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Monday, July 5, 2010

Extremism: too late to contain it? Yasmeen Ali

By Yasmeen Ali

(This is a cross post from The Daily Times Newspaper and Opinion Maker)

Extremism…Fundamentalism, Militancy, terms used and heard, every day.
Are they the same? Different? Is a Fundamentalist an Extremist and an Extremist a Fundamentalist? I am a Fundamentalist. So are you. But are we Extremists?
I will politely, if need be, rudely, disagree.
Until 1950, there was no entry for fundamentalism in the Oxford English Dictionary, the derivative fundamentalist was added only in its second 1989 edition. The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897) which defined those things that were fundamental to Christian belief. The term was also used to describe “The Fundamentalist”, a collection of twelve books on five subjects published in 1910. The same year, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals or the basic five pillars of their religion. So any person who believes in the fundamentals of the faith he or she belongs to, is a Fundamentalist.
It was not until the Islamic Iran Revolution that the term “Islamic Fundamentalism” was coined. This made it easy for the west to relate to what was happening in this part of the world. As they were well aware of “Christian Fundamentalism”.
A Fundamentalist is, however, distinct from an Extremist.
In democratic societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with a authoritarian regime are usually branded extremists, in authoritarian societies the opposite applies.
So you see why I am willing to disagree on the callous way these terms are abused and branded about? Even Extremists are not action based Militants. That is yet another category. A Militant is a person having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause. As an intelligent reader, you can discern, that, one, you can be a Fundamentalist without being an Extremist or a Militant. Two, you can be an Extremist without being a Militant. However, you cannot be an Extremist and a Militant without being a Fundamentalist. QED.
Let’s examine as to WHY Extremism and Militancy seem to have captured the minds of so many Pakistanis especially the youth who are willing to blow themselves up to smithereens. Around three years ago, I had a student who hailed from Swat. Both brothers were studying in Lahore, The father had died many years ago There was a sister and a mother who was moved out to Lahore, too, in due course of time. The reason to move the family to Lahore was interesting. He told me, that the Taliban come to the residents houses and ask the able bodied men, of the family, to join them. The “pay structure” then, was Rs. 20000 to Rs. 25000. Should the man die in action, the monies will continue to be paid and in case of a marriage of a sister or the daughter, the Talib organization shall bear the full costs. For many, he said, in the absence of any job opportunities there, this was just another plain job. Many embraced it. Not because of faith in an ideology, not an undying belief in the cause, but just as a vocation job.
It does not necessarily follow, that a great number do not believe, within the ranks of Taliban, that they are answering to a higher calling. Of course they do. But a large number joins ranks due to poverty, lack of opportunities, inability to improve their lot, some join after suffering injustices, some may be negative minded, while others may be simple power seekers.
Now I come to the crowning glory. Our failure to provide for our people .In every sphere. Talibanisation of Swat is a classic case study.
In terms of education. How many schools do we have in Swat? How many for girls and how many for boys in terms of population break up in terms of gender? How do they compare with the average educational standard of other provinces? How many professional institutions? In terms of hospitals, how many do we have in Swat? What standard & quality of healthcare do they provide? What is the numbers & quality of medics there?
In terms of employment opportunities, what kind of manufacturing units, or industrial infra structure development can these areas boast of? What kind of openings do the local have to gainfully employ themselves? The economy of Swat is based on small scale silk and cosmetic manufacturing units Ever since the insurgency and resultant Army action, many of the units are now closed and their revival would take time because most of their technical staff belonged to other provinces and are reluctant to return unless the situation improves.
But what of the locals themselves? How many LOCALS do these units employ? Hardly any, I was told.
More than 25,000 workers were employed by some 500 hotels in the Swat district. The industry is mainly dependent on tourism for its business. Its growth has remained at the lowest ebb because of security concerns for the last couple of years. But still, it was the main source of income for thousands of families.
Are we pushing the locals to succumb to pressure to support Taliban by closing doors to their gainful employment? By allowing an atmosphere of insecurity, whatever little opportunities they had of earning a decent livelihood, have been denied to them. Whereas there is no denying that Militancy cannot be supported, the menace must be dealt with in no uncertain terms. It is also a ground reality that we need to focus on development of these neglected areas and provide the basic amenities, quality of life, justice, education, health facilities, followed by job opportunities. This is an arduous road to take, but one that is unavoidable. We have to do this. That is the only way to contain and reverse the tide. It is still not too late.
We need to distance ourselves from just talking. Tall claims and bravados will not achieve the objective of creating a stable and prosperous Pakistan. Opportunity exists, may be not for too long. Avail it, Mr Prime Minister. The country needs a short term plan coupled with a long term one to rejuvenate the area. We have the resources and we have the skill. But do we have the vision and the will to do it?
Like a dear friend of mine, wrote to me, “All the woulda-coulda-shouldas sitting in the comfort of their drawing rooms, and their High Offices, talkin’ ’bout the things they woulda-coulda-shoulda done… But all those woulda-coulda-shouldas run away and hide from one little did. ”

(The writer is a Lawyer and Masters in Mass Communications, currently teaching in Mass Communications Dept. of Beacon House National University and a bloggist. She owns and moderates her blogs pakpotpourri).


  1. An extremely balanced write up.
    I agree with Yasmeen, the economic aspect of people and their needs must be addressed if the odds are to be overlooked.
    IF killing was the answer, there would be no jews today. But in the long run, it does not work that way.
    War is the way of those who are stumped. In today's world.
    "War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. "
    Thomas Mann

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  3. War is resorted to,by those who have failed to try and solve an issue.Losers resort to it.I agree with Yasmeen that one must address the grassroot issues of people.
    Winston Churchil termed EVEERY war as an unnecessary war.

  4. Yasmeen has pointed out a crucial point here: people joining these outfits owing to economic reasons.
    There is an erosion of security net for the poor.There is a failure to effectively protect real incomes of the poor and the vulnerable segments of the population against rise in prices of essential items. There is lack of protection against increasing energy prices and the the safety nets for the vulnerable and the poor proved grossly inadequate, to deal with the deteriorating economic, employment and poverty situation .
    It is a long haul but it is not symptoms of the disease that has to be treated but the disease itself.