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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Exploring extremism

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INCREASING intolerance and the growing incidence of violent behaviour in Pakistani society require a review of the conventional understanding of extremism in Pakistan. Apart from the process of social transformation in the country, the Pakistani diaspora`s influence on the native community can also highlight important aspects of religious extremism in Pakistan.

No doubt, thinking patterns in Pakistan are transforming due to the influence of changing socio-cultural, religious-ideological and politico-economic dynamics here and around the world. But in recent years, Pakistani expats in the West have emerged as one of the important factors shaping the outlook of the upper classes in the country.

Western societies are concerned about the religiosity of the Muslim diasporas, which is perceived to be rising. There are also identity-related issues. Though the pattern of social transformation is not the same across the West, the latter`s political and intellectual establishments see the potential rise of parallel societies. The Western security establishment feels the ultimate outcome will be violent extremism in their lands.

In response, Muslim diasporas are struggling to make their social, religious and cultural values compatible with Western living. The biggest challenge is to find a rational basis for their religious norms and values. The Salafi movement and clergy are out there to help them.

Even the non-Salafi movements, mainly those purportedly following moderate and Sufi traditions, have made considerable adjustments to appear closer to the Salafi discipline. Tahirul Qadri`s Minhajul Quran is following a similar trend in the Scandinavian countries and Canada. Paradoxically, these movements (or groups) maintain different approaches to the same issue in their host and native countries. Dr Qadri`s speeches on Pakistan`s blasphemy laws had sparked a controversy a few years back.

The educated among the Muslim diaspora appear to feel that Salafi Islam`s social values are compatible with Western values,especially those related to divorce, marriage and child custody. They feel that Salafi Islam is more flexible compared to other Islamic schools of thought.

Though SalaH political thought, backed by groups such as Hizbut Tahrir, raises questions, important concerns about Salafi ideology emanate from the fact that most Islamist militant movements follow the same school of thought. At the same time, the social values of the Salañsts are becoming popular among diaspora communities and they export these tendencies to their native towns.

Seen from this perspective, Pakistan has two channels of Salafi and Wahhabi influences. First is the traditional channel of overseas Pakistanis working in the Arab countries who return with conservative Salafi tendencies. We see these taking root among the lower middle classes in the country. The second stream comes from the West and influences the upper middle and elite classes of Pakistan.

Though the two streams of Salafi Islamare trying to increase their influence, South Asian Muslim societies, which traditionally follow Hanafi Islam, are resisting this influence. Both Deobandi and Barelvi Islam are the offshoots of Hanafi Islam.

Deobandi Islam is trying to offer solutions to daily and social problems in a manner similar to what Salafi Islam is trying to do in the West.

The Deobandi discourse is thriving in Pakistan. Its influence is spreading to every sphere of life from religious to modern education, Islamic financial institutionalisation, tableegh and politics. Above all, it has shaped the militant discourse of the country. However, Deobandi Islam has less influence among the Pakistani diaspora communities it is at some level competing with Salafism.

Nonetheless, Deobandi militant groups have formed a brotherhood with the Wahhabi and Salafi militant movements including Al Qaeda. This brotherhood provides an environment to absorb each other`s tendencies but at a societal level the room for such nexus does not seem practical, at leastnotin the nearfuture.

The urban structure in Pakistan is forming its religious, social and cultural orbits with the help of Deobandi Islam. Barelvis are increasingly coming under the influence of Deobandis. Though some Barelvi groups are trying to resist, the influence of the Deobandi discourse is increasing as the latter has multiple sources of strength ranging from politics to militancy.

Where the Shia community is concerned, the Deobandis have a contradictory atti-tude, even though anti-Shia sentiments are common among the Deobandi clergy.

While anti-Shia Deobandi organisations are increasing their outreach and activities, Deobandi political parties such as the JUI-F try to accommodate Shia parties politically. This could have the effect of putting the latter under constant pressure.

On the other hand Deobandi Islam is a beneficiary of the hyper urbanisation in the country. Religiosity and radicalism are considered by-products of urbanisation. In the rural to urban transformation, communities need to protect their values and heritage. If ethnic, linguistic, cultural and tribal bonds are missing at that stage, political and religious parties come forward to help preserve some values. In mass migration cases, political and religious moments have to address their identity crisis as well.

In most parts of Pakistan, political parties have no formal structures and are not connected with the socio-cultural fabric of society. At the same time, political parties do not offer any sense of collectiveness to citizens in urbanisation transitions. The religious parties are there to fill this void.

The rise of religious movements means the level of tolerance will decrease. Religious movements offer solutions to some issues but for other problems they prefer to deal with force and authority. It depends on the state: does it want to share its authority with them, or does it want to enforce its own writ? m The writer is a security expert.

BY M U H A M M A D A M I R R A N A : 

  • http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=18_05_2014_009_005
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sectarianism_in_Pakistan
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deobandi
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salafi
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