May 242015

While it may be too early to give a final judgment on the accused that the Karachi police have nabbed for their alleged involvement in the Safoora tragedy and the murder of Sabeen Mahmud since the investigations are still in the very early stages, however, it should not be as big a shock as it has been to a lot of people that educated people from well-off families are indulging in terrorist activities. This is, in fact, nothing new. Human history is replete with bloody events resulting from poor and illiterate hitting back at the rich and wealthy when pushed to the wall. Communist and socialist ideologies had found their anchors in the deprivation and discontent of millions. But the communist and socialist ideologues were no illiterate people, nor were they from poor backgrounds.

Ideologies propounded by highly educated people fire movements which sometimes lead to bloody revolutions and sometimes degenerate into blood-spattered terrorism. Pushed to the wall by Israel, the Yasser Arafat-led PLO adopted terrorism as an effective weapon against the enemy. Israel countered with its own kind of terror. And the match is still on. And this match is not between the rich and poor, neither between the haves and have-nots but between right and wrong. When Tamil Tigers resorted to terrorism against the Sinhalese majority, the rate of literacy in Sri Lanka was the highest among regional countries. The leaders of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Ayman alZawahiri, Omar Saeed Sheikh, al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, al Qaeda operative Dr Arshad Waheed, the Times Square bombing planner, Faisal Shahzad, the Danish embassy bomber, Hamad Adil, and hijacker of a navy frigate at Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani, were all highly educated, and all from well-to-do families.

It was a very rich country, a highly educated one, one of the two superpowers of the day that pushed elements in our region into adopting a certain version of jihad as a strategy to defeat its rival, the other superpower, the Soviet Union. It used highly educated people from the Muslim world, including the oil-rich Arab countries and Pakistan, to sell to the Muslim masses the world over this idea of jihad. Pakistan, under its third military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, was just ripe for the scene. Madrassas, promoted by the state of Pakistan itself, mushroomed in the country. Syllabus in the so-called secular schools and colleges were redesigned accordingly. And a nation with a peculiar mindset began taking shape in the Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan. Most of those who today man our civil and military bureaucracy, educational institutions, political parties, business houses, legal fraternity, sports and cultural activities and even media, find it almost impossible to fight off this mindset knowing very well that it is eating into the vitals of the nation like cancer.

This cancer is not confined to the poor and illiterate only. In fact, it may actually be more prevalent among the educated and the well-to-do as many among them may end up readily accepting this distorted version of their religion because of the mindset they have acquired from the educational institutions they have gone to. It does not matter where you have graduated from — madrassa or a so-called secular educational institution — you can end up with the same peculiar mindset. Go to any educational institution today and you will find a clear division in the faculty on the issue of which version of religion is the right one. So, to say that terrorism is a direct result of poverty is classist because it demonises the poor and makes everyone take their legitimate dissent as ‘terrorism’ too. While poverty and illiteracy may be contributing factors towards terrorism, these are certainly not the only reasons, and if we want to tackle the problems we are facing vis-a-vis extremism and terrorism, we need to develop a holistic approach towards tackling this menace. Extremist ideologies affect all strata of society.

 The Express Tribune, May 25th,  2015.

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