Like terrorism, the definition of extremism is also ambiguous. Where terrorism is predominantly violent in nature, extremism includes violent and non-violent forms. It, therefore, makes it more dangerous and threatening. The basic constituents of violent extremism structure may differ from one society to another however its undercurrents are the same everywhere. Extremists operate on multiple levels whereby they spread extremism through force, show of strength or lord it over state institutions. They utilise the media effectively to reach their audience. There are perhaps three ways through which individuals spread extremism, create social disturbance and produce terror in our society.
First, the extremists strive for leadership at the local, district or regional level on the basis of our peculiar social conditions wherein a lack of education and blind social following play a major role. Here, violent tendencies are strongly related to the social and cultural background of these individuals. Such individuals create their own following and use their social capital as a bargaining chip to serve their violent actions. They create their own social space and do not compromise on their social sphere. While creating their social audience, they may also get assistance from other individuals, political or non-political, or an organisation for certain social or organisational objectives. As their dependency on external actors decreases, they start exercising their own actions to sustain their existence. In fact, their statements create a kind of social disintegration in society which is also exploited by anti-state elements. In the last leg, they start producing their own social franchises to obtain financial and economic benefits as well.
We have seen the non-compromising attitudes of religious leaders on an array of issues and some of them have spearheaded marches on Islamabad to yield the government to their demands. Scores of precious lives were lost apart from causing social discomfort and social alienation during these activities. Recently, the Lal Masjid’s cleric has refused to adhere to the government guidelines and lead Friday prayers despite registration of cases against him by the local administration. Such types of intransigent attitudes enhance extremist tendencies in society.
Second, the extremists hold sway over innocent minds which not only develop a particular attitude but also readily embrace violent extremism on account of any personal misfortune. Such radicalised persons become violent quite abruptly and appear as tools of violent extremism. Interestingly, these radicals may not have similar social conditioning and their educational or technical skills vary on a wide spectrum. For example, many educated youths from prominent educational facilities in Karachi have remained involved in multiple violent extremist activities. Moreover, the recent sit-in in Islamabad in 2019, indicates how easily one can amass the support of thousands of religious students for a particular activity.
Third, whenever these extremists get an opportunity to exploit government policies, shaped and reshaped on account of national, regional and international incidents, they do it with social alacrity and religious control. The extremists dovetail these incidents and create hype on the electronic and social media to disseminate it in a particular manner which creates social friction between segments of the population and the government. The moment the local administration acts in a manner prejudicial to their aspiration, they threaten the institutions with public disorder and lawlessness. If the government department gives them space, they latch on to it to justify their stance with jubilation and distortion.
We must define extremism in clear terms in our legal parlance. The pandemic of extremism is more dangerous than the spread of coronavirus in our society. We need to fight it vigorously on multiple fronts. We should reclaim the space we have lost to different extremist groups by countering their arguments in the physical and non-physical space. Hence, the state must restore its authority and control the pandemic of extremism in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2020.
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