The rise of extremism in Pakistan

The events of extremism in Pakistan are not isolated. These are rooted in a long chain of the historical process, interconnected to contemporary national and global politics, economy, culture, education, laws, and religious injunctions. The uprooting of extremism is a gigantic task. It will require undoing our history. This article is a premise for a series of research work deconstructing the phenomenon of extremism in Pakistan.

Dr. Tariq Mahmood Khan
The events of extremism in Pakistan are not isolated. These are rooted in a long chain of the historical process, interconnected to contemporary national and global politics, economy, culture, education, laws, and religious injunctions. The uprooting of extremism is a gigantic task. It will require undoing our history. This article is a premise for a series of research work deconstructing the phenomenon of extremism in Pakistan.

The recent surge
The rise of religious extremism is threatening the existence of Pakistani society. The visibly growing fanatism over the last few decades is appalling. The killing of a Siri Lankan business manager in a factory in Sialkot was horrifying. The recent events of lynching in Khanewal over charges of burning the Quran again reminded the nation that the brutal core of our society is alive and thriving. The lynching of Mashal Khan by fellow students in the university was shocking. The killing of Governor Salman Taser by his bodyguard was unbelievable. A month back, the gruesome killing of the policemen at the hands of TLP extremists during agitation left a chilling in the spine seeing the state retreating and surrendering to the violent group. The extremists are frequently incited over one pretext or other and take lives. Besides the gruesome high-profile cases, persecutions at the hands of mobs continue unabated. Religious laws are used regularly against thousands of fellow Muslims and religious minorities. The warning signs are clear and loud that if the extremist trend continues unchecked, it will create unbearable and unliveable conditions for people who still have faith in Pakistan and call it home. Pakistan will become a symbol of religious brutality the world over if extremism persists.

Christians’ belonging torched in Anti -blasphemy riots Lahore March 9, 2013
Image Credit: AFP

The roots of the menace

Many historians believe that during the Zia era religious violence became normalized. However, religious extremism is not a recent phenomenon. The roots of the menace go deeper. The Muslim ethnoreligious empires created religious hatred and religious politics in the subcontinent. The ancient and pre-modern wars were the prime cause and effect of racial and religious hatred and violence the world over. The Arabs and Central Asian raiders also brought hate and violence to the sub-continent. It is ironic, the progeny of raiders and conquerers (Pakistanis), instead of condemning the hate and violence that their forefathers brought against indigenous people, are proud of a history full of blood and brutality. The Pakistani Muslims ignored all the crimes committed by their ancestors in the past. They owned past wrongdoings, brandishing it like success, taking pride in the crimes against humanity. The result is a nation deeply immersed in hate and violence against people they think are the ‘other’. In an era when communities and nations are apologizing for past wrongdoings, would we apologize to those ‘other’ local communities who ‘we’ wronged during the last one thousand years? The acknowledgment and apology would make our emancipation easy as a nation.
The religious zealots in Sultans like Mahmud Ghaznavi used extremism as a tool to plunder India. According to historians, he would make his courtiers raise swords and religious slogans of Allah o Akbar in an unnatural affected style to prepare them for raids. He desecrated temples and slaughtered people to amass wealth.

Old Somnath Temple – See the loot and plunder

Mughals such as Emperor Aurangzeb divided the society deeply because of his extreme policies towards other religions and liberal Islamic thought, making it easier for British colonizers to rule by dividing the public into Hindu and Muslim. Some of the ruling religious class took to violent means opposing British such as Syed Ahmed Shaheed, others coopted British Raj and retained their Jagirs and Khanqahs. The British did not regularize the Mosque and Pulpit that was the principal source of control in the Muslim era. The same trend continued after independence. The non-interference of the state in masjid and madrassa left a large population out of the ambit of modernity. Their diction was religious. On the other side, the modernity preached by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was inevitably mired in religious articulation because social life in Muslim society was deeply embroiled in Islamic injunctions. He came across religion during his secular reformist agenda inevitably. Resultantly, We never had a non-religious discourse on any issue, including modern subjects such as science, security, and the economy. The West wriggled out of their religious contestations and discussions through Renaissance. We need to mainstream contemporary non-religious discourses to marginalize medieval religious consciousness and its contemporary manifestations, especially extremists. Unfortunately, our current history is embroiled in extreme religious discourses.

Pakistan was created against tyranny for majoritarianism. Somehow the idea got strengthened that it is a Muslim homeland. The religious classes considering themselves better Muslims claimed ownership of the county. The efforts in the 50s and 70s for Islamization and the anti-Ahmadi movement were just an expression and expansion of the extremist tendencies Pakistani society inherited. Islamization was a successful bid to claim political power by religious classes sidelined by the mainstream Pakistan movement. The extremism was strengthened by religious provisions in the constitution and through enacting religious laws. The policies of General Zia only enhanced the already existing extreme religiosity trends involving secular and mildly religious groups. General Zia knitted conservative urban and feudal classes with religious classes into a ruling combo. Their hold on power is absolute even now, despite thirty years of partial liberal rule of General Musharraf and PPP and centrist regimes of PMLN. Society is more religious than it was fifty years back. The overall social milieu is ripe for extremism. The rightest conservative religious ruling combo promotes religion and tolerates religious extremists and partners for power. Events of violent extremism are the occasional eruptions of the simmering religious volcano beneath the surface. The whole lava has to be taken out to cool the mountain.

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