A method to this madness

Last month’s attempted bombing at Times Square has added to the intrigue about the source of violent radicalisation.

June 17, 2010

Last month’s attempted bombing at Times Square has added to the intrigue about the source of violent radicalisation. A mixed picture of religious extremists has emerged. While some are highly educated and financially secure, others have never attended school and suffer from poverty. Their socio-economic backgrounds may be starkly different yet their actions, and to some extent their rhetoric, have distinct commonalities. Is there a method to this madness?

Poverty, ideological inclination, social injustice and political repression each have a part to play. Lack of governance has played a pivotal role in clearing fertile ground for radicalisation, involving military and political establishments who knowingly courted extremist elements motivated by the domestic imperative for acquiring legitimacy, or in response to external pressures. At the same time the government has failed in the critical spheres of social, economic and human security. No wonder our disillusioned youth has been searching for inspiration in all the wrong places. But poverty alone cannot provide the impetus for radicalisation. Political activism of any sort demands a semblance of understanding about political and social issues for a respectable and enduring opposition. The role of an archaic public school curriculum that deepens ethnic and sectarian divides has been most damaging in spreading intolerance. Unemployment per se is not the problem, but unfulfilled potential of an aspiring and educated middle-class as a result of under-employment is. Their religiosity aside, it is this sense of disenchantment which makes them susceptible to radicalisation.

To a rational mind, radicalisation will appear an attractive choice only when opportunity cost is low. The jihadi movement in the 80s and 90s saw young college graduates become willing foot soldiers due to persistent economic and social insecurity. In hindsight, for a despairing and impressionable youth, jihadi missions abroad must have presented itself as an adventure and an opportunity that they would seldom otherwise experience. It also explains why the jihadi idiom of an Islamic caliphate as a way to bring glory to the Muslim ummah and to avenge injustices in Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and elsewhere might resonate with a directionless youth. Western ascendancy in political and economic spheres is often held responsible for domestic deprivation. Militancy has become a response to the new global restructuring, a constant tug-of-war between integration and exclusionary forces and between radicals and moderates in the Muslim world. Failing other alternatives, ethnic nationalism in the Pakhtun and Seraiki regions has found a natural ally in religious militancy as they stand in defiance of the status quo.

Faith-based organisations have often stepped in to fulfill the social welfare role of the state. This parallel economy provides a clandestine front to militant outfits. Their appeal as employers and social service providers has increased due to chronic insecurity. This push towards radicalisation is not sudden. Lack of opportunity and disenchantment has plagued our youth for decades and pushed the more desperate ones to explore the unsavoury option of militancy. The process may have begun unchecked at local mosques, in informal congregations, classrooms, or on the internet. It signifies our failure: as a state, blind to the deficiencies of an education system that allows intolerance and resentment to fester in young minds; as a society, dismissive of the employment potential of our educated youth; and as a nation, oblivious to the needs of a directionless generation yearning for a sense of purpose.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 18th, 2010.


ali hamdani | 13 years ago | Reply I appreciate the author talking about poverty here. There is just a handful that is elite and gets pitched in by terrorsist. The majority is unemployed and poor whose children are taken away by the Taliban and turned into terrorist for their own political gains.
Yasir Qadeer | 13 years ago | Reply Faith-based charity organizations have been working internationally and I know that some have done a remarkable job. It is the extremist outfits which are a problem. They are not doing charity, they are provoking people. We must differentiate carefully here.
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