Our Take: How to reclaim Islam from the Radicals

By Khalil Nouri and Michael Hughes, Special to CNN

Contrary to popular belief, most of the Islamic faithful were severely disturbed by the 9/11 attacks. According to Gallup, 93 percent of Muslims across the globe condemn the heinous acts, and many found it appalling that deranged jihadists hijacked two planes and killed over 3,000 innocents in the name of Islam.  

These extremists also hijacked Islam itself. Muslims can rescue their religion only through a solution that is spiritual in nature.

Although a relatively diminutive percentage of the total, Muslims who adhere to Islamic radicalism have done significant damage. Take Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces are struggling against the Taliban and al Qaeda, movements described as “fascism with an Islamic face”.

Sadly, these Islamofascists are winning the war of ideas, peddling their perversion of Islam quite effectively, beating the coalition on the battlefield and, more importantly, in the minds of the local populace.

The U.S. cannot kill militants fast enough, as a seemingly endless stream of young jihadists pours in from thousands of Wahabbi and Deobondi madrassas, where the seeds of radical ideology are planted in minds of future suicide bombers.

Today, poor socioeconomic conditions combined with a lack of strong political leadership have created a perfect storm in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, causing young Muslims to feel hopeless and desperate.

Meanwhile, an impressive extremist media infrastructure tells them their individual religious duty is to take up arms in defense of Islam against the West. Poverty-stricken and neglected by their governments, the average young Muslim on the street becomes susceptible to these messages, his subconscious mind open to reactionary ideas that oppose the status quo, including jihadism.

Jihadists vow to establish a caliphate and implement Islamic law by any means, including overthrowing apostate regimes. They believe jihadists are the only true believers and that the rest of the world consists of hostile nonbelievers whose sole purpose is the destruction of Islam. The extremists’ main enemies are other Muslims who oppose jihad or support nonbelievers.

In contrast, traditional Islam allows for many forms of governance but holds that laws in a Muslim country should be inspired by Islam. This can be loosely interpreted to mean that laws must be moral. Most Muslims do not want to see another caliphate. Followers of modern Islam even see private life and government as separate matters.

Military force alone will never beat jihadist concepts and, in most cases, will simply make the problem worse. Going on the offensive against terrorists requires attacking their center of gravity – which is their narrative.

The extremists’ source of strength must be appropriated by forcefully contesting their ideas with undeniable truths based on historical facts. One of the best ways to do this is via fatwas, formal Islamic legal opinions issued by recognized religious authorities.

Fatwas issued by authorized scholars based on the true interpretation of Islamic Shariah will be given prominence over the opinions of unqualified Muslims.

A council of senior ulema (great imams) can be congregated in some secular and secure Islamic state where the most respected Islamic leaders in the world can collectively issue fatwas that publicly rebuke terrorism and anti-Islamic acts such as beheading, school blazing, suicide and martyr operations carried out in the name of Islam. They can also prohibit youth worldwide from traveling into terrorist hubs to engage in jihad.

The next step is to establish rehabilitation centers through Islamic seminary branches in the vicinities of militant operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan to divert recruits from entering terror camps. Young Muslims and even some hardcore terrorists, given the opportunity, would rather receive an Islamic awakening from preeminent scholars than suffer through the curriculum of barely-literate Mullahs.

Full caution must be taken that the endeavor is free from influence by non-Islamic states and that only Muslims are seen leading and financing it.

Islam is suffering because the ulema, prominent imams and the Muslim intellectuals, are failing to publicly renounce the societal disease of radicalism. They have an opportunity to reintroduce the true Islam of peace and love over the distorted version that preaches holy war and hate.

(Khalil Nouri was born in an Afghan political family. He is the co-founder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solutions for Afghanistan.Michael Hughes is a journalist for The Huffington Post and Examiner.com and is a strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition).

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  • Saqib Awan  On September 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

    The writer said and I quote: “The extremists’ source of strength must be appropriated by forcefully contesting their ideas with undeniable truths based on historical facts.” This is a sensible approach but I’m afraid that he will loose the argument, simply because he has failed to identify the underlying causes of these extreme actions. I’m amazed how these people don’t get it! They need to first look at their own countries’ imperial policies before starting a dialogue with the so called “extremists.”

    • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      nicely put Saqib.

  • Tariq Khan  On September 19, 2010 at 11:19 am

    How does one destroy the mosquitoes , with out draining the ponds which breed the mosquitoes .These are not just ponds, these are cesspools created not as much by the west but by the so called Islamic states of have been , exploiting , brutalizing and denying the basic, and just social and economic environs to their own people . No amount of fatwas ,by the corrupt and decadent scholars, who support these leaders who claim to rule the muslim world , will lead to any change .
    Perhaps a new social contract ,supported fully and honestly by the west, with a view to bring changes ,economically , socially and in political terms may see some tangible out come .
    Who ever is advising the west that this is a problem of pure dogma, does not either understand or does not want to address the root causes , of this trauma .

    • Irfan Yousufzai  On September 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      Saqib you have hit the bull’s eye.
      It was the US which CREATED the extremists to counter USSR influence in Afghanistan. Since 9/11(it has not been proved without doubt that it were Al QAEDA behind it), the US policies have been against anything Islamic. Their policies have, as a reaction, fanned extremism. There are so many examples. Just a few:
      In 2005, the Council on American-Islamic Relations received more discrimination complaints in California than any other state — 378, or 19% of all complaints. The council’s L.A. office said 68 of those complaints were workplace-related, up from 56 in 2004. […]

      Research by the nonprofit Discrimination Research Center suggests that much employment-related bias has focused on Muslims.

      In a 2004 study, the center sent out 6,000 fictitious resumes to employment firms throughout California. All applicants were similarly qualified, but the resumes included 20 names “identifiable” as white, Latino, African American, Asian American, Arab American or South Asian.

      The name Heidi McKenzie got the highest response rate, 36.7%, and Abdul-Aziz Mansour got the lowest, 23%.
      Case #1: The Bay Area, CA: A Muslim woman said she received a death threat from a co-worker. Her supervisors treated it as a joke, but ultimately, she left the job because she didn’t feel safe there any longer. (The San Francisco Chronicle, 10 November 2001)

      Case #2: Cupertino, CA: A 34-year-old Jordanian-American technician was fired from his job of seven months making computer circuit boards. The week before September 11, his weekly evaluation was positive, as usual. However, the day following the terrorist attacks, his boss gave him his first negative review. Furthermore, his boss required him to report his whereabouts every half-hour. After a week, he lost his job in a series of layoffs. Although there were other layoffs, the company kept technicians with less seniority than his. (Newhouse News Service, 15 October 2001)

      Case #3: Fontana, CA: A Muslim high school senior working at a fast-food restaurant was the repeated target of bias jokes from both his coworkers and his manager. At first, coworkers taunted him, asking why his “cousins” destroyed the World Trade Center. Sometime later, his manager began teasing him as well. “Hey, we’re going to have to check you for bombs,” the manager joked, often in front of other employees. Days later, he was fired after he accidentally threw away a paper cup that the manager was using. The management said he was let go for “performance deficiencies.” (The Los Angeles Times, 10 February 2002)

      Case #4: Huntington Beach, CA: A doctor from Egypt was abruptly fired from his job at a medical center by his supervisor, who specifically mentioned the doctor’s nationality and religion. The doctor thought of suing, but was worried it would hurt his chances of getting a green card. (This could threaten his future employment opportunities.) (The San Francisco Chronicle, 10 November 2001)

      Case #5: Wilmington, NC: A nurse recently converted to Islam and came to work wearing the hijab (head scarf worn by some Muslim women to cover their hair and necks). A doctor called her to his office and said, “You’re being offensive to me and my clients.” She talked to the head manager who assured her not to worry, that they would discuss it the next day. The next morning, the head manager told her, “I can’t ask you to leave and it’s not legal to fire you, but if you want to leave you can.” He also told her, “If you don’t cover your head everything will be OK.” (Reported to the ADC)

      The USA must play the role of “Big Brother” to the rest of the world.The first step must be to put an end to discrimination & bias by them. If the writers do adequate research,they will find out, the rise in extremism is in direct increase to the events since 9/11 and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.
      Steps suggested by them can only work if the western policies are unbiased.
      Till then, nothing substantially will change.

      • Saulat Khan  On September 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm

        Unless & until both sides of the coin as taken into consideration, as pointed out by Saqib & Irfan-extremism cannot be curbed.No relationship is one sided.
        A woefully ill written article-again keeping ONLY US interest in mind!

      • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

        the “big brother” is never gonna realize that he is indeed a big brother…………he will always play the part of the big “bully”. and keep running after the trillion dollar question………….”y do these people hate us.”

  • Akhtar Khan  On September 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I am surprised by the naivety shown by the authors of the article in being receptive to the claim that the people who crashed the planes into the twin towers were ‘jihadists’ and ‘extremists’. We are so gullible, and ready to accept guilt without any evidence when it comes to those who are Muslims and have a different understanding of the requirements of the deen from us. Even today, people in the west are questioning who was responsible, and who really flew the planes into the towers and the Pentagon. But our so-called elite have taken it as a foregone conclusion that it was the ones names, even though some are still alive and well.

    What is really required is to go back and see the reasons for the resentment towards the west in the minds of the Muslims. It is ludicrous to judge the effect without looking at the cause. The main goal of the US is to control the mineral wealth and oil resources of the Middle East and Asia. It is also the firm belief of the right-wing Christians that safe-guarding the State of Israel will bring about the return of Jesus (on him be peace). Thus, Israel can do what it wants, no Christian will question its actions.

    Muslims are the worst affected by the atrocities since GWB and his neo-cons came to power. Their lands have been invaded, lives have been lost, property destroyed, girls raped, innocents slaughtered by drones, and the list is long. Yet, they are the extremists if they retaliate, though very mildly.

    • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      couldn’t have put it better myself. well done.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    “Islamofascists are winning the war of ideas, peddling their perversion of Islam quite effectively, beating the coalition on the battlefield and, more importantly, in the minds of the local populace.”

    and they still not know as to why they are winning the minds of the local populace.

    tsk tsk.

    • Rashid Inam  On September 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

      No wonder US is making a huge mess of whatever they undertake – like Midas’s touch turned everything to gold, USA’s touch turns everything into a cesspool.
      Tsk tsk indeed.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    “young jihadists pours in from thousands of Wahabbi and Deobondi madrassas, where the seeds of radical ideology are planted in minds of future suicide bombers.”

    and these madrassas are the foundation of future suicide bombers???

    still, the “allies” in pakistan don’t take any action against such madrassas??

    neither does any action is taken in the Afganistan, where the US forces are running rampage??

    fact of the matter is, there is NO evidence against many of such madrassas. on different occassions the US delegates alongwith the foreign journalists have visited some of these madrassas, and have found young, vibrant, eager to learn the fundamentals of Islamic values there. nothing to be ashamed of imho.

    if there were any evidence, we would have seen thousands if not hundreds shipped (illegally) to Gitmo, and the likes. Does the US need any evidence???

    no. they just need a lie. (as evident from attacks on Iraq especially. no wonder their hollywood industry has fascinated many around the globe over the years.)

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    “Today, poor socioeconomic conditions combined with a lack of strong political leadership have created a perfect storm in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan”

    and who is responsible for this???

    on several occassions, i have read/heard statements of senior ex servicemen, including esteemed Gen. Gull that it has been the US who has always been behind the government formations here in Pakistan.

    and the case of Afganistan?? they bring in a CLIA paid employer to the throne. his kingdom and reach?? only in his castle walls.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    “Meanwhile, an impressive extremist media infrastructure tells them their individual religious duty is to take up arms in defense of Islam against the West.”

    impressive media structure…………………..which is where??????????

    even the fm stations get bombed. the largest telecomm. infiltrators are sitting in the US, with plenty of spy satellites at their disposal, still if they cant get to this media structure, then what can be said but that they are highly incompetent???

    it was one man who gave such call to arms………….bin laden.

    whereas it was a single person (most powerful man on earth……….NOT) who announced the war as a Crusade. slip of the tongue?? not really.

    two of the muslim countries get bombed, overtook, and still if you think that the citizens there will keep their calm…………..keep on seeing the war brutalities around them…………the war crimes……………..then may be u need to wake up or take your family to such places too, so that u finally realize the anger behind such resistances.

  • Laila  On September 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    USA must shed it’s Islamophobia. First.
    Since the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims and brown-skinned people in this country have been under siege. While tens of thousands have been detained without any probable cause, summarily detained, or have fled in fear, the majority continue to suffer silently. The climate Muslims face today is very much as it was for Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were rounded up and detained in internment camps
    While we thank God that no attack like that of 9/11 has recurred, anti-Islamic opinion has risen consistently in the last six years in the United States. Today, a majority of our neighbors think very negatively of Islam and Muslims and 22 percent don’t even want a Muslim as their neighbor despite the fact that wherever Muslims live in America, property values go up since they are mostly professionals. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll said they favored requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry a special ID.
    Public policy in this country is driven by public opinion, which ironically is itself driven by public policy. Public policy and public opinion are both becoming increasingly xenophobic, with utter disregard towards our American constitution, rule of law, civil rights laws and our nation’s human values. The USA Patriot Act was passed the day it was introduced, leaving no lawmaker any time to read its 342 pages. That Act established guilt by association, indefinite detentions without a hearing, secret evidence and secret hearings. Under the special registration program aimed at Muslim visitors to the US, the government fingerprinted and photographed 144,513 Muslims
    In addition, the federal government has detained thousands of Muslim citizens and has ordered all law enforcement personnel at local, state and national agencies to stop giving the total number detained.Tens of thousands have been deported summarily and a similarly high number left voluntarily because of hostility towards Muslims. Muslims are routinely subjected to racial profiling which has become an acceptable norm in today’s America. As many as 30,000 Muslims have been waiting to become citizens for more than three years even though US law requires only a 120-day processing time.
    As a result of this Islamophobic public policy and public opinion, Muslim wages in America have gone down by 10% according to the University of Illinois and Columbia University.Seventy-six percent of all young Arab-Americans surveyed in July 2007 by Zogby International say they have been personally discriminated against. Fifty percent of Arab-Americans surveyed in a Yale University study were found to have clinical symptoms of depression.
    Nourri & Michael.GROW UP!
    Try doing serious research before writing.
    Or you know what we call writers like you in our part of the world?
    This write up may work in the illiterates in America,biased up to their eyeballs-not here SIRS!

    • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      well said.

      • Laila  On September 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

        Thank you Faisal.If only these “writers”read before they write.

    • Asad  On September 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

      I was planning to write something similar, but Laila has done a better
      job than I could have done.

      One additional point of importance. Some think tanks (RAND and others)
      have come to the conclusion that they need to redefine and repackage
      Islam to get rid of the Islamic threat. While British imperialists
      left our religion alone, these guys have the audacity to explain what
      Islam is to Muslims.


  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    “The extremists’ main enemies are other Muslims who oppose jihad or support nonbelievers.”

    i have never read/heard of any attack of molvi faqeer, nazeer, haqqani groups on other innocent muslims.

    ttp is another case. ……………………………they are just plain terrorists. with ties to foreign elements including the CLIA. and the proofs have been given to the US higher ups on many occassions. only to hear once again, DO THIS, DO THAT. DO MORE.

  • Khalil Hasan  On September 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “A council of senior ulema (great imams) can be congregated in some secular and secure Islamic state……….”
    I am wondering if the authors know what Islam is. I don’t know how an Islamic state could be secular. Islam has`its own way of governance and any state following a system short of it should not be referred to as ‘Islamic State’. Secularism, for sure, does not match the characteristics of an Islamic system of governance.

    • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

      vrey true Khalil.

      • Akhtar Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 8:13 am

        Ignorance is bliss for them. Little do they and their followers know that secularism is kufr.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “Most Muslims do not want to see another caliphate. Followers of modern Islam even see private life and government as separate matters.”

    MOST muslims?????????? and you guys arrived at this conclusion through????? what??

    modern islam??????????? which is different from the Islam from the times of Muhammad peace be upon him in?????? what??

    there is only one Islam. and there will always be one Islam.

    others are just terms used by the Western media to create confusions in the minds of not only the born muslims, but also the new converts.

    and that Islam is covered in the Holy Book……………….and can be seen in the Last prophet’s Sunnah.

    take a look at what his life was. then come and compare the “modern islam” u speak of with it.

    there is not a single MUSLIM who will ever want to refute the true beliefs as described by Muhammad peace be upon him.

    • Akhtar Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 8:15 am

      Khilafat is a fact, stated in the Qur’an. People only question its possibility from their limited present-day experience, but it is bound to happen. Denial is denial of the Qur’an.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    “fatwas that publicly rebuke terrorism and anti-Islamic acts such as beheading, school blazing, suicide and martyr operations carried out in the name of Islam.”

    there already exists such fatwas. and imams of every school of thought have agreed over the things u just wrote here.

    what else is needed???

    all the renowned imams are united on this.

  • kaukab siddique  On September 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Look at who wrote this garbage distributed by CNN.

    Now you are going to let non-Muslims teach us Islam?

    • pakpotpourri2  On September 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      Mr Kaukab Siddique
      We must know what the west is writing about us-ONLY then can we present the counter point of view.

  • Asad  On September 19, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    There is an active effort going one by Western Think Tanks like RAND to redefine Islam for us Muslims.
    These people are paid agents of Imperialistic powers who want to teach us what Islam is.
    It is really quite disgusting.

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On September 19, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I am one who sincerely believes the twin tower attack was carried out by Mossad at the behest of the CIA. Both had much to gain for their country and its long term interest. So what is this all about the Jihadis?

  • S U Turkman  On September 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Reading the comments on the article, my conclusion is either the Writer is wrong that only 7% of Moslims are under influence of our Mollaa’s version of Islamic Opium or those 7% have a lot larger than life Dis-information Network on Internet. They are blaming the Non Moslim world for their all the violence of their Sneak Attack Terrorists just like almost all Moslims blame Satan for every Sin they commit.
    Ordinary Criminals have following traits:
    1. Denial. 2. Blaming someone else. 3. Create a False Alibi.
    These people and Pakistan have done the same repeatedly.

    • Tarun  On September 20, 2010 at 1:04 am

      Great job again Turk ji.
      Tusee waqaee great o!
      Ballay Ballay tuwadee. Don’t leave these damn pakis!

    • Raheel Dogar  On September 20, 2010 at 1:06 am

      Turkman I have read your repeated posts on blog & have no doubt that you are a fake ID on take of RAW or Mossad or both.Whoever you are,a Pakistani you are not. Have a good day spewing venom!

    • Akhtar Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 8:21 am

      Try to educate yourself, in that is your salvation. This world is like a bubble on the face of the ocean. Work for the eternal future and see where you could be and where you should be.

  • Saeed Qureshi  On September 20, 2010 at 1:29 am

    The article”Our Take: How to reclaim Islam from the Radicals”, is a very realistic and pragmatic and is not deceptive as one of the writers has pointed out. It does not, in any way convey, that the non-Muslims will take a lead in controlling Islam; On the contrary, it assigns this responsibility to Muslim scholars and clergy to perform this vital task through the Islamic seminaries.
    The fact is that we have to weaken the oppressive impact of the Islamic fanatics so that Islam can be presented to both the Islamic conservatives and non-Muslims as a progressive, liberal, pragmatic, and tolerant enlightened religions. Such an approach will give the desirable message that Islam brooks no bias against any religion, as long they break no barriers set by the Islamic Shariah that gives almost equal rights to the non-Muslims in social life.

    The approach of the writers of this very thoughtful article offers a panacea that can go a long way in mitigating the ideological confusion among the feuding theological schools and sects within Islam as well as to accommodate the latest trends of the modern times.

    Besides, it can help dilute the lethal extremism and rigid orthodoxy that is the bane of Islam and perhaps the cardinal cause for its being on the receiving end and under pressure both internally and from other faiths.

    Saeed Qureshi

  • Wajahat  On September 20, 2010 at 1:33 am

    It is a false assumption that the recruits for the rogue movements of Al qaeda and Taliban are misguided Islamic idealistic youth. What we constantly over look is the fact that the money plays
    a very important roll in motivativing a family into giving up young sons and daughters who can be a source of income. This is compensated by these rogue group through offers of life time
    monetary sustenance. There is money invovled here.

    I have always held the idea that this materialistic motivation can only be countered by a better monetary offer to the potential sources of recruits.
    For example, opening a recruiting center that will recruit student with life long stipend to their families for giving up the child to educational instituitions.
    It costs must less than what the rogue groups end up paying. Because, the stipent can stop as the child begins to contribute.

    Another example, one bomb exploded to kill a group of 10 insurgents can provide for 100 recruits to a 4 year education program.

    When are we going to learn, in poverty, immediate material need trumps the spiritual belief.

    Think about it.

    Syed Wajahat Hussain

    • Akhtar Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 8:26 am

      Do you have any evidence, or is it your presumption?

      Can you tell us whether anybody would tie bombs to his/her body for money? The human/animal instinct is to avoid threat to life. A person would only give life in desperation. I believe the situation has reached a stage where people are giving their lives as they do not see a future, be it taking drugs or committing to a bombing.

  • Ayesha Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 4:48 am

    I agree with Saqib Awan. What is on the other extreme of the religio-political continuum…..imperialism?! Having said that, we, Muslims, do need to reclaim Islam from militants and their Western leaders.

  • Akhtar Khan  On September 20, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Dear Yasmeen,

    Thank you for your response. But the link does not work. Both clicking and copy/pasting did not work. The first took me the front page of Daily Times, and the second was a failure.

    • pakpotpourri2  On September 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Here it is again:
      VIEW: Extremism: too late to contain it? —Yasmin Ali

      The Taliban would come to Swat residents’ houses and ask able-bodied men of the family to join them. The ‘pay structure’ then ranged from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000. The atmosphere of insecurity has diminished whatever little opportunities they had of earning a decent livelihood. Are we pushing the locals of Swat to support the Taliban by closing the doors to gainful employment in their area?

      Extremism, fundamentalism, militancy — these are terms used and heard every day. Are they the same, or are they different? Is a fundamentalist an extremist or vice versa? I am a fundamentalist, and so are you. But are we extremists? I will politely, and if need be, rudely, disagree.

      Until 1950, there was no entry for fundamentalism in the Oxford English Dictionary; the derivative, fundamentalist, was added only in its second, 1989 edition. The term ‘fundamentalism’ has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those things that were fundamental to Christian belief. The term was also used to describe The Fundamentalist, a collection of twelve books on five subjects, published in 1910. In the same year, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church distilled these into what became known as the ‘five fundamentals’ or the basic five pillars of their religion. So any person who believes in the fundamentals of the faith he or she belongs to, is, essentially, a fundamentalist.

      It was not until the Islamic Iranian Revolution that the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ was coined. This made it easy for the West to relate to what was happening in that part of the world, as they were well aware of Christian fundamentalism. A fundamentalist is, however, distinct from an extremist. In democratic societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with an authoritarian regime are usually branded extremists. In authoritarian societies, the opposite is true.

      See why I am willing to disagree on the callous ways these terms are abused and branded? Even all extremists are not action-oriented militants. That is yet another category. A militant is a person with an aggressive, combative character, especially in the service of a cause. As an intelligent reader, one can discern that it is possible to be a fundamentalist without being an extremist or a militant. You can also be an extremist without being a militant. However, you cannot be an extremist and a militant without being a fundamentalist.

      Let us examine why extremism and militancy seem to have captured the minds of so many Pakistanis, especially the youth, who are willing to blow themselves up to smithereens. Around three years ago, I taught a student who hailed from Swat. He and his brother were studying in Lahore. The father had died many years ago. They had a sister and a mother, who moved to Lahore, too, in due course of time. The reason for moving the family to Lahore was interesting. He told me that the Taliban would come to the residents’ houses and ask the able-bodied men of the family to join them. The ‘pay structure’ then ranged from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000. Should the men die in action, the money would continue to be paid and in case of the marriage of a sister or a daughter, the Taliban organisation would bear the full costs. For many, he said, in the absence of any job opportunities, this was just another plain job. Many embraced it. Not because of faith in their ideology, nor an undying belief in the cause, but just as a vocation.It does not necessarily follow that a great number do not believe within the ranks of the Taliban that they are answering to a higher calling. Of course they do. But a large number joins their ranks due to poverty, lack of opportunities, inability to improve their lot, having been made negative-minded after suffering injustices and, at times, just to seek power.

      Now I come to the crowning glory: our failure to provide for our people, in every sphere of life. Talibanisation of Swat is a classic case study. Talking of the education sector, how many schools do we have in Swat? How many for girls and boys each in terms of gender break-up? How do they compare with the average educational standard of the rest of the province as well as other provinces? How many professional institutions are there? In the health sector, how many hospitals do we have in Swat? What standard and quality of healthcare do they provide? What is the number and quality of the medics there?

      In terms of employment opportunities, what kind of manufacturing units or industrial infrastructure development can these areas boast of? What kind of opportunities do the locals have to gainfully employ themselves? The economy of Swat is based on tourism and small-scale silk and cosmetics manufacturing units. Since the insurgency and the resultant army action took place, many of these units have been closed and their revival will take time because most of their technical staff belonged to other provinces, and they are reluctant to return unless the situation improves. But, what of the locals themselves? How many locals do these units employ? Hardly any, I was told.

      More than 25,000 workers were employed by some 500 hotels in the Swat district. The industry is mainly dependent on tourism for its business. Its growth has remained at the lowest ebb because of security concerns for the last couple of years. But still, this was the main source of income for thousands of families.

      Are we pushing the locals of Swat to support the Taliban by closing the doors to gainful employment in their area? The atmosphere of insecurity prevailing there has diminished whatever little opportunities they had of earning a decent livelihood. Whereas there is no denying that militancy cannot be supported, the menace must be dealt with in no uncertain terms. It is also a reality that we need to focus on the development of these neglected areas and provide basic amenities, justice, education, health facilities and job opportunities. This is an arduous road to take, but one that is unavoidable. This is the only way to contain and reverse the tide. It is still not too late.

      We need to distance ourselves from just talking. Tall claims and bravado will not achieve the objective of creating a stable and prosperous Pakistan. The opportunity exists, but maybe not for too long. Avail it, Mr Prime Minister. The country needs a short-term plan coupled with a long-term strategy to rehabilitate the area. We have the resources and we have the skill. But do we have the vision and the will to do it?

      The writer is a lawyer, currently teaching in the Mass Communications Department of Beaconhouse National University. She also owns and moderates her blog and can be reached at pakpotpourri@gmail.com

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