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Un-teaching extremism

Published Jan 07, 2012 08:42am


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The US has taken an initiative to spread the counter-extremist message across Pakistan to prevent the breeding of extremism and to deradicalise militants who were completely taken by the jihadist ideology — which is a tough battle becausePakistan is, perhaps, the only country where the state, with funding from US andSaudi Arabia, financed and trained jihadis to fight Soviet Russia and did nothing todeprogram the mujahideen after the war was over.

The one of its kind three-person unit, whose aim is to support grassroots groups and moderate religious leaders to counter extremist ideology, started operating in Pakistan last July.

Sultan Mehmood Gujar, 46, a property dealer by profession, is reported to be one of the many staunch supporters of the “holy war.” But his views changed after listening to a 40-day lecture series offering a counter narrative to jihad. Hopefully, this measure will prevent the youth from joining radical groups and deradicalise militants — if the message seeps in!

For over a decade, Pakistan has endured the wrath of extremist ideology that has successfully bred terrorism and convinced many to blow themselves up to “fight theInfidels” in foreign soil and even perish those Muslims who do not subscribe to the cause on home ground. But have the leaders done anything besides giving lip service to its people on combating violent extremism?

“Pakistan has done absolutely nothing to deradicalise the militants,” said Tariq Pervez, ex-chairman National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA). “World over, one dimension for deradicalisation is to rehabilitate those people who are in jails on terrorism charges.”

If the al Qaeda poster boy, Dr. Fadl, can take a U-turn in the jail and write a book titled “Rationalising Jihad in Egypt and the World” that shattered the extremist ideology, it gives cause to believe that rehabilitation is possible no matter how brainwashed the person is.

Saudi Arabia has been running terrorist rehabilitation programs for ex-Guantanamo detainees. And the kingdom officials claim to have 80 per cent success rate. However, they have enormous resources and are seemingly committed to make a change as well.

But in Pakistan, initiatives to counter-violent extremism pose a difficulty when the subject starts to question the legitimacy of the program. “The problem is that conspicuous support from Western governments for ‘moderate Islam’ is usually counterproductive, in that it contaminates the moderates with the stain of association with Western policies, notably support for unpopular despotic regimes, unjust financial systems, and hard-line backing for Israeli policies,” wrote Tim Winter, lecturer of Islamic Science at Cambridge University. “To accept such support is usually a kiss of death, and strengthens the hand of the radicals.”

Perhaps this is why the US is leveraging local groups and moderate religious leaders.Knowing how keen the Pakistani government is to fight terrorism, one can only rely on grassroots initiatives.

“The problem with the groups working on ground is that their efforts are not coordinated,” said Mr. Pervez. "People were systematically radicalised in GeneralMuhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s regime and a greater effort is required to deradicalise the militant psyche and to neutralise the breeding grounds."

Akbar Ahmed, author of “Journey into Islam,” rightly noted: “unless these [initiatives] are conducted on a national scale, they will only create the smallest of dents in Pakistani society.”

And that’s not it.

Militant material is readily available on social media that adds another tier to the problem. “US policy makers have focused on YouTube because videos are one of the most effective tools for radical recruiters,” wrote J.M. Berger, author of “Jihad Joe” said in an email.

“Facebook has a constantly growing body of radical material available, and there hasn’t been much focus on policing it…Over the last year, we’ve seen a surge of violence-oriented radicals using Twitter.”

With the growing difficulty to prevent radicalisation and rehabilitate militants, there is a lot more that needs to be done by parents, imams, scholars, teachers, and the entire society to promote the message of mercy and compassion.

“With the growth of new media, it is important for prominent and trusted voices to get on television, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to help counter narratives which might promote extremism,” wrote Arsalan Iftikhar, author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era” He added: “Since many youth are quite impressionable, it is important to get to them at an early age.”

Imams and religious scholars, across the globe, tweet and update their Facebook statuses and fan pages regularly, often with a thought-provoking line or a religious quote, there is a dire need to counter extremist ideology on networking sites, regardless of how unpalatable it may be to the followers.

A national security analyst, speaking off the record, said that counter narratives would work when one person hears from 10,000 voices that militant ideology is unfounded and unjust.

I wish we could rely on Jon Stewart to spread the counter-extremist message, like we’re depending on him to counter Islamophobia on The Daily Show, but we really need to mobilise the entire Muslim community if we really want to counter the extremist ideology.


Fahad Faruqui is a journalist, writer and educator. Alumni Columbia University. You can email him at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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

Comments (30) Closed

Anand Jan 07, 2012 02:39pm
How come these questions are being asked only about Muslims ?
DharmendraGol Jan 07, 2012 03:19pm
D, Goel Pjl.afternoon, 3.40pm, 6th January 2012,Saturday. Mr Fahad Faruqi is a scholar Alumini ColumbiasUnivwersity, USA.He desires to plead a moderate version of Islamic Ideology compatible with contemporary Liberal WeltanSchauung. His view is that all of us seek to unlearn the captivating susceptiibility to extremist Beliefs andconsequent Violent Practices , thatmakeIslamicPeople suspect in West. To let this happen , one would expect that Governments in Pakistan and otherIslamic countries give up such theological canons and start with Humane Liberal Images .Of thisproject both press,Media and Educational Administrations have vital Roles to play. Whether , in thepresent climate ofIdeological Prison it can happen ,at least does not seem immediately Possuible.D. Goel.
Nabeel Jan 07, 2012 04:57pm
Anand, one explanation is that in the aftermath of 9/11 Muslim extremism has been in focus around the world, analagous in a way to the western obsession with communism during the Cold War. However, as the July 2011 terrorist attack in Norway reminds us, terrorism is not germane to Muslims. Furthermore, most of the western intervention for strategic reasons is in the Middle East, which is mostly Mulsim, though people forget that there is a considerable Arab Chirstian population. Not all Palestnians, for example, are Muslims.
DEEl Jan 07, 2012 05:04pm
Now it is very difficult to reprogram muslims aged around 20-45 years to moderate islam. Only way to check the trend in new generation, who are around 5-15 years of age. For that Pakistan's education system should be overhauled completely. All texts hating non muslims in any way and hate against islamic sects like shia and sunni and ahmedians should be removed immediately. But it is very diffult for the present governments to do this as they will not let up in hate against India, kashmir cause etc
nav Jan 07, 2012 05:09pm
I totally agree with the suggestion that the counter narrative to the extremist/terrorist ideology more forcefully but i feel it will only be effective if it comes from within Islamic tradition because only then it will be owned by muslims. Even a slight hint of sponsorship of such efforts from the west tarnishes such efforts and gives the proponents of extremist ideology an excuse to blame the moderates of being 'traitors'. Muslims scholars of likes of Ghamdi are the only hope because they bring forth solutions to this problem from within the fold of islamic tradition.
sherie Jan 07, 2012 05:26pm
as far as i understood, the question is being asked about 'pakistani muslims'... and i shall quote the author of this blog: ' because Pakistan is, perhaps, the only country where the state, with funding from US andSaudi Arabia, financed and trained jihadis to fight Soviet Russia'
vin Jan 07, 2012 05:28pm
I think the need of the hour is a kind of world islamic body which will be the supreme entity in the world on islam and teachings. We see different islamic countries and regions teaching different ideoligies and philosophies. It also is matter of concern how someone in sudan or turkey views and implements islam....The OIC has miserabl;y failed its objective.This body could be used to increase islamic trade and finance and also practise uniform sharia in all islamic countries...this would eliminate the differences which have seen turmoil in syria , egypt, tunisia afganistan and pakistan (on strife between sunni shia and mohajirs etc)...i may be wrong but this could be the basis or start of new idea or future identity of Islam and Islamic world
Khalid Jan 07, 2012 07:42pm
Extremists are present in every society and culture. Religion can be one of the factor of motivation but it alone can not do any thing. The reason that no more pure faiths are present these days, however the mind set needs to be changed.
Tamilselvan Jan 07, 2012 07:58pm
It is high time moderate muslims speak in unison. Let's be honest about the present situation. Anyone with a muslim sounding name is looked as a suspect or a terrorist. One cannot deny it. But this was brought by the so called muslimes themselves with the act of terrorism around the world. It is no use stating that islam is a peaceful religion and only few are terrorists and try to equate it to isolated act by other extremists groups. In reality Pakistan is dubbed as the epicenter of terrorism. More than 90% of the terrorists captured have had visited Pakistan for trainng purposes. Truth is bitter but it has to be told. Glad this author has brought it out in the open. It is a start and good work by Dawn
Nasah (USA) Jan 07, 2012 08:14pm
The effort should come from Pakistan clergy not the United States.
Karan Vir Singh Jan 07, 2012 10:00pm
well said
sameer Jan 08, 2012 12:07am
US should first correct it own policy before trying to counter message from radical Muslim.
Aisha Jan 08, 2012 01:14am
When it's come to reading Quran we all pakistanies are parrots, Islam is Islam, you can't divide it in moderate or extremism. The people who r getting those training are mentally blind who know nothing about Islam, they are being used for destabilising countries. Pakistan need to make itself true Islamic state. We have many beautiful minds in our country who will show you the true and beautiful face of Islam.
Tariq K Sami Jan 08, 2012 02:41am
Follow the money trail.
Mohammad A Dar Jan 08, 2012 03:08am
How about self realization as Muslim than to be expecting others to do it for us, in state of imperfection one has no right to suggest or point finger at others in conveniance. As the saying goes. THE ONE WHO REALIZED HISELF IN TRUTH, HE FOUND TRUTH AND OTHERS IN LIFE.
MT Jan 08, 2012 06:13am
"A national security analyst, speaking off the record, said that counter narratives would work when one person hears from 10,000 voices that militant ideology is unfounded and unjust." So true, excellent article!
Anand Jan 08, 2012 06:29am
Agreed. Accepting the unadulterated truth is the first step towards change. Most Muslims just cannot face up to the painful truths of the matter. And attempts to deflect, defuse or otherwise intimidate abound. Fahad is blessed. He is truly a messenger of change positive for and by Muslims.
Fersos Jan 08, 2012 10:20am
There is one major assumption that this author and many others make. This assumption is that only a very small section of the population is of extremist ideology and the majority is moderate. I do not think enough number of committed moderates can be found to carry out the task and make it a success. At some stage the nation must accept that reality for a real solution to be found.
jamil Jan 08, 2012 01:20pm
So it was ok for the people to jihad against the occupying US but it is not ok for them to jihad against occupying US. I see, the thing is most Pakistani realize this hypocrisy and don't find the logic in this argument. And Pakistanis also know that suicide bombings and terrorist attacks did not exist in Pakistan before Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror. They also wonder why because the Pakistani population was way more religious before the "war on terror". The problem in Pakistan is the lack of wisdom in the society and the culture of suspicion and attrition towards each other. If it was not for Islam, Pakistan probably would have split into 5 pieces by now.
raika45 Jan 08, 2012 06:16pm
In the first place you muslims must reconcile and respect your sub sects in your religion.This disrespect of sub casts is where your problems start.If the christians,sikhs and other religions can do that without killing each other and live in peace with their sub sects in their religion,why can't you muslims.You are the only religion that fights and kills in the name of your ONE Allah
Sameer Jan 08, 2012 06:17pm
Is atheism the answer? Is it allowed to be atheist in Pakistan or is it looked upon? As asked by Dawkins, is religion root of all evil?
AHA Jan 08, 2012 08:41pm
I agree. We haven’t even learnt to live among ‘ourselves’.
AHA Jan 08, 2012 08:50pm
@ Aisha – Can you please point out for me a country that you consider a ‘true Islamic state’.
Afzal Jan 08, 2012 10:35pm
Structural issues can't be addressed by external short-lived programs, especially by US initiatives when there is lot of anti-Americanism among the people.
Ayasha Jan 08, 2012 10:54pm
I agree that, when it comes to 'Unteaching Extremism,' the Pakistani Clergy should handle it. But would they do it? Have they done it? Could they do it without being killed?
Shury Jan 09, 2012 04:22am
Get USA out of Afgan and Pak and everything will be okay. Terrorists are only created because of USA and NATO;unfortunately USA is global power right now so this will never happen whatever it wants will happen;there is no point arguing its very simple to understand the problem is America and NATO and its allies the solution is kicking them out.
ahmed Jan 09, 2012 10:32am
Sameer sahib, no not atheism , but a more humane and compassionate form of social-islam , is needed, urgently
Salman Jan 09, 2012 11:00am
Excellent article. Totally agree with the author but disappointed to see immture comments posted about the article.
ahmed Jan 09, 2012 01:27pm
" Thou shall not KILL " is the commandment. Let's follow it.
Sharma Anil Jan 09, 2012 04:18pm
Rehabilitation of terrorists indoctrinated by religious agenda will take long time and will prove to be very expensive for the state. Basically, the terrorists will have to be paid monthly salary for a long duration as a compensation for them surrendering their weapons. Such people will also be risking their life; and the state should have powerful mechanisms to protect their lives. Many countries take the short, easy and inexpensive way of eliminating them, instead.