The most convenient understanding of the phenomenon of Pakistani extremists that one hears being echoed from TV studios and their favourite 'guests' suggests that young Pakistanis turning into religious fanatics has something to do with illiteracy and unemployment.
Though not entirely incorrect, this notion, however, is a lazy explanation.
It fails to explain the emergence of young religious extremists such as Omar Shaikh, Shahzad Tanveer and Hasib Hussain, and Faisal Shahzad. Each one of these young men came from educated, middle-class families.
Saying they were products of the western societies that they were raised in is a weak retort.
This attitude simply refuses to seriously address the issue of educated, young Pakistanis falling for an extremely myopic and nihilistic brand of the faith — something that was once explained as a vocation only of the illiterate and the financially desperate.
Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British Pakistani who studied at prestigious educational institutions like Aitchison in Lahore and than at UK’s London School of Economics was involved in the kidnapping and beheading of US journalist, Daniel Pearl, by radical Islamist organisations in Pakistan.
There has been an alarming rise in the number of young, educated middle-class Pakistanis (here and abroad), embracing the most reactionary and anarchic strains of the faith, believing it to be a justified and logical portrayal of ‘true’ Islam.
During a recent seminar, TV anchor and journalist, Talat Hussain, pointed out a very interesting finding. During his visits to the United Kingdom, Hussain went around talking to various Pakistani families settled in the UK.
He was shocked to find that in spite of these families having access to a wide spectrum of education, employment and health facilities provided by the UK’s welfare system, a majority of young third generation British Pakistanis were drop-outs, involved in gang-related criminal activities, or had allowed themselves to be ghettoised within large pockets of Pakistani communities there.
In the last two decades or so, these communities have come under the influence of various religious outfits who exercise control over how UK citizens of Pakistani origin (especially the young) should think and behave.
Many of the more radical clerics and leaders of these outfits and thinking are UK citizens surviving on hand-outs that UK’s welfare system doles out to its unemployed citizens.
And yet, one of the main planks of these men includes indoctrinating Pakistani-British youth to view the British society as being ‘decadent’, ‘immoral’ and ‘working against the interests of the Muslims.’
This has consequently made a number of British-Pakistanis to limit their interaction with the British society in general in spite of the fact that most of them continue to accept the benefits offered by the British system.
______________________While actors like the 7/7 bombers in London and Faisal Shahzad are an obvious embarrassment to Pakistan and to the Pakistani communities in the West, so are the growing number of rabid, tech-savvy young people floating around various social media sites mouthing the most reactionary ideas about Islam and politics.
There are websites out there glorifying some rather disturbed men and the most twisted conspiracy theories. And many of these sites are owned, run and frequented by Pakistanis who work and are comfortably settled in western countries.
Just as the sudden rise of certain crackpots (via TV) in Pakistan was keenly followed and supported by a chunk of young, urban middle-class Pakistanis, various cranks are happily catering to the already confused religious and ideological bearings of Muslim Pakistanis living abroad.
Much has already been written about Islamic evangelists who cleverly represent (and glorify) the increasingly chauvinistic mindset of the current generation of young urbanites.
A recent book on Farhat Hashmi’s organisation, Al-Huda, (written by a Pakistani woman academic), accuses her of spreading hatred against Christians, Hindus and Jews among Pakistani women living in Canada.
In the wake of the Faisal Shahzad episode in New York last year, the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) – a group of liberal Muslims living in Canada – accused American Islamic organisations of refusing to distance themselves from the doctrine of armed jihad.
The MCC goes on to state that many young Pakistanis living in the United States and Canada regard Pakistan as a safe haven for their preparation and training for waging wars against the West.
Organisations like the MCC have also come down hard on outfits such as Al-Huda, ridiculing their claim that they are on a mission to convert westerners to Islam.