Extremist narrative

Published: January 7, 2014
The writer is Executive Editor of The Express Tribune

The writer is Executive Editor of The Express Tribune

There are many theories about how and why the extremist narrative began to be heard in our country and how from being remotely audible initially, it has become a strident narrative out-shouting — almost — all other rational narratives.

Some of the theories trace this narrative to the very genesis of Pakistan that morphed immediately following the partition of the subcontinent into a perpetual jihad between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India over Kashmir.

Some trace its origins to Pakistan subsequently becoming a security state. Some date it to General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation efforts.

Others have blamed it on the reinvention of the concept of jihad by the US as it successfully tried to bleed into oblivion, the now defunct Soviet Union and its communist philosophy.

There are also those who ‘credit’ the late Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda for introducing the narrative to Muslims the world over as they attempted to liberate the ummah from the shackles of what they considered to be the global hegemony of the faithless.

Some even attribute its origin and its degeneration into a bloody mayhem to the age-old sectarian rivalry within the Muslim ummah and an obscurantist interpretation of Islam itself.

Suicide is un-Islamic, but this obscure extremist narrative has made it Islamic on the non-Islamic basis that since the suicide bombers die in the cause of Islam, they go straight to jannat. They justify the killing of innocent people in suicide bombings on the self-serving fatwa that good Muslims among the victims would go straight to jannat and the not-so-good Muslims, naturally, straight to hell.

There are many among the Muslim communities the world over, who believe that the narrative has found empathy with the downtrodden, hungry and illiterate masses in the Muslim world, who have been subjected to decades’ long oppression by their corrupt and decadent ruling elite, lacking even a modicum of moral authority to rule.

In order to roll back the gains made by the extremist narrative so far, and save Pakistan from imminent chaos, we need to develop an equally forceful counter-narrative. And this counter-narrative needs to be articulated from a political platform by politicians of known integrity and credibility.

One thought Imran Khan was in an ideal position to give a lead to such a narrative. But he seems to have gone in a different direction. Not that the direction is wrong because he, like many among us, does not seem to want to see the ongoing confrontation with the extremists turning into a nationwide civil war.

Imran, perhaps, believes that he can talk the extremists out of their ways and get them to lay down their arms. There is no harm in giving his talks proposal a try. But perhaps, he would like to consider other equally peaceful but more effective ways to achieve his objective.

One such method is to isolate the extremists by appealing directly to their supporters and potential supporters with a counter-narrative, offering them a life free from hunger, disease and ignorance; a life free from insecurity; and a corruption-free society where everyone is equal before law. It is, no doubt, a tall order. But being a proven achiever, Imran’s call would surely carry the needed weight. And since his party rules the most affected province, he could test this strategy in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while waiting for the extremists to make up their mind about whether or not to agree to talks.

He could start by offering free schooling up to the primary level and free primary health care; make the rich in his province pay for utilities (water, gas, electricity) consumed by the not-so-rich and also get the former to share the latter’s transport burden.

A good part of this scheme would become economically feasible once the local governments, as envisaged in the manifesto of the PTI, are set up after the upcoming local bodies elections.

Since it was Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was the first politician (and still is) to give voice to the counter-narrative, one expects him to follow up with a concrete plan of action for Sindh.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Eman
    Jan 7, 2014 - 11:18PM

    We need a single counter narrative for the whole country, from gilgit to gwader.Recommend

  • unbelievable
    Jan 8, 2014 - 12:34AM

    Others have blamed it on the reinvention of the concept of jihad by the US as it successfully tried to bleed into oblivion,
    The mere concept of American’s recruiting Muslims for Jihad is outlandishly stupid. Can you image white Christians standing outside Mosques and Madrassas spouting defending the “faith” nonsense. Unfortunately this is one of the many myths that has somehow taken as fact by many if not most Pakistanis. I might add that during the Soviet/Afghan conflict suicide bombing was non existent – that’s a recent touch.


  • shahid
    Jan 8, 2014 - 12:58AM

    >> One such method is to isolate the extremists by appealing directly to their supporters and potential supporters with a counter-narrative, offering them a life free from hunger, disease and ignorance; a life free from insecurity; and a corruption-free society where everyone is equal before law. It is, no doubt, a tall order.

    Why would author’s suggestions counter the extremist narrative which according to the author is based on “genesis of Pakistan that morphed “, “perpetual jihad between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India over Kashmir”, “Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation efforts”, “reinvention of the concept of jihad by the US”, etc.

    What do provision of “a life free from hunger, disease and ignorance; a life free from insecurity; and a corruption-free society where everyone is equal before law” have to do with the desires of people wanting to go directly to jannat or other reasons for wanting to get involved in wars?

    There is a clear contradiction between what the author is proposing to fix and what he is offering to use for implementing this fix. He does not seem to understand what has caused these insurgents movements to arise and how really to go about in taking care of them. Using carefully constructed western narratives to explain what has been plaguing the Muslim world for the past many decades is bound to lead to such contradictions and confusions. Trying to force these narratives will not solve the problems; it will only make them worse.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2014 - 1:56AM

    An excellent article and very well written propsals too. Imran Khan is not the leaderr of KPK, but a fellow traveller riding with those who represent the future winning side. IK is a populist and this is his stregnth. The authors proposl for improving conditions at grass roots are the best I have ever read. We must all learn not to call the so called extremists as the extremist, like the French would say, hard people with good heart! We must not write against the Madrassas but advocate the improvements in the syllabus by additions of basic science subjects; equaly we must not criticise the numerous Islamic institutions but encourage them to set up hospitals and universities besides the usual social charity work.
    This is how the European civiisation has endured and this is how Pakistan can overcome its problems which if left unattended will lead to civil war.

    Rex Minor


  • John the Baptist
    Jan 8, 2014 - 2:47AM


    Agreed. And that is: “Our land, our way”


  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Jan 8, 2014 - 3:35AM

    Author is beating around the bush and is too shy about stating the obvious that the use of non state actors as an extension of policy was a bad decision period. Similarly all the war to win Kashmir were bad decision. Policy on Kashmir will lead to kamikaze for Pakistan. Recommend

  • Kolsat
    Jan 8, 2014 - 3:46AM

    This belief of the Muslims that the non-Muslim world is rotten and that only Islam will make it pure. All Muslims forget that before Islam was born there were five other religions present and they among them kept the world in control. Therefore it extreme arrogance to suggest that only Islam should rule the world. If that happens and it will never happen the world as we know it today will cease to exist. Your faith Imran Khan is misplaced he will not amount to anything but a fringe dweller.


  • Noor Nabi
    Jan 8, 2014 - 6:08AM

    De-Saudization of Pakistani society is the first step that ought to be taken to begin the process of getting things right. Successive rulers sold the soul of the country to another in return for money out of the latter’s Zakat fund. This should and cannot make Pakistan proud but beggars cannot be choosers.


  • Iron hand
    Jan 8, 2014 - 7:10AM

    The counter-narrative must be an authentic and defensible religious counter-narrative, or it is doomed to failure. Brain washed religious fanatics will only deterred if they are persuaded that hatred, intolerance and murder are not the path to paradise


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2014 - 8:04AM


    The subject is not the religion, but may I ask which are the five religions before Islam was born? Thanks.

    Rex Minor


  • Mirza
    Jan 8, 2014 - 10:07AM

    I appreciate the Op Ed by the editor. However, there is a real deep problem caused by the wrong teachings about religion. People are beheaded by dozens at the shrines from north to south in Pakistan. Even the shrine of Data Darbar is bombed without much outrage by most Sunni Muslims. The Shia have been killed and cleansed in a systematic way every other day by hundreds, yet there is no outrage or dharna. Even Polio workers are butchered by these fanatic terrorists but no political leader comes out on the street against these terrorist killers. We have accepted this hegemony and we don’t feel any loss when our innocent Pakistanis are butchered and bombed. My own relatives feel no pain in fact some agree that these people are not Muslims and should be killed.
    Unless all scholars, leaders and intellectuals come out openly against these killers Pakistan is already doomed. Pakistan has to go on war footings and it would show who is with the people and who is with the terrorists. Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jan 8, 2014 - 10:59AM

    This new narrative that you call for can never be achieved by Pakistan considering the circumstance of its birth. To justify its creation it rejected a glorious Civilization because it was non Islamic, it demonized human heroes like Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Abul Kalam Azad, rejected Freedom Fighters like Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose, vilified ones own ancestors and made heroes of villains who did not have the Intellectual honesty or vision to see their calls and action would lead to the loss of a million innocent lives. History was suitably murdered and falsified to justify these actions.
    How will you go about rectifying this narrative, please let all of us heathens know ? Propaganda has been used through time to manipulate and control but using religion for the same is a new low in the evolution of mankind. The ill effects of this indoctrination is visible when an intellectual like the author cannot help himself from calling India, Hindu India even though Hindu India died with the Indus Valley Civilization and evolved into secular India. Christian England, Islamic Saudi Arabia or Jewish Israel have no history of tolerance that they could give birth to three religions Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, which being Indian never resorted to forced conversions to expand their flock, unlike some Abrahamic religions.
    To expand ones horizons we need to shed Dogma and ritual, embrace and love diversity, respect the achievements of our ancestors and love all living creatures. God does not need to be appeased, HE does not need any protection and HE loves all his creations equally, irrespective of whether they pray or worship HIM. HE knows only Love, not Hate.


  • What?!
    Jan 8, 2014 - 11:21AM

    @unbelievable: Lending credence tot he Jihad narrative does not mean white Christians shouting “Jihad! Jihad!” but US President Ronald Reagan stating that the Mujahideens of Afghan War have the same morals ‘as the founding fathers of America’. Absurd or not – its a fact.


  • observera
    Jan 8, 2014 - 11:35AM

    Good article which requires a follow-up. There is always a counter narrative. But it is most amazing that Pakistani’s are so blind, so naive, such simpletons that they believe what these extremists have to say. As if anyone really knows what is going to happen after this life, and these people know, where one is going!!!. amazing.
    The important factor would be a good education, and a free lunch, for the poor students as the various religious schools are providing. If they can collect funds, so can others, In this way a tangible alternate has to be provided, not just talked about. Jobs have to be created, so the mind is kept active, and does not fall prey to these extremists. More than anything else, there has to be a will, a very very strong will to change, a strong commitment, from people of all walks of life, from politicians, religious leaders, social workers, parents, teachers, speakers, writers, everyone has to contribute in no ambiguous terms. People have to speak loud and clear, if they want change. If they do not, i.e. they want the extremist narrative, as a way of life in Pakistan so be it. What else can one say.


  • Jan 8, 2014 - 11:47AM

    Yes i agree with you for assessing a good and clear counter-strategy for getting rid off the country from chaos, but i ask a question who will be sincere with that particularly those who by constitution have taken responsibility to protect the state? the fiasco of the government to deal internally with terrorists has exposed its failure to tackle with it on regional and global level.


  • Feroz
    Jan 8, 2014 - 2:25PM

    @Rex Minor:
    I thought you would know that Hinduism, Buddhism, Zorastrianism, Judaism, Jainism and Christianity preceded Islam. That makes it six not five.
    Hinduism —- before recorded history
    Zorastrian Religion — 8th century BC
    Buddhist Religion —- 6th century BC
    Jain Religion —- 5th century BC
    Judaism —– 5th century BC
    Christianity —- no need for explanation.

    Jains are the most peaceful, devout and non violent of all categories of religions. They will fast more days in a year than any. They are pure Vegetarians, will not consume anything grown below the ground either, not allowed to take any life be it even fly or mosquito. Devout Jains will tie a cloth over their nose and mouth so they do not inadvertently breathe or inhale even tiny insects. Jain monks will also sweep the floor before they walk to ensure nothing gets crushed under their feet. They will never join the Military, Police etc where violence is a tool used for control.
    Brother, the world has literates in Billions but few are educated because a life time is too short an Education, to those who hunger and thirst for it.
    Khuda Hafiz !


  • naqi akbar
    Jan 8, 2014 - 2:31PM

    still a loose counter narrative. providing a better life within the grasp of all the parties PPP, PML N, MQM, ANP, PML Q since 1989; why did not they did their respectives homeworks well.
    now any counter strategy has to be multi pronged, on ideological plane, governance plane and the economic plane. extremism cannot be alone fought through force, a mixed bag is necassary….


  • observer
    Jan 8, 2014 - 5:30PM

    When Pakistani public wakes up to reality, there will be no need for any narratives. As long they wish to live in a fool’s paradise we will have leaders, who will sell heaven, sell one sindh, two sindh, amir-ul-momineen, sultanate, caliphates, the list is as long as the “leaders”. Get rid of the leaders, and get rid of the narratives, come into the real world.


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2014 - 5:49PM

    ET mod. please allow this reply


    I thought kolsat was going to answer the question! You have mixed up the RELIGION with ancient cultures, traditions and practices which the homo sapiens struggled with before the awareness of the ONE God, the arrival of the Prophets and subsequently the scriptures.
    You could have added the ancient inhabitants of the African, European and the American continents and your list of Pseudeo religions would have been larger.
    Islam is the reformed version of the Ibrahimic religions which includes Judaism and christianity.
    Let me explain the difference very simply. None of the cults that you mentioned prescribe any morals or ethics for their followers whereas all three branches of the Ibrahimic religion do and therefore form the basis of United Nations Human rights.
    Knowledge is not only a virtue but a power in itself. Have a nice day., sir.

    Rex Minor


  • anonymus
    Jan 8, 2014 - 6:51PM

    They are not collecting funds but are provided. You can see the mumbers before and after 70.
    Collection of funds never completed any project. It is all petro dollar win one one hand and hate for every one with other hand that is thrsuted on them.


  • TARIQ mahmud
    Jan 8, 2014 - 7:33PM

    Well every leader had a share in this narrative as it gave a false hope of longevity , Even late ZAB was no exception , from declaring friday as public holiday To prohibition, and finally insertion of religion in the passport. A practice which even the Saudi’s have so far shedded . I tend to agree with the writer that it requires a very strong counter narrative not only from the top down the line .A commoner in the street must inculcate it as a matter of faith and reflect it all around . While conversing with a Malay Muslim taxi driver in Kualalam pore the other day about Islam , the devout Muslim very bluntly replied that it was a matter between him and the God and in between he did no needed t any ones Arbitral role . How many of us think on these lines , its a big question mark.Recommend

  • babu
    Jan 8, 2014 - 8:47PM

    @Rex Minor, i am not sure if you are pompous or arrogant — on your perception of religions,i think it is ignorance.Genesis of superiority or hate has ruined your religion , i am watching your kind ,my tolerant brothers or i need not to lift a finger .You have pushed the auto destructive button ,sadly we will all sink.Recommend

  • babu
    Jan 8, 2014 - 8:51PM

    @Rex Minor, i am not sure if you are pompous or arrogant — on your perception of religions,i think it is ignorance.Genesis of superiority or hate has ruined your religion , i am watching your kind ,my tolerant brothers or i need not to lift a finger .You have pushed the auto destructive button ,sadly we will all sink.Recommend

  • interest
    Jan 8, 2014 - 9:19PM

    I find it interesting that Indians are giving the world lessons in morality when millions of Indians are still brushed under ‘criminal caste’ quota. How many Indians are still considered ‘untouchable’?
    Can anybody help us know?


  • Feroz
    Jan 8, 2014 - 9:51PM

    @Rex Minor:
    I am shocked at your level of knowledge which I can only classify as ignorance. That you do not have a clue about the ancient religions is obvious but that you wish to insult them by calling them cults, reflects insensitivity. God was not discovered by Abrahamic religions nor was right and wrong, good and bad. Your claim that the religions other than Abrahamic do not prescribe morals and ethics reveals not just ignorance but narrow minded bigotry. Look around you at the violence unleashed in the name of faith, who is perpetrating them and the hollowness of your claims will stand exposed. There is a lot I can say to counter your misguided views but I will not belittle myself by stooping to those levels and inadvertently hurting others feelings in the process. I respect human values above the claims of every religion.


  • Viktor
    Jan 8, 2014 - 11:28PM

    “They justify the killing of innocent people in suicide bombings on the self-serving fatwa that good Muslims among the victims would go straight to jannat and the not-so-good Muslims, naturally, straight to hell” … hate to say this, but it seems to me that Muslims (certainly in Pakistan, the supposed “Citadel Of Islam” etc etc) seem more interested in what happens in the “next world” (whatever that is) as opposed to the present world where they have to live, like it or not!! So the only thing they are keen to do is to do what it takes to make their “next world” life worth living. If a Moulvi (or even a talk-show guest!!) says that if they do X or Y (and we all know what X and Y deeds stand for!!), then they will go to heaven, then WHY won’t these largely illiterate Muslim kids do as they are told by these people??? Why not indeed, if it is (as the author as rightly said), a choice as it were between “jannat” (whatever that means, with the number 72 ?? :-) and so-called “hell” ???


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2014 - 11:53PM

    ET mod please allow my reply to Babu (and Feroz now) which I have submitted before but did not appear;

    Babu and Feroz,
    You can call me what you will if it pleases you. I am not what you state I am, Neither hate nor arrogance is my style, the definition of the ‘Religion’ and that of ‘Paganism’ is accurately given in the lexicon. of the Germanic languages. We no longer have the luxary of Zeuss nor Jupiter or the Buddha, you can keep your ancient avatars if this is your way of life. The Author has written not only an excellant article on extremism, but also proposed the steps to manage and overcome it. Most Pakistnis are muslims but speak different languages and practice different cultures which they inherited from their ancestors and this divide obviously impacts their intercourse with one another. This is the task they need to solve once they have separated their tradions and cultures from the religion.

    Rex Minor


  • Truth Told
    Jan 9, 2014 - 5:48PM

    @Noor Nabi:
    Not only Saudi influence, equally, there is need to get rid of the Iranian influence in Pakistan.


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