The Muttahida Ulema Board has unanimously decided to cleanse the curriculum of extremist content. “So far, 307 books have been cleared from possible extremist content,” Special Assistant...
The Muttahida Ulema Board has unanimously decided to cleanse the curriculum of extremist content. “So far, 307 books have been cleared from possible extremist content,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi told the media on December 24, 2021. While cleansing of textbooks is a good gesture and an appropriate development to begin with, the state needs to do much more to get the country out of violent religious extremism before it is too late.
Escalating religious extremism has become the most serious challenge for the development, prosperity, and image-building of the Pakistani nation. Every other day, cases of religious-based violence and extremism in various parts of the country are being reported on social media and mainstream media. But there seems to be no viable action against the violators and the threat is getting stronger and stronger.
No doubt, the lynching of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara not only exposed the deteriorating situation of Pakistani society but also awakened the state to perform its duty of protecting its people. Consequently, the security forces were pressured to arrest the violators, and religious scholars were asked to come forward to work on the image-building aspect.
However, the big question still remains the same. Is this enough to eradicate religious extremism? Yes, but until the next incident of such sort. What is really needed is a practically applicable long-term policy to counter faith-based violence.
First, the government should call a special parliamentary meeting or a grand national dialogue on the issue of violent religious extremism. Traditionally, there has been a post-incident dialogue culture in Pakistan, but this one should not be delayed further – to wait for a bigger one – as the societal structure has already been distorted enough. An effective policy should be designed with all the stakeholders on board. This would also be crucial to justify and strengthen the state’s action to establish its writ in times of violent protests.
Second, political parties should be barred from playing the religious card and raising radical slogans in election campaigns. Such parties get popular support by adding sensitive religious issues in their manifestos. There have been enormous instances of how political leaders have claimed to be the ‘guardians of religion’ at the cost of radicalising society. How could Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed have enforced the law against religious-based violent protests when he himself had been provoking crowds in the name of religion against the previous government? Here, it becomes the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan to actualise the rules once formulated by parliament.
Third, moderate religious leaders should lead a national level awareness campaign through various forms of media to portray the real image of Islam, which is poles apart from violence and extremism. It is quite unfortunate that moderate Muslims often remain spectators and do not play their role. It is time they openly disowned all those clerics who make fiery speeches to radicalise people. Moderate religious leaders can play an important role in evolving society from extremism to moderation.
Fourth, all state institutions should stay away from patronising, financing, or provoking any religious sect, militant group, or even a political party. Lessons should be learnt from the past on how such ill-designed tactics led to the destruction of state infrastructure. It is high time the state became apolitical, especially in matters of internal security and national integration.
Fifth, the state apparatuses must perform their duties as per the law rather than religious pathos. There have been instances when the security forces were seen glorifying the murderers publicly or silently watching the incidents. Instead, all parts of the state and government should execute laws at all costs. Similarly, the judiciary should ensure proper adjudications on such matters without any public pressure. It is completely wrong by all laws to keep someone behind the bars for eight years and then declare her innocent. Who is responsible for the eight solid years she spent in confinement? And, how will it be cured? There are so many flaws in the state system that need to be rectified.
The above recommendations may provide the basis of a long-term counter-extremism policy if tried to be formulated and executed. Inevitably, violent religious extremism has become a big challenge, which cannot be underestimated at all. At the moment, mere catharsis and political point-scoring are not enough. The state and society need to go beyond that. If not, the day is not too far when it will be out of control for the state to counter it.
The writer is a political analyst with special focus on Pashtun nationalism and the Afghan conflict. He tweets khanzqasim