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Fighting Religious Extremism PDF Print E-mail

Farooq Tariq


Pakistan is witnessing an increase in fanaticism. Ever since the 2013 electoral victory of the right-wing Muslim League and Pakistan Tehreek-Insaaf, right-wing ideas are more popular. Banned terrorists networks are able to work publicly using different names or sometimes even under their own name. There is no state control of their activities. Religion is used to silence arguments. Violence has become a norm.

Target killings of radical journalists and human rights activists have already occurred. This is a dangerous situation for the Left, social democrats, radical liberals, trade unions and peasants, women, minority rights and youth organisations.

But Pakistan is not an exception. The whole of South Asia is in the grip of right-wing ideas. As the so-called progressive and democratic parties in government have failed to solve any of the basic issues confronting the working masses, extreme right-wing political trends have taken hold. This is happening despite the fact when conservative ideas have been tested in the past, they have failed miserably to address issues of human development.

The latest example is the landslide victory in the May 2014 general election of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Damodardas Modi. During 2002 Modi presided over a government in Gujarat that was responsible for the mass murder of Muslims in Ahmadabad. In fact, as part of an orchestrated campaign to create communal polarisation, the BJP promoted communal violence in different parts of the country to seal Modi’s recent victory.

Narendra Modi’s victory has boasted Pakistani religious fundamentalists. The traditional Mullah Military Alliance (MMA) is becoming more and more publicly visible. When Hamid Mir accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack that wounded him, the extreme right religious groups, including the Jamaatud Dawa, organised demonstrations to defend the country’s “institutions.”

As a direct result of this growth of extreme neo-fascist ideas, religious minorities are fleeing the country. Rather than waiting to be victimised by fanatics, members of the Ahmadi, Christian and Hindu communities feel compelled to leave.

As far back as 2006, the spread of religious fundamentalism was foreseen by world-known radical intellectual Noam Chomsky, who told interviewer Stephen Shalom: “In the past 25 years, fundamentalism has been turned for the first time into a major political force. It’s a conscious effort, I think, to try to undermine progressive social policies. Not radical policies but rather the mild social democratic policies of the preceding period are under serious attack.”

The most prestigious radical intellectual was absolutely on target. Religious fundamentalism has become the most serious challenge for the whole South Asian region in particular and the world in general. It is gripping one country after another.

What is religious fundamentalism? Essentially the term fundamentalism suggests going back to the basic texts and reproducing as closely as possible the laws and institutions found there. It has also come to mean a dogmatic adherence to tradition. Its orthodoxy breeds inflexibility and a rejection of modern society. It holds up a ‘golden era’ as the model to which society must return. Islamic fundamentalists have exploited the dream of the ‘golden era of Islam’ as a way out of the poverty and social problems we face.

In Pakistan the main tool for the growth of Islamic religious fundamentalism is the madressah. According to conservative estimates, there are approximately 20,000 madressahs (USCIRF 2011). There are five main types, which are divided along sectarian and political lines: Deobandi, Barelvi, Shia, Ale-Hadith/Salafi (a minority sect which is close to Wahabism) and Jamaat-e-Islami. Eighty-two percent of those belonging to Deobandi madressahs view the Taliban as their model (Ali, 2010).

They have been an alternative to public schools in a country where less than two percent of the total government budget is spent on education.

Almost all donations to religious charities end up in the coffers of these madressahs. They have become rich. The most expensive of vehicles are used by the leaders of the Islamic parties and extreme religious fanatic groups.

Should we just comment and watch the growth of extremely dangerous groups? It will not save our lives, our class or our society.

There are some who pin their hopes on American imperialism and its allies to eliminate the fundamentalist threat. But this has not worked, and cannot work. Despite all the US military solutions, combined with its “development agenda,” fundamentalism has grown, and will continue to grow.

Others may see religious fundamentalists as an anti-imperialist force. But they are not. Their authoritarianism and violence cannot be a force to free workers and peasants.

Still others – such as the PML-N and PTI – opt for talks with Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan, the most brutal of all fanatic groups. But this has only legitimised terrorist activities against the Pakistan army, police,intelligence agencies and ordinary people.

Fundamentalism is a political challenge that has to be dismantled by arguments and organisation. An immediate response should be a united and broad-based alliance of trade unions, radical social and political movements and organisations with an understanding of the danger religious fundamentalism represents. A clear political programme would include opposition to it and its terrorist attacks. The key to this alliance would be organising mass actions across Pakistan to oppose fanaticism and to defend those whom fundamentalism terrorises. The alliance needs to defend progressive laws that secure the safety of all who live and work in the country. There should be no common action with the extremists on any issue.

Institutions of the state must break all links with any form of fundamentalist organisations. This is the real source of the fundamentalist’s growth and power; these links must be severed. State institutions can no longer turn a blind eye to terrorism. Instead terrorist actions must be halted – and can be when the army and ISI cut their ties with religious fundamentalism. No area of Pakistan should be under the control of the fanatics.

Education must be the state’s top priority. All citizens need to be provided with an equal opportunity for an education without fees. As a start, the federal education budget should be immediately increased to 10 percent of the GDP. Subsidies for religious madressahs should cease and all major madressahs nationalised.

In order to end feudalism, land must be distributed to the landless peasantry free of charge. Along with this massive land reform, the wages of the working class need to be increased from the minimum of Rs10,000 to at least Rs20,000 a month and a state-sponsored unemployment allowance instituted for all adult unemployed. These reforms would undercut fundamentalist propaganda.

A religious state cannot deal effectively with religious fanatics. Religion should be separated from the affairs of the state. A strong regional and international base of solidarity of like-minded groups and political parties would strengthen the work. An effective response to religious fundamentalist approaches is not state-to-state relationships but people-to-people contact.

The writer is the general secretary of the Awami Workers Party. 


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Ellene A. Sana
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Religious fundamentalism in South Asia: challenges and remedies PDF Print E-mail

By: Farooq Tariq

Table Of Contents


What is religious fundamentalism?

Political economy of religious fundamentalism

The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the case of Pakistan

Imperialism and fundamentalism


Malala Yousafzai

The case of Bangladesh

How to fight religious fundamentalism?


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