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Extremism never rests. It keeps growing like a cancer until it completely devours its host. It is nobody’s friend. It only deals in might gained from coercion. What’s more, even after it has defeated its ideological opponents, it goes on to destroy even those supporters whom it deems too soft or moderate.

This is an aspect of extremism that a lot of its more ‘moderate’ supporters in Pakistan have not comprehended. Educated men and women can be heard and seen concocting outlandish explanations and justifications in a bid to sympathetically define the economic and political reasons behind religious extremists’ acts of terrorism. What they do not realise is that to the extremists these sympathetic ‘moderates’ are as much infidels as any westerner or a non-Muslim.

It seems many moderate Pakistanis who ( rather mindlessly) echo the usual anti-West rhetoric doing the rounds in mosques, madressahs, drawing rooms and TV studios do so for two reasons. But rest assured a firm belief in the ideology of the extremists is the least of these. Because after all, one either has to be clinically insane or stark, raving crazy to fall for an ideology that is based on utter hatred and a ferocious appetite for human blood.

The most prominent reason behind the ideological pitfalls that many Pakistanis find themselves in has something to do with a state of mind that is a culmination of fear, ignorance and guilt. Thanks to the maliciously tempered history taught in schools and colleges, I have noticed that very few young Pakistanis have any ability left in them to question (in an informed manner) what is dished out to them by the courts, the state, the clerics and the televangelists.

This, despite the availability of a vast treasure of knowledge available in bookstores and libraries with which a questioning mind can easily puncture the spew of half-truths and myths spun into the nation’s collective psyche—all in the name of defending the country’s Islamic credentials and the so-called ideology. For example, some ten years ago when Islamic evangelists were out in force asking Pakistanis to stop saying khuda hafiz and replace it with Allah hafiz, no one bothered to ask them why. They heard the word Allah and that was it. No questions asked.

The same social preachers then got enough leverage to go on and ask Pakistanis to stop saying wa-alaikum assalaam to non-Muslims who greet them with asalamalaikum. Sure, these are trivial nuances but the sort that go a long way in gradually turning society into an intolerant whole that some men and women would actually like Pakistan to be. Their weapon is distorted history and selective interpretations of Islamic laws unquestioningly understood as being correct by a majority of Pakistanis.

Learned, rational and modern Muslim leaders and intellectuals of yore like Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan have gradually been turned into near-fanatics by those writing our textbooks and harbouring blind hatred for Hindus. So the great leaders of the past are taught in schools as being the original purveyors of a theocratic state, a notion that has no roots in reality whatsoever.

Historians of note, who have convincingly rubbished the history taught in schools, and peddled by the state and its right-wing allies, have been sidelined. A concerted effort to subdue and repress rationalist Islamic scholars of yore and today has been underway by elements pushing in narratives of political Islamists and even some obvious crackpots to portray a highly aggressive, xenophobic and militant image and understanding of Islam and Pakistan.

Through decades of disseminating fantasies of glory and myths about what a Pakistani Muslim is to believe and behave like, advocators of a hybrid version of faith and national ideology—in which traditional understanding of the faith is updated by a myopic and paranoid understanding of modern society—have been successful in turning much of society into an knee-jerk mass of people. This mob has little or no capacity to think beyond what is handed out as faith and patriotism to them.

What goes missing in such a setting is the ability to think and reflect. Knee-jerk applause for so-called popular Islamist causes and conservative social behavior make it a society that is both fodder and food for nihilism—all in the glorious name of jihad, patriotism and Islam.

This misplaced understanding of nationalism and religion is not only the vocation of crackpots and some clerics, but it is also found in our courts of law, the intelligence apparatus, the military and politicians alike. Their propagated goals are the supposed Islamisation and sovereignty of the Pakistani state. But the truth is that so far the many actions taken to achieve this goal have only managed to make society collapse inwards and gradually turn Pakistan into a kind of forbidden island whose inhabitants simply refuse to give up ideological cannibalism, even if this means their existential, economic and diplomatic exclusion from the rest of the world.

Author Image

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (47) Closed

Raj May 08, 2011 08:03am
@NFP: Another hard-hitting article. The only way forward for ALL countries in the world is complete separation of church/mosque/temple/synagogue and state. Religion is a private and personal affair and should remain so.
ahmed41 May 08, 2011 08:52am
you say ---" This, despite the availability of a vast treasure of knowledge available in bookstores and libraries with which a questioning mind----" So tell us how to develop a questioning mind; one that is tolerant etc What re the steps needed to achieve your utopia ?
PRADEEP BHATIA May 08, 2011 11:35am
Agree with Raj one hundred percent.Religion should best be left to individuals to practice or otherwise. Religion can't be allowed to cause mayhem like what has happened in Pakistan. Having said that, it is heartening to note that there are many right thinking people in Pakistan who do not subscribe to the militant ideology. They just need to express themselves openly, just like NFP. Well done NFP, once again.
kuttakamina May 08, 2011 11:42am
Hello, Well, there is the irony that religion was supposed to make people better humans. Unfortunately, that idea has come a cropper. Most of the religions have failed in that agenda of making humans any better. Followers of any religion are required and persuaded to be kinda obsessive in their mindset towards their religion that makes them prone to do horrible things. It's not stating that all religion are bad...the point is becoming so much obsessed with religion has dangerous consequences. As humans we need to encourage creativity, good morality and above all restraint in behaviour however, things turn out completely opposite. Maybe, we haven't been bestowed with any sort of right minded people who could be role-models in today's world. However, it's just the will-power to be good that will ultimately led to anyone being far more humane...and I guess, this is our only hope. May 08, 2011 11:47am
start questioning if there is a god.and if so, try to understand him by asking questions to will follow. you will be transformed as an extremely satisfied and all loving soul.
ArifQ May 08, 2011 11:47am
NFP, Good job. What worries me most is the rapid Isolationism of Pakistani narratives and perceptions. Listen to rest of the world and Pakistan comes off as a basket case and when you hear our Pakistani narratives all we can hear is admonishments, victimhood, threats and self glorification. NFP is absolutely right in highlighting these issues, there is now a global consensus on Pakistan, the only dissenting vote comes from Pakistan itslef, delusional!
Asif Zaidi May 08, 2011 11:54am
A country founded on the basis of ‘Two Nation’ dichotomy was always destined be a fundamentalist ‘republic’. The journey has been long and winding, and ostensibly abetted by some extraneous happenings in our neighbourhood, but never unsure. I believe a ‘Zia ul Haq’ was always going to appear at some point in our history as a natural denouement in a country where a Z. A. Bhutto is compelled to pander to the Islamic extremists. The debate here is more about our misplaced ideological notions than political errors or treachery. With its creation and existence made identical with Islam since the very beginning, Pakistan was destined to become increasingly religious with every successive generation. That is what has happened and that is what will happen till we are willing to reinterpret our creation and rethink our ideology.
Andy May 08, 2011 11:55am
A questioning mind is not utopia. It is normal for rest of the world!
srikant May 08, 2011 11:55am
@Ahmed - start questioning. Everything. Your friends family, teachers, military, religion...ask questions and then you will find answers. If this generation doesnt then its a great disservice to the coming ones. Someone had said that 'you can't fool everybody all the time' - in truth, you can if you don't wake up or don't question what is being dished to you. Make your leaders accountable to the Nation and not to some foreign country. The rulers/leaders inevitably will be rich and secure in some gated compound. Its the common man/woman waiting to buy their daily bread, or at a bus stop waiting for the kid who will be bombed and blown away. Come out and start protesting. If not on the street, then in news papers, online and keep at it. Might help.
ali May 08, 2011 11:55am
very well expressed. NFP i have something to ask from u is "dont u have fear while accusing and using harsh language against extremists?
Deepak Anand May 08, 2011 12:20pm
Salute to ur courage, its been very hard time for pakistan and my sincere wish that may yr tribe increases day by day to save pak from the present turmoil and wish people like u become more vocal and keep faith in heart and home not just a show off. if all people would hv followed the real religion, Pakistan would hv become paradise instead of what it is presently.
sanjay May 08, 2011 12:25pm
NFP, superb as ever! Your column in particular and Dawn in general provide one of the most objective, rational and unbiased analysis/reporting in English language journalism not just in South Asia, but possibly globally! US, Indian & UK media please take note.
neeraj prasad May 08, 2011 12:26pm
pakistanis might bristle to hear this oft-repeated remark that south asians are essentially one people,but that indeed is the case;that said, ordinary indians (and am sure pakistanis as well) like me are horrified by macabre dance of violence going on in this area,how i wish that the only creed which should be allowed to be followed every-where is humanism and humanism alone !!
shafi May 08, 2011 12:26pm
The Pakistani Society as a whole is languishing in apathy. Ask any Pakistani about the lawless situation, the reply would be " oh ji, it is not affecting me and my family'. And that is how it goes. Ills of Pakistani Society (rich or poor) are numerous and the remedy if you ask me has to be drastic. If the whole society wakes up this cancer of extremism can be eradicated. It is a big if.
SCHOOL-SPIRIT May 08, 2011 12:33pm
Somebody said it!FINALLY!Way to go Nadeem Paracha!you have talked out about something so taboo..and of something that a lot of us have been afraid to point out!WE WANT MORE!!
jamal shah May 08, 2011 12:34pm
Mr. Paracha rightly says that extremism is a never ending phenomenon, but we should never forget that extremisms always support each other, if we go to the liberl/leftist extreme it will be likely to support rightist/religious extreme, we have observed during cold war days that opposing religious beliefs of the people and making fun of them on these basis empowered religious extremism which resulted into Afghan "Jihad"
sami May 08, 2011 12:36pm
I think the real problems for Pakistan were created when the first time army took control of the country which subsequently resulted in separation of East Pakistan and the present day situations(All the dictators should be hanged irrespective of whether they are dead/alive). In my opinion, army is 70% responsible for the destruction of Pakistan, 20% rests with Moulvis and the remaining rests with politicians. The solution is not an easy one. First make the size of army to 50% of current size. Invest more and more in education and people welfare and keep away the illiterate Mullaas AND destroy the feudal. Now how will it materialize and who's going to do it, i don't know. May be some angels come down to help us. I have no hope whatsoever from the present system and the people who are running the country.
LOI May 08, 2011 12:55pm
A message to pakistani army : This is a educational emergency, Educate the masses of Pakistan NOW, not the religious and antiIndia stuff that you have been feeding them since they were born, but spiritual, liberal, secular, entrepreneurial stuff , so pakistanis can lead in some fields other than mass killings. It wont diminish you or your country.
Kalyan May 08, 2011 01:11pm
The other day there was a TV show in NDTV and actress Soha Ali Khan says it all...Religion is a personal matter and no one should interfare. But the silver line is, Pakistan got someone like NFP, who is outstanding, so vocal. I pray for his long life and all the good. We need people like him and the newspaper like DAWN to make this world a wonderful place to live in. ...salute to you sir...
sharma May 08, 2011 01:13pm
education, health care, reducing maternal mortality, urbanisation and environmental protection is what India-Pak-Bangladesh need. there is noplace for religious extremism be it Islamic or Hindu. We would be foolish to be spending on weapons while millions go hungry. religion doesnot matter.Hunger and disease do not discriminate!!!
Salman May 08, 2011 01:26pm
Well Said LOI. I was shocked to see some of university students in Lahore making intolerant and hateful comments about other humans who are not Muslims. This is not 7th century.Pakistan should make sure they don't teach hatred in schools.
Abbas May 08, 2011 03:13pm
Well done NFP. Maybe it needs for the rest of the world to cut Pakistan off from it's financial aid and trade before people realise that extremism is not the way.It worked for South Africa. Eventually no one will want to have anything to do with Pakistan.
Satya S Issar May 08, 2011 03:15pm
As a Hindu I question anything or every thing which is not clear to me. Some time I am wrong to do so and some time I am right. But my mind is able to THINK. Well done NFP.
R.N.Swamy May 08, 2011 03:49pm
NFP has been saying this and similar things again and again. One has to hope that more and more people in Pakistan listen to him and start thinking (for themselves) about what really ails their country. They will realize that it is not India that is the reason for all the ills of Pakistan.
Taufiq Valiani May 08, 2011 05:47pm
This is so sensible and simple. We need to all embrace this philosophy. Extremism is very dangerous. Let us all respect human lives and beliefs.
Rakesh Khanna May 08, 2011 07:28pm
Very insightful and honest analysis...
Khawar May 08, 2011 07:45pm
A well written article that is thoughtful and unbiased. Usually you are propagating your views with a pro western bias. This one is different and you need to write like this more. A dispassionate discourse on a very passionate subject. Kudos.
Sridhar May 08, 2011 09:06pm
Great job, NFP, as we have come to expect of you. From the tenor of the responses you receive, you are preaching to the choir. Is there is a mechanism whereby the Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and Pushto translations of your writings can be delivered to school teachers and home makers in Pakistan. It is there that much of the opinion leadership lies.
sanetuber May 08, 2011 10:13pm
Good article. Agree with most of it.
Azeez May 08, 2011 11:08pm
Nadeem Paracha. A voice of sanity.
G C SHARMA May 08, 2011 11:54pm
I am an Indian and regularly read Dawn to get a balanced view of India Pakistan relationship.This is an excellent article.Hope more and more Pakistani people will understand that hatred towards anybody is a negative energy and replace it with some positive energy.In India, it is amazing to see large no of Muslims, paricularly girls coming up in every field.I am a Banker(Unislamic?) where large number of Muslim women are working and you can only know that they are Muslim when you know their names!!!
ATUL SUBODH May 09, 2011 01:53am
Congrats Mr.Paracha. If Pakistan has 100 brave and open minded people like you, there is hope Pakistan can be changed. It seems you love your country very much. I do not blame you!!!! Good luck.
kamaljit Singh May 09, 2011 05:58am
I agree. Long live NFP.
Anant Jain May 09, 2011 08:14am
A questioning mind is an antithesis of utopia. It questions existing practices, existing behaviours, morality, religion, god and everything which is the established norm. On the other hand utopia is always promised by an ideology, religion and status quo. The problem with utopian ideologies is their promises are contrary to the human behavior. One can either stimulate your brain and challenge them or hope for a false promised Utopia. On the other hand if you think in terms of ethics non religious societies (scandinavian, asutralian etc) are far ahead of all religious ones (Pakistan , India, All of Islamic world etc.). Issues of morality are more subjective but these are the ones which religious leaders will harp upon mostly. The reason for Pakistan's failure as pointed out by NFP is because of the deception of Islamic Utopia as promised by all and sundry in power along with the brainwashing of the youth.
suresh kumar May 09, 2011 08:16am
Dear Nadeem I salute u for speaking out the truth to pakistanis in pakistan and abroad. I was very surprised to know that my brothers across the border knew nothing objective about hisory but hatred against india when ever I happened to talk to them about indo-pak relations. More than 90% of what I have read in your article today, I had told them 30 years back in Canada. Take your country back from Feudals and remind them the speech Jinnah made in the parliament. God bless u and keep it up for moderate and peace loving pakistanis. suresh kumar
RK May 09, 2011 11:32am
Dear NFP, Can't DAWN translate such selected articles to Urdu / sindhi / Pashtun / Bengali / Hindi etc. and publish it in local language daily. It will make a dent, then a crack and then splitting and then a change in the thinking of masses. Let it be published in India and Bangladesh also.
Shehzad Zafar May 09, 2011 12:26pm
This man is obsessed with Khuda Hafiz and Allah Hafiz. I must say he has good support among TV drama producers and directors. These days they are all making artists to say Khuda Hafiz in their plays. I liked NFP earlier but now he is writing same things again and again. He must know societies evolve themselves according to their needs.
Ravinder May 09, 2011 01:50pm
The world has to be freed from the clutches of the mullas, pandits and religious ministers. That is the only solution. In Pakistan, India and the rest of the world. A very refreshing article. Keep up the good work. A time will dawn when things will change for the better. Hats off to Dawn. It is better than any other newspaper in India.
Zahid Khan May 09, 2011 02:28pm
Too good, too late.
dr yasir irshad May 09, 2011 03:37pm
Goga Nalaik May 09, 2011 04:07pm
First of all, I would like to salute your courage, your persistence, your conviction and your persuasion to underline all our ills and to show us the right path. All your articles are very well documented and well argued with incredible precision. Well, I totally admire your work You have been doing this great work for years now and number of your fans is increasing. To me, this is an indication that we can still hope for a better Pakistan tomorrow. While reading your articles, I can even feel the force of the words that you use so carefully, sometimes rude, sometimes harsh but so appropriate to describe the hell we are going through. You are the best promoter of secularism and I’m convinced that this is the only way out for Pakistan. Your message needs to reach the masses and there is an urgent need that all your texts must be translated into Urdu and published by The Dawn. Now I would like to request to ‘The Dawn’ to please please think about it. I’m sure your webmaster can create one Urdu page in html where all articles of NFP are translated and updated daily. Nadeem, keep it Up and keep hammering these taboos, we are with you. Your fan
Mustapha May 10, 2011 12:52pm
And what was the 'need' to 'evolve' from saying Allah Hafiz from Khuda Hafiz? Has that made us better Muslmis or human beings?
Sh May 10, 2011 08:11pm
And now there is one more word that we have replaced with an arabic word... Thank you or in urdu we can say Shukriya... Now everywhere u will find the word jazak Allah... NFP is not abssessed with Khuda Hafiz he is just trying to say that if we replace our words then one day our entire language will be replaced... Being a Muslim doesn't mean that we have to be an Arab
rajkmalhotra@hotmail May 10, 2011 10:00pm
101% agree, because these are purely Scientific, Logical and Rational views. I am quite confident that as long as people like you are in Pakistan one day it will survive and flourish as well.
Rubab A Zaidi May 11, 2011 12:10am
Loved it! Unbiased and very well-documented. NFP! Keep up the good work!
Sarfraz May 11, 2011 01:49pm
Great Article, this problem lies deep in our education system, our islamic history which is misinterpreted. like we made Mohammad bin Qasim a hero and Mahmood Ghaznavi a mujahid but the fact you learn later in your life is that former was a invader and other a rober. This clearly shows fundamentalist view of our nation which are feeded by our textbooks.
kuldip gupta May 17, 2011 09:27am
He is frequently published in India.Pioneer does publish him quite often.