The senseless and brutal killing of 141 innocents at APS Boys Peshawar has resulted in several policy recommendations to eradicate the menace of terrorism. Among these, the ideas fall into two basic categories: Giving the military more power and reforming the messages being spread by certain madrassahs and mosques. The first point about granting more civil authority to military is receiving significant debate which is important whether one supports a stronger role for military in civil affairs or not. However the second point which is madrassah reform is not receiving the same amount of consideration.
It is undeniable that there are networks of madrassahs and mosques that are projecting hate speech and inciting violence, but this is not the limit of the problem of spreading extremism in society. The Nation makes an excellent point in a recent editorial:
Extremism’s sole refuge is neither the tainted hearts of bearded terrorists belonging to the TTP, LeJ and al Qaeda nor the unrefined minds of this country’s many illiterate. It also resides in the hearts and minds of our ‘educated’ middle and upper class
A perfect example of this can be found in the recent incident involving Aamir Liaquat’s show where his invited guest Syed Arif Shah Owaisi gave anti-Ahmadi statements. Aamir Liaquat is popular with the urban middle-class, and the bigoted message that appears on his show is easily received by this audience. And why not? It fits neatly within the world view that has been constructed.
The majority of Pakistanis, who have grown up on a diet of a sensationalist media and a hate-mongering school curricula, or have been moulded in their thinking by rabid religious or political figures that thrive on the anti-India, anti-West propaganda, their perceptions are entirely different.
This is a country that believes there were no Jews in the World Trade Center building on the day of the September 11 attacks, or that Neil Armstrong actually heard a call to prayer when he landed on the moon. They believe that a car can be run on water.
These are not the products of madrassah education. They are product of Karachi Public School. They are Aitchisonians. They went to University in America and London. They are lawyers who shower confessed killers with flowers and kisses. They view themselves as defenders of national ideology and spread messages that glorify jihad in English blogs and social media and in drawing rooms across the country.
Madrassah reform is essential to tackling militancy in Punjab and throughout the country, but if we are going to succeed in stamping out the problem we must also tackle the extremism problem within the middle class.