Since long the common complaint has been that madrassahs are the breeding grounds for extremist mindset and the training schools for terrorists, but this myopic focus on madrassahs training the foot soldiers of terrorism has allowed another more central part of the terrorist equation to go unexamined. I am referring of course to those institutions that are spreading the extremist mindset among the intelligentsia and creating the leadership of militant groups: Our universities.
In Dawn Huma Yusuf has a must-read piece that breaks the silence and finally sheds light on this fuel for the extremist cancer eating at society. This passage in particular should be given much thought:
The sporadic media spotlight on extremist trends at local universities often sparks a pointless blame game: university faculty ask government officials why they fail to order police inspections and keep hostels free of ‘foreign elements’; government officials fault the university administration for failing to closely monitor student activities. What no one is asking is why Pakistan’s university-going youth might be interested in supporting jihadi organisations.
Few things capture Pakistan’s societal rot better than the fact that the places of learning for our next generation have been co-opted by those who embrace violence, authoritarianism and extremism, rather than critical thinking and debate. And nothing bodes worse for the country’s future.
Sadly, we know how we found ourselves in this predicament — by tolerating the weaknesses of our educational institutions; failing to develop counter-narratives to extremist discourse; ignoring the proliferation of jihadi content on the internet; neglecting campus politics; and proving incapable of giving our youth enough options and aspirations.
The infiltration of universities by the jihadi elements is not an accident. Rather it is a carefully planned operation to indoctrinate and recruit young minds to the extremist cause. Actually, Taliban have been actively distributing extremist literature and doing so in ways that are designed to avoid detection.
Some pro-Taliban elements are providing books and brochures to the students and are trying to motivate the students to participate in militant acts against “anti-Islam forces,” a Karachi University student told Central Asia Online, requesting anonymity as he feared retaliation from the Taliban and their supporters.
“They (the pro-Taliban elements) are freely distributing different materials among the students of Karachi University, Dawood Engineering College, NED University of Engineering and Technology and Federal Urdu University,” he said.
He provided three books to Central Asia Online with titles that did not suggest they support militancy. Each book contains chapters written by pro-militancy Taliban and al-Qaeda writers exhorting students to participate in jihad against infidels and un-Islamic forces in the country.
Before we can defeat the militants, we have to defeat the militant mindset. In order to accomplish this feat, we must first face the fact that the extremist mindset is not just a byproduct of illiteracy and backwards thinking in uneducated rural areas but is a virus that can infect even the brightest of our young people. Once we are willing to admit this, only then can we begin to administer the antidote which is logic and critical thinking.