By Manzar Zaidi
Oct 24, 2013
It is necessary to clarify the associations of ideology with radicalization at the outset, since the debate about ideology being the major construct of radicalization rages on. The simplifications of complex issues into binary oppositions which create a visceral impact are a characteristic of ideologies, especially when they tend to articulate a set of grievances of one set of people against the other; this sort of simplification is also the pre dominant process within radicalization. This is the contextual paradigm of ideology that resonates within paradigms of terrorism in Pakistan, wherein the terrorists have used a reductionist worldview to whittle down complex socio-economic, geostrategic and poetical problems, into essentially a contest between good and evil. Thus, there are hardly any grey areas for terrorists in Pakistan i.e. the fellow citizen not following the terrorist ideology is clearly a murtid, one who has turned away from the true faith as perceived by one school of thought or sect against the other. Since ideologies present a perfect spatial parameter for the conflict to be resolved by the logical triumph of the perceived good over perceived evil, it is important to comprehend that ideology can be used and has been used as a potent tool fostering terrorism in Pakistan. Thus, terrorist attacks become justifiable through ideology for the perpetrators.
The need for action which edifies the spirit and allows the ideology to grow has been a common theme within anarchism, fascism, communism, and for the purpose of this essay, radicalization. When there is a conducive environment which induces a sense of emasculation or despair, ideology can provide not only a source of solace, but an impetus for action for populations undergoing stresses. Thus, venting of grievances through the platform of ideology whether it is Jihadism or any other , has the potential of making the message resonate to other persons undergoing similar stimuli. Since an ideology is self replicating, it will have the potential of attracting more converts, and in essence it is actually more powerful than the violent behavior which it inculcates. In a Pakistani context, this means that extremist terrorist ideologies are the overarching paradigm which drive and also foster terrorism, and in many cases radicalization.
It also needs to be realized that a single variable is not always enough to radicalize individuals. For example, religion as an ideology or set of ideologies is often unthinkingly invoked as the paramount disposing factor radicalizing Pakistan, without taking into account the fact that that issues of terrorism and extremism do not arise merely from mere ideology. Rather, the problems that Pakistan is confronted with also arise from fundamental socio-economic and class inequalities, which have prompted a reaction by the have-nots to challenge a disproportionately affluent elite. This has espoused, promoted and encouraged orthodox, rigid and fundamentalist versions of religion, as opposed to the more tolerant, peaceful ones. As Pakistan redefined its identity by invoking the Arabian origins of Islam during the Afghan Jihad heydays, the relatively more tolerant, syncretic and peaceful versions of South Asian religion have been increasingly replaced by harsh, literalist and bland versions of Arabian Islam amongst an extremist fringe.
This ideological trajectory allows young Pakistanis to be swayed towards radicalization, and adds support for militant agendas from among the Pakistani populace, particularly when there is high unemployment and income disparity. This income disparity has manifested itself by the ratio of the highest to the lowest income quintiles ranging from 3.76 in 2001 to 4.15 in 2005, and further to 4.2 in 2005-06. Since poorer households in Pakistan tend to have a higher number of children on average, especially in rural areas, this implies that an exceptionally large number of young men and women are being forced to live below or around the poverty line. Furthermore, at least one tenth of the rural communities do not even have access to basic facilities, which add incremental stress to an already overburdened economy. The children who come from these families are the ultra-poor whose children seem destined to have a grim future, particularly with regard to employment. The high level of underemployment for the young from lower socio-economic classes causes an escalating strain. While the growing economy has expanded the labor market, and the unemployment rate has declined to around 5.32 percent in recent years, the modest improvement cannot cope with the rapidly expanding youth bulge. This alienates the poor segment of the youth bulge, since the majority of non-elite young men can only find relatively menial, unfulfilling jobs. Since the richest 20 percent of the population are continuing to grow richer, the sense of alienation among the poor young men is not surprising, and forces them to look for other alternatives. Radicalization is one of the ways that the poor and the dispossessed find voice, since the path to radicalization demands action to challenge the status quo, often in the form of violent activism. This violent action may become terrorism in its extreme manifestations, or smolder within the non elite youth in the form of extremism. Thus, presuming radicalization to be a process, and also assuming certain Pakistani demographic segments to be more vulnerable to it than others, one can draw up empirical frameworks of how individuals in Pakistan tend to get radicalised, and then populate these frameworks with data. Studying these trends is the need of the day , and is becoming more and more urgent with every passing moment.