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Why nations radicalize

In this essay, Farah Adeed deals with an important question: What are the origins of this collective societal radicalization in Pakistan? He discusses Dr. Shoaib Pervez’s latest book Radicalization in Pakistan: A Critical Perspective to answer the question of radicalization. The piece is a must-read for the students of Pakistan politics and International Relations.

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The far-right Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), now a banned outfit, recently staged violent protests across the country as the government failed to expel the French ambassador. The party demanded the government to fulfill its promise and expel the ambassador. During these protests, 4 police officers were killed and several others were taken hostage in Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab.

The TLP, a religious group founded by firebrand leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has a radical ideology which revolves around the “finality of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.H)” and the protection of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The government decided to ban the TLP but also signed an agreement with the same outfit. After realizing that it had probably severely hurt the popular sentiment, the government had to call a session of the National Assembly at the 11th hour and presented “a TLP-dictated resolution” seeking a debate on the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in his country.

After a few days of the ban, TLP’s candidate Mufti Nazeer Ahmed Kamalvi contested a by-election in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and business hub, and secured 11,125 votes. Interestingly, the seat had fallen vacant after the PTI’s lawmaker resigned over his dual nationality controversy and became a senator, yet it could only bag 8,922 votes. Some analysts are of the view that one of the reasons behind this surprising defeat of the ruling party is its recent controversial policy i.e. crackdown against the TLP.

These events and subsequent developments lead us to raise some serious questions: is the TLP representative of popular religious sentiment in Pakistan? How does a far-right party gather popular support? What are the origins of this collective societal radicalization? And more importantly, who is responsible for such dangerous trends in the country?

Scholars have been attempting to grapple with the question of extremism and radicalization in Pakistan for the past several decades. In this regard, Dr. Shoaib Pervez, a renowned Pakistani scholar, recently edited a book titled Radicalization in Pakistan: A Critical Perspective. Dr. Pervez’s book is an intriguing and challenging read for any Pakistani or a student of Pakistan politics who has a desire to academically approach the question of radicalization.

Structurally, the book has been divided into three broad categories: educational norms, religious practices, and geopolitical aspects of radicalization. The underlying idea is to explore different dimensions of radicalization and dissect the existing policy discourse with an aim to offer an alternative perspective.

Dr. Fatima Waqi Sajjad’s chapter, Education and radicalization in Pakistan: A post-colonial perspective, deals with a fundamental question; why have the successive governments failed to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization despite extensive counter-radicalization policies?

Dr. Sajjad reviews “the policy discourses linking radicalization to education in Pakistan, with a critical, post-colonial perspective,” and concludes that “radicalization will exist as long as systemic violence exists”. On empirical grounds, she questions the credibility and academic influence of the western policy discourse on counter-radicalization. She points out that “the measures taken arbitrarily by authorities for counter-radicalization without any proper consultation with stakeholders or the ordinary people concerned.”

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On geopolitical theme, Dr. Pervez’s chapter, The radicalized regional order of India–Pakistan and prospects of a security community, is intellectually engaging and politically challenging. Dr. Pervez deals with the question of radicalization by focusing on Pakistan and India. He uses a constructivist and post-structuralist lens to explore the origins of radicalization in the subcontinent and to find out a way forward.

Dr. Pervez chiefly argues that “the seeds of radicalization in India–Pakistan societies were sown by the elites of both states after the demise of each states’ founding father.” The elites in India and Pakistan have, argues Dr. Pervez, “constructed a radicalized regional order in South Asia through self-fulfilling prophesies of glorifying themselves at the expense of the ‘Other’.”  He adds that the narrative has “a feeling based on enmity deliber­ately constructed by the elites for their own vested interests and at the expense of regional peace.”

He further argues that “in spite of having a common cultural past and having struggled together for independ­ence from colonialism, the ‘official’ historians of the two countries are at logger­heads with each other.” Dr. Pervez’s focus remains on elite-guided educational policies of India and Pakistan, mass media and policymakers in developing a hostile popular narrative to create an environment where enmity could be sustained and exploited.

Although Dr. Pervez’s argument is both persuasive and pervasive, yet I find it appropriate to point out that an overtly deterministic theory of radicalization does not adequately explain the cause of extremism and hostile attitudes prevailing in both states. For instance, the case of Pakistan should be studied as a part of the Muslim world where the rigid, conservative guardians of Sharia are always ready to violently challenge the moderate or liberal Muslims or their interpretations of Islam. Radicalism is a multidimensional phenomenon and its roots can be found in centuries-old tradition/dogmatic beliefs.

As far as religious theme is concerned, the book exclusively focused on Shia and Sunni ties in Pakistan. This not only reduced the scope of the book but also lessened the sheen of the overall argument. There needed to be a serious inquiry into the philosophical origins of an extremist ideology in the Muslim lands which continues to dominate the popular narratives in societies like ours. The latest example is the emergence of the TLP and the kind of support it is enjoying at the moment.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take the example of blasphemy: Sunni Islam is founded on the interpretations of four imams: interestingly, prominent Shafi and Maliki jurists believe that the blasphemer would be executed immediately unless he or she repented. Some Hanbalis, on the other hand, believe that “the blasphemer would be executed even if he or she repented.” In other words, it is an integral part of people’s faith to punish the blasphemers. This philosophical justification gives some legitimacy to the political agenda of the parties like the TLP and Jamat-i-Islami.

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My contention is that the book should have a portion reserved for doctrinal inquiry into the question of radicalization and religious intolerance. It would have not only deepened the academic understanding of the reader but also it could have potentially expanded the scope of the book. The role of doctrine (or faith) in radicalizing the community in the Muslim world, as Prof. Ahmet T. Kuru argues in his notable book, goes back to the 11th and 12th centuries when the ulema joined hands with the political class and legitimized authoritarianism.

Overall, this book is an interesting read for anybody interested to understand radicalization, its various dimensions and alternative policy measures to counter it.

Farah Adeed teaches politics and international relations at UMT. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.

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