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The extremist mindset

Updated June 22, 2010

The incidents that have unfolded in the past couple of weeks have been real eye-openers. Whether it was the issue of internet censorship or the Ahmedi killings, I feel the reactions to such incidents have taught me a lot about understanding intolerance.   I had no idea what was in store for me when I wrote about the Facebook controversy. In fact, I wrote about it before the actual ban and of course, took a strong stance against internet censorship after the ban was implemented. Little did I know, that it was because of my stance on the topic I was declared a ‘blasphemer,’ ‘liberal apologist’ and my personal favourite, ‘a hijabi CIA, RAW, MOSSAD agent.’ Even worse was the fact that people, whom I would normally interact with on social media, joined the bandwagon and questioned my faith. It had come to a point where a stance against censorship was being put in the same league as being against the Prophet (pbuh).

More than once I was asked to clarify ‘whether I was with the Prophet (pbuh) or with Facebook.’ Such reactions highlight the extremist ideology that has been brewing inside many of us for years, the kind of ideology which otherwise remains dormant but resurfaces at the slightest of issues. Even more shocking were the reactions that came after the Ahmedi killings. Denying that a certain persecuted section of the minority was targeted only reflects the fact that we continue to live in denial.

For years now, there has been talk about the need for a platform where people, mainly the youth, can engage and develop a better understanding of our history, culture and religion. Over the years, we have seen many such reformist movements that ironically either end up getting hijacked for political means or die out altogether. A little apprehensive, given past  history,I decided to attend the ‘Khudi-The Awakening’ launch. Khudi is a social movement that aspires to counter extremist ideologies. As part of the movement, Khudi has also launched an academic magazine.

The man behind the movement, Maajid Nawaz was previously a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir – the aim of that organisation being to unite Muslim countries across the world under a single caliphate. The ideology of the organisation was an extremist one, not to be confused with terrorism. What makes Khudi even more appealing is the fact that Nawaz’s efforts stem from his own past of dealing with extremism. It is his journey as a young teenager – fighting against racism and then, joining and propagating the message of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which has led to his reformation. Nawaz’s experiences make his ideas on counter-extremism even more practical and applicable. Here is a man who has survived the ordeal and is now ready to not only narrate his experiences but to help others deal with it. The most important aim about the campaign is acknowledging the need to differentiate between an extremist and a terrorist. It is true that while we tackle terrorist organisations, factors that incite terrorism and extremism keep brewing underneath, making it a never-ending war.

With the absence of a counter-terrorism strategy the only strategies we have are reactive (fighting against militant organisations) rather than pro-active (looking at the root cause). Factors that continue to incite intolerance and hate speech remain hidden, never brought to the forefront. The process of identifying such a mindset is crucial and this is where social movements such as Khudi can play a vital role.

Nawaz has initiated the Khudi movement which promises to promote democratic culture and considers that as the antidote for extremism. However, it might take more than just one such movement to address conflicting ideologies that have been ingrained into our mindset.

There is no doubt that we desperately need to promote democratic culture, the kind that allows us, as a society, to respect individual rights and diverse opinion. After all, democracy is not only limited to using our rights to vote; it is about tolerance and co-existence, it is about celebrating our heroes, it is about standing in solidarity with the victims irrespective of their belief and it is about being humanitarians.

As Nawaz pointed out: “Democracy must forever remain prisoner to human rights. Democratic culture is about respecting human rights, freedom of speech and individual choice.”


Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Pro-Pakistan  and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She tweets 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.