The study is crucial as madrassas - catering mostly to the lower and lower-middle income class - are often solely blamed for the radicalization of Pakistan. But how do the students belonging to middle and upper-middle class view the world? On the one hand we see the proliferation of 24-hour music channels, hip coffee shops, and even fashion shows. On the other hand, we also see many pop-icons and cricket stars sporting long-religious beards as well as a general increase in public piety.
So what did the study find? It appears that the new and upcoming generation from the elite universities is quite conservative - both politically and religiously. A majority of the respondents (56%) are against Pakistan being a secular state, and 62% versus only 26% agreed with the government's declaration of Ahmedies (a religious sect routinely suppressed and persecuted in Pakistan) as non-Muslims. Yes, you read it correctly. In 2010, only 26% had any issue with a whole group of people being declared non-Muslims by the state (in order to get a Pakistani passport as a Muslim, one has to swear that Ahmedies are non-Muslims. Instead of standing up against this state-sponsored discrimination, only a handful see this as being wrong). In case you are wondering, 18% also considered Shias to be non-Muslims (Pakistan has about 20-25% Shia population).
Perhaps, what comes as a bit of relief is that a majority of these students at elite universities have a negative view of terrorism. At the same time, they predominantly ascribe the causes of terrorism in Pakistan to poverty - and do not necessarily see a link with radical worldviews (remember, Faisal Shahzad - the Time Square bomber, was not exactly poor). Furthermore, US, Israel and the West, beat out India to be the "greatest threat to the Muslim ummah".
We have to keep in mind the challenges in interpreting societal trends from such a study. Nevertheless, here are a few trends that have come out:
1) First, Pakistan’s young adults abhor violence especially that which is directed against their own circle.
2) Second, they do not necessarily understand the link between their particular worldview and latent radicalism.
3) Third, they see terrorism mainly as a class issue rather than as a product of a peculiar mindset.
4) Fourth, there is a great affinity for religious norms and religious identity.
5) Fifth, there is greater political conservatism than earlier studies suggest, and this is reflected in a certain acceptance of the military’s role in politics. While these respondents did not totally accept the military as being reliable, they were even more vociferous in rejecting politicians and politics.
6) Finally, the youth were more accepting of the religio-political and geo-political norms established by the state on issues such as the status of Shias and Ahmedis and the country’s foreign relations. These trends were ascertained from the responses, some of which are being presented here.But what has been responsible for shaping these attitudes. Ayesha lists a few below - and I think the shaping/merging of Pakistani identity with Islam and viewing all conflicts solely through the lens of the "clash of civilizations", are perhaps two of the most important factors shaping these attitudes:
The basic idea behind the study was to explore the social and political attitudes of youth beyond the pre-conceived notion that all those who are highly educated are naturally liberal or reject militancy. It must be enunciated that while the majority rejected the very obvious symbols of radicalism and extremism, the mindset reflected a propensity towards latent radicalism. The trends uncovered here are influenced by the overall shift of societal attitudes towards latent radicalism as explained by the following four factors.
Firstly, the greater emphasis on religious identity is a result of what the renowned scholar Farzana Sheikh describes as the Pakistani state’s bid to define citizenship according to the citizen’s putative relationship with religion. Consequently, the selection process has continued to narrow down from the general to the more specific. All minority groups, who do not meet their requirement, are hence dismissed as peripheral to the state and society. The dominant groups then engage in violence against them. The process of the definition and re-definition of a citizen sharpened during Zia-ul-Haq’s rule. A society that seemed fairly liberal and pluralistic began to cave in before the systematic campaign launched by the military dictator to Islamise society. Presently, the worry is not that the youth are more Islamic but that they have begun to relate to each other within the narrow confines of a peculiar interpretation of religious principles.
Secondly, latent radicalism is also a product of Islamic social movements that grew or expanded during the 1990s through outfits like Al-Huda and the Tableeghi Jamaat (this is not to suggest that the Tableeghi Jamaat started during the 1990s). We saw children from the upper-middle and middle classes get inducted into these movements and change their perspectives about life and other people. These movements do not necessarily encourage jihad, but they shape the mind according to a certain theological interpretation, which can help create the likes of Faisal Shahzad and Omar Saeed Sheikh.
Third, latent radicalism in society is owed to the so-called “clash of civilisations” that seems to have taken off in a big way after 9/11. George W. Bush’s reference to the “crusade” and the subsequent policies that the US adopted created a general sense of abandonment and insecurity among the elite. Having to take off their shoes at airports and being subjected to extremely humiliating body searches created a feeling of hostility, especially among the educated youth, to the western socio-political system.
According to Dr Muhammad Waseem, who is a professor at LUMS, students hate the US, but at the same time they desire to go there for studies.
Fourth, the above factors have added to the impact of militarisation on the Pakistani mindset. Militarisation begets further militarisation.These are worrisome factors and trends. Nevertheless, systematic studies like this one are essential in understanding how Pakistanis are viewing the world. If you have time, please do read the full article.