Countering campus extremism

All stakeholders should take steps to ensure that academic campuses are free of violence

September 24, 2023


ountering violent extremism has become an important issue for many societies. At the global level, various states, NGOs and INGOS are working together on the issue. The United Nations has highlighted the issue and taken several steps to counter the trend. The UN has also made this effort a part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 5 and 10). This is basically an effort at global level to prevent violence.

The UN first adopted a resolution for making February 12 the international day for preventing violence and extremism. Violence is a direct threat to a person’s security. Throughout Pakistan’s recent history, extremism has been creating hurdles in the country’s development. After India’s largest minority won an independent state in the form of Pakistan, Quaid’s inaugural speech set the tone for a nation that would guarantee everyone’s rights. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been through strategic situations that have led towards social extremism and violence.

The recent violence in Jaranwala, where a number of houses and churches were burnt by a violent mob, is one such episode.

While violence is a problem at all levels, the focus in this article is on strategies to counter extremism and violence on academic campuses. In academic environments, students from various ethnicities, sects and diverse views come together. A number of violent events have been reported from various universities. In a widely reported incident in 2017, a student, Mashal Khan, was lynched. Later one Saad Aziz, was found to be running an Al Qaeda sleeper cell.

At university level, many student activists behave aggressively to assert their identity and affiliation. Other causes of campus violence are political affiliations, ethnicity, lack of inter-provincial harmony, social media rumors, sectarian disharmony and inadequacy of policies for stopping such violence.

When it comes to highlighting political affiliation, some students display a total lack of tolerance. They are not used to listening to diverse views and are often rigid in their assumptions and arguments. There is a need to enhance and open the students’ minds through guidance and social acceptance of others.

When it comes to political affiliation, many student activists display a lack of tolerance. They are not used to listening to diverse views and are rigid in their assumptions. There is a need to enhance and open the students’ minds through guidance and social acceptance of others.

Most universities have students from varying backgrounds and ethnicities. When they enter universities, many of them form groups along ethnic lines. To improve access to education, governments have been reserving quotas for students from other provinces in their universities. However, this has not resulted in greater social harmony. Students from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have frequently reported feeling vulnerable. They don’t readily mix with local students. The government’s idea behind bringing together students from different provinces has thus not achieved its purpose. Given their vulnerabilities, the students have tended to drift apart. Friction leading to clashes between local and out-of-province students is frequent.

Chronic complaints and grievances sometimes lead to violence and emergence of extreme ideologies. It can be argued that students do not develop such attitudes at the university but carry them from their backgrounds. Many students have by then grown rigid in their ways of thinking and it is very difficult to change their views.

If we want to eradicate extremism from university campuses, we need to be careful at the grassroots level: from primary education to secondary and higher secondary levels. Hate speeches and violent activities and extremism are often learnt at secondary and higher secondary schools. By the time such students enter a university, extremist ideas are already deep-rooted in their minds.

The higher education institutions can sometimes provide a cure for extremism. Various activities such as seminars, workshops and student exchange programmes can bring social and interfaith harmony. Universities can also send delegations consisting of senior students to colleges or schools in other regions. On the other hand, revising the curricula is also necessary. All inflammatory material should be taken off the syllabi. Teaching of ethics, tolerance and social acceptance should be made compulsory.

The state should also take action to ensure rule of law. Societal values should be corrected to end student violence. With such reforms, academic campuses can be made violence free. The state should also take over religious education institutions. The authorities should ensure state control in the form of rule of law for the sake of social harmony and national unity.

The writer is anassociate professor of international relations at Government CollegeUniversity, Faisalabad. He can be reached