Understanding Pakistan Project Team August 30th, 2007
By: Athar Osama
Ever since the Lal Masjid Saga ended, there have been a large number of opinions and analyses of what went wrong and perhaps how to fix it. Different commentrators have termed the post-Lal-Masjid era as a manifestation of a society on a collision course with itself. It has been termed, repeatedly, in the media as a “Battle for Pakistan’s Soul”. It is not clear whether and what this battle is? Who is going to fight it? and How will it be fought? It is not even clear (here) what the soul of Pakistan actually is that we’re talking about? Understanding Pakistan covered the Lal Masjid story as it happened and supported an Online Petition (here) to determine the truth behind the circumstances and motives of what transpired during several months leading upto the Lal Masjid and during Operation Silence in July, 2007.
There is no doubt that Pakistan’s social, political, and religious fabric suffers from considerable and growing extremism. Lal Masjid was perhaps only one of the manifestations of that inner restlessness and discontent. It may not be the last. What are we doing to rid our country of religious extremism–or for that matter extremism of any kind? In this Understanding Pakistan Special on Relgious Extremism In Pakistan, we try to address some of the questions that confront us today and invite reader’s opinions on these issues.
- Do we, Pakistanis, engage in a duplicity (or hypocracy) when we tell the West to better understand why Muslims hate them but do not ourselves make an attempt to understand why people within our own societies are turning into extremists and terrorists?
- Is it the lack of a constitutional and political space–an opportunity to address all national issues, including whether Shariah be imposed in Pakistan, and in what shape and form–that is turning a large number amongst us into fanatics against the status-quo?
- Is religious extremism a manifestation of poverty and economic circumstances? Would providing better–modern–education to children in schools rather than madressah’s solve the problem of religious extremism from our societies?
- Is there any hope that religious extremists could be co-opted back into mainstream politics so that their grievances are addressed through a political process rather than extra-legal means?
- Where do we see ourselves heading, 5, 10, 15 years from now, as a nation that is being pulled apart by at least two set of opposing forces–one that of religious extremists and the other secularists–both of whom want to take the country where (perhaps) majority of us don’t want to go?
These are hard–very hard–questions. But one thing is certain that, sooner or later, we will have to address these questions for ourselves with utmost honesty and sincerity. In order to promote this debate, Understanding Pakistan is presenting four different viewpoints on this issue:
- Ibn-e-Khuldun argues that it is the lack of political space to solve their issues that drives people to become extremists and terrorists
- Don Belt, in a piece recently published in National Geographic, presents a variety “geographical” analysis of what’s wrong with Pakistan’s religious make-up
- Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy presents a rather hopeless picture of the religious extremists and their political-moralistic agendas and stops just short of calling for the elimination of this “totalalitarian” force.
- Pew Global Attitudes Project looks at the issue of religious extremism as wider problem within the Muslim world than just Pakistan
Regardless of how one sees it, we believe, that better understanding the phenomenon of religious extremism within our societies is critical to taking the first steps towards creating a society that is at peace with itself. What steps would be necessary to achieve those objectives? How would these be achieved? We believe that these questions have so far escaped a serious examination. Understanding Pakistan also launches a New Poll focusing on steps that might be necessary to fight religious extremism in Pakistan.
Please register your VOTE and drop us a COMMENT to tell us what you think and how you believe this Battle for Pakistan’s Soul must be fought? Religious extremism is a problem that is gradually but surely eating away at the fabric of our society. It is also something that we probably cannot and should not delay addressing any longer. Understanding Pakistan hopes to create an opportunity to have that conversation in the weeks and months to come.