line his life depends upon. Therefore, if we think that religious extremism is on the threshold of destruction, it must be recognized that it is more complicated to deal with it at present than it was in the past.
Third, people tend to attract to the extremes of religion primarily in order to seek an explanation for their economic and social grievances. Therefore, any attempt to remove extremism from our society must address these predicaments, and must, at least, provide an alternate and more satisfying explanation of the economic and social ills that come to define the life-cycles of the ordinary population. Therefore, there must be a more coherent and more agreeable theory that can explain to a common man the riddles behind his pain and suffering in a much better way than the account provided by the clergymen.
Fourth, the present status quo in the country – the military dictatorship – can not be relied upon to give the final death blow to religious extremism. This is because they are extremely incapable of alleviating poverty and suffering, which in a way serve their selfish interests, while affecting more and more people in Pakistan as the days go by. Moreover, they are also con not of give any explanations for the misery of the common man and continue to assert and reassert that all is going well when all is not going well. Furthermore, the ruling powers are also benefiting from the presence of religious extremism in Pakistan for it provides them with an opportunity to show to the rest of the world that they are best men to control the reins of power in Pakistan.
Fifth, religious extremism can not be curbed without a large scale engagement of people of Pakistan. It is only through a massive popular movement that the extremist elements can be shown the exit door. Through such a movement, people will not only challenge the alternate explanations for their sufferings conditions, but also, and more importantly, the status quo which turns a blind eye. Therefore, the struggle against religious extremism is strongly tied with the struggle against the present military dictatorship.
Sixth, and last, there is huge vacuum that needs to be filled without which one can not expect the large scale involvement of the people in the state of affairs of Pakistan: the lack of a proper public intelligentsia. It is usually not the case that people will by themselves understand the futility of the sermons of clergymen to come to terms with the progressive agenda. There is always a need of those who can share the necessary public knowledge with the people and lead them out of the abyss of the conservative and reactionary propaganda.
Our present intelligentsia, with minor exceptions, has thoroughly failed to construct a coherent theory to address the plight of the common man and to provide an ideal to substitute the unjust political, social, and economic structures. There is no good reason to expect that our intelligentsia will be able to change their attitudes as a collective in the recent future. To be very straight forward, those who have decided their occupations are to live in the comforts of the ivory towers are more or less useless for the people of Pakistan. What Pakistan needs the most, and what the situation demands, is a new breed of intellectuals to guide the people to a meaningful change – those who consider it their duty not only to interpret the world, but also to change it.