Bringing extremists to the table

Can we bring extremists to a point of public debate and discussion?

Believe it or not, we can.

A recent study by Ohio State University emphasizes a critical requirement for bringing people with radical leanings to the table: have them believe more people sympathize with their views than is actually true.

“When people with extreme views have this false sense that they are in the majority, they are more willing to express themselves,” said Kimberly Rios Morrison, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of communication at OSU.

Stanford University carried out a social experiment in which this theory proved correct. Students were asked to which degree they supported alcohol on campus with the results showing most to be moderately pro-alcohol and a minority to be very much so. When those same students were given false data stating most students were against alcohol on campus, the staunchly pro-alcohol numbers quickly decreased.

What can we learn from this fascinating research?

If we put this in context of Pakistani religious extremism, we may have a found a key to dialogue.  Weeks of terror attacks and scores of innocent people killed imply extremists feel immensely threatened, desperate and outraged at the thought they are soon to be shut out from Pakistani society.

Though there are many in those groups who will always continue to hate secularism and modernity, most are disenchanted, poverty-stricken people with no opportunities. Here is a study that suggests we can tie in their experiences, approach them with a “Many people understand and sympathize with your struggles” – comment and pursue them from that point on.

This would then become a diving board, a way to filter out those willing to work with the government and be taken into the fold of Pakistani society.

Regardless of how, if at all, we apply this research to the crisis facing Pakistan, it clearly goes to show that acceptance is what people with radical sentiments are seeking. Providing them with the idea of that will bring them out in the open.

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