By Zubeida Mustafa
A RECENT report about 50 young boys being kept shackled in a madressah has triggered a lot of wild speculation. The police said the place was being used as a detoxification centre for addicts. But a common belief is that the boys were being trained as suicide bombers.
This is outlandish. One must strongly condemn any unauthorised person who wrongfully confines another, whatever be the ground. But it is also unbelievable that a suicide bomber can be created against his own will. A person may be duped into this heinous crime but he can’t be coerced. That is why young boys, at an age when they are gullible, can be won over so easily by false promises and emotional blackmail.
The reaction to this news shows how little is known about terrorism and its roots. In its World Development Report 2011, the World Bank lists the security, economic and political stresses that heighten the risks of conflict and violence in a country. The internal factors are the existing legacies of violence, low income levels, youth unemployment, natural resource wealth, severe corruption, rapid urbanisation, ethnic or religious competition, discrimination, and human rights abuses.
These factors actually pave the ground for the growth of two kinds of violence. One is the expression of discontent that is not focussed on the achievement of specific, well-articulated goals. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, defines it as “social protest” against a “system” that is perceived to have failed and which cannot be corrected by the electoral process and needs pressure from the street.
The second kind of violence is one that is planned with the idea of bringing about a radical transformation of the system to give political power to those referred to as terrorists. The leaders of this kind of violence are not affected directly by poverty, the lack of education or discrimination. They exploit these conditions to recruit the foot soldiers that are indispensable to them in their scheme of using violence to seize power.
Researchers who have probed into this phenomenon have found that the existence of the conditions listed above create the mindset in the youth that makes them likely recruits for the leaders of terror. They are the ones who are trained as suicide bombers.
It is actually political ambition and not religion that drives the top leadership of all militant organisations — national or international — as much as it does our political and military leaders. But as is quite common in Pakistan, religion is used by all aspiring for a political goal. The founder of the nation used it to win popular support for the goal of creating a homeland for the Muslims in the subcontinent. The army has used it by giving its military campaigns the garb of an Islamic mission and using slogans such as “Allah-o-Akbar”.
If the Taliban are now using religion to achieve their goal of winning power, they are not doing something new. Others have done it before. It is the extremist, violent and brutal nature of their strategies that distinguishes them from the others, although some political parties in mainstream politics also resort to violence.
Hence the phenomenon of extremism should be studied at two levels, with both being indispensable to each other. One is the leadership level and the other is the rank and file level without which the leaders cannot function.
The spread of obscurantist views along with the factors listed at the beginning of this column help the extremist groups acquire muscle power. Textbooks are commonly blamed for the spread of extremist views in our mainstream school system. There is no denying the fact that a number of books encourage exclusivity and hatred and do not promote tolerance.
But given our poor education system, it appears that more than the books, the pulpit in the mosques and the TV channels should be held responsible for creating the mindset in the youth that provides extremist leaders with their followers.
Besides, the techniques the extremists use to enlist the youth for their cause should tell us what is otherwise missing from the life of many young people. More than the physical hardship that poverty brings, there is the absence of recognition, an acute sense of injustice and the lack of self-esteem that characterises the psyche of all who have resorted to terror. It is the motivation and mobilisation factor that really counts. In our country’s conditions, the young are most vulnerable to the attractive promises held out to them of Paradise and the dignity and esteem they will find there.
How many of our schoolteachers interact with their students and give them a sense of self-esteem, providing them goals in life that they can look forward to? As for those who do not attend school, the vacuum is greater.
With few teachers who are viewed as heroes that inspire the young, it is unsurprising that conditions are such that they create a breeding ground for suicide bombers.
In the film Terror in Mumbai, broadcast on HBO, the point to be noted is how the Lashkar-i-Taiba “controller” communicates with the 10 terrorists with whom he is constantly in touch on the cellphone during the 60 hours of terror that shook the city in November 2008. The transcript of the conversation has been replayed in the film. The attackers are constantly addressed as “brothers” and receive a lot of encouragement by being reminded of the “greatness” of their deed and the bounties that await them in the next world. No chains were needed.