[By Ammar Zafarullah]
Now you must have heard the mantra that the “silent majority denounces violence” or “extremism is one facet, the silent majority is held captive by the radicals” or “the silent majority supports the war against religious extremists” and the list can go on.
The liberals have loathed the radicals for being the self-proclaimed custodians of society, whereas the radicals believe that the liberals are the disgruntled marginalised elite who are in no way a reflection of our society. They adherently believe that liberal values are an alien and imposed concept and “the silent majority” is more prone towards their ideals. So whose side is the silent majority on?
The findings of a recent survey titled “Radicalisation in Pakistan” revealed that 63.3 per cent of the respondents were opposed to joining the war against terror, whereas only 22 per cent of them in Fata believed that the Taliban are fighting for a just cause. What is more perplexing is that 45 per cent in Fata did not answer this question.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Pakistan has suffered heavy financial losses which as per some estimates lie around $35 billion and over 25,000 civilians and 8,000 security personnel have lost their lives. Despite such colossal damages from the heinous acts of terrorism in Pakistan, the apologists dominate the mainstream media. If such explicit or covert support to terrorists was extended in any other civilised country there would be a huge public outrage. The media and former intelligence gurus escape the public backlash despite their incoherent bizarre conspiracy theories that justifies violence, simply because even if “the silent majority” does not endorse and support their viewpoints, it also does not out rightly reject them. As per a new report, sweets were distributed at a local seminary in Gunjranwla after the massacre of Ahamdis in Lahore and Nawaz Sharif, the former premier, came under heavy fire from the clergy when he merely stated that Ahmadis were our brothers and an asset to Pakistan — so much for inter-faith harmony.
Ayaz Qureshi, a leading anthropologist at SOAS, offers an interesting perspective that we always allude to a silent majority but we cannot be sure of its existence for as long as it chooses to remain silent. Moreover, if we leave terrorist activities aside for a moment, it will not be out of place to say that society is increasingly becoming intolerant: people cannot stand a difference of opinion and are adamant on imposing their viewpoints on others. One can’t be sure whether violent extremism gives rise to such intolerant society or intolerance ‘as our national character’ feeds the extremist element, or both of these complement each other. So if we believe that we are the members of this “silent majority” we too need some introspection in addition to speaking out against the extremists. Pakistani society is infused by a profound sense of collective frustration, chaos and cluelessness. Such radicalised social environment is naturally exploited by terrorists.
A de-radicalised society is more receptive towards the notions of democratic governance, women’s emancipation, education and humanism. We have to look beyond operations and counter-insurgency approaches as they can only provide some breathing space, the end goal should however remain to build a society which has zero tolerance for violence and no sympathies for terrorists. A society which is free from radical sentiments serves as the first line of defense against terrorism, thus it is imperative that we address the collective grievances behind radicalisation, as it is perhaps the most effective way of addressing the root causes of terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2010.