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Encountering fundamentalism

By Nizamuddin Nizamani, March 17th, 2010

This article was written by Nizamuddin Nizamani, who is a MS in Social Sciences, a professional trainer, researcher and peace activist and who participated to the workshop on "Religious diversity, secularism, citizenship and democracy" organized during the last AEPF.
The text was published in the Daily Times, a renowned Pakistani newspaper.
Read on the Daily Times website


Extremist Islam is encroaching deeper into the Thar Desert and almost all district and tehsil headquarters of Sindh and Balochistan, where large numbers of seminaries, with new buildings and equipped with every kind of infrastructure, have been erected during the last few years.

Lethal suicide blasts in Lahore on March 13, 2010, which killed more than 60, including seven soldiers, shows the resilience and capability of the fanatics to strike in highly secured zones in the urban areas. Previously, they have attacked several security offices in Lahore, Rawalpindi and other cities in the Punjab and the rest of the country. This reminds me of the warnings issued by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed that, in case of military action in the tribal areas, they would avenge these actions in Punjab. Their threats have proved right and they have brutally targeted almost all provincial headquarters.

This ruthlessness in the name of religion is worthy of condemnation and needs to be countered by all possible means. Of late, based on media reports, there seemed complacency within the general public as the thought prevailed that the terrorist network of al Qaeda and its offshoots had been considerably weakened. The people heaved a sigh of relief, but the relief proved temporary.

We need to revisit our current state of affairs. Mere use of force is not enough to counter the menace of terrorism; instead an integrated approach could have been adopted, which should include discouraging the fanatic schools of thought in the country. We need to begin with the exploitation of technology and mass media that have been supporting fanaticism in the name of religious education. About eight full-time religious TV channels have been allowed to bombard our screens, indoctrinating ‘religious’ material day and night. About 30 other channels in different languages do the same partially, with early morning and late evening slots reserved for this purpose. In addition, cable operators make it their religious duty to play religious videos on religious events.

Reputed TV anchors have totally ignored this issue of paramount importance. Had they been responsible, they could have spared some time from political mudslinging and could have educated their viewers about the increasing threat of fanaticism. This ignorant attitude provided space to the Zaid Hamid breed of anchors, who supplement extremist ideology by their own interpretation of history and religion, as well as patriotism. Mobile technology has also been exploited to broadcast provocative messages through cheaper SMS packages.

Second, the mushroom growth of religious seminaries stands unchecked and unaccountable. Despite the ceremonial madrassa reforms and registration, a large number of seminaries, while admitting young students for free residential education, reportedly ensure that their families should not have a TV set and receive no newspaper at their home. They ensure that these young students remain isolated and should not have access to the outside world.

Third, the religious syllabus, including published and oral lessons, has not been revised. According to various reports, religious provisions are mixed with rigid tribal values and innocent minds cannot distinguish between these two separate and totally different things.

Fourth, the ingenuous Tableeghi Jamaat, despite its noble cause of preaching religion, has been indirectly instrumental in strengthening jihadi Islam in remote and far-flung areas of the country. Through their excellent communication skills, they strategically access tolerant communities and cultures. Afterwards, the jihadis follow and recruit the youth, which had been motivated to sacrifice their time, energy and wealth by the Tableeghi Jamaat.

Archives show similar stories during the Afghan jihad against the erstwhile Soviet Union. John K Cooly, in his book The Unholy Wars, revealed surprising links between jihadi recruitments in Egypt and in other Arab as well as African countries. Jihadi nurturing in the tribal areas and the Swat Valley in NWFP, followed by the south of Punjab seems like a replica of the Afghan jihad and a repetition of the Afghan jihad strategy.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa opines that after the south of Punjab, this lethal game will be repeated in Sindh. She fears that the people of Sindh may have the complacency of an old and tolerant culture, but Sindh is bound to change given the current activities of jihadis there. Her fears are proving correct, as extremist Islam is encroaching deeper into the Thar Desert and almost all district and tehsil headquarters of Sindh and Balochistan, where large numbers of seminaries, with new buildings and equipped with every kind of infrastructure, have been erected during the last few years.

One of the major signs of this change is the reported forceful conversion of minority Hindus to Islam, especially the women. Civil society activists claim that during February 2010 alone, 11 young girls from the Menghwar community to Mithi and Samaro area, were kidnapped, converted to Islam and forcibly married to their abductors. This may be the tip of the iceberg.

Concerning Balochistan, a new report bemoans that the Baloch social fabric, once highly tolerant in religious views, has been encroached upon and during the last few years, popular English and Urdu daily newspapers have been replaced by jihadi literature. English medium schools and tuition centres in Punjgoor, Turbat, Gawader, etc, have been closed down and a large number of Arabic-oriented madrassahs have been opened.

Finally, despite an apparent fight against a dogmatic and intolerant paradigm, practically we have allowed favourable breeding grounds for the terrorist networks we are facing today and paying a huge cost in term of precious lives and collateral damage.

We must address the above-mentioned issues and counter fundamentalism in Pakistan through an effective, integrated and comprehensive strategy. Addressing all these aspects is paramount; otherwise fundamentalism has the capacity to render Pakistan a failed state.


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