Former Islamist seeks to turn the tide of religious extremism in Pakistan
Maajid Nawaz has founded Khudi, the first social movement in Pakistan to challenge extremist religious ideas and instead promote democratic culture among youths.
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Extremism in Pakistan exists not just in the Taliban strongholds in Pakistan's northwestern states bordering Afghanistan – where schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for standing up for girls' education – but also in the country's heartland, Nawaz said.Skip to next paragraph
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"Our analysis is that Pakistani society has been affected by extremism to an unacceptable level," Nawaz said.
He cited the example of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and a liberal politician close to President Asif Ali Zardari, who was shot dead in January 2011 by his bodyguard for suggesting Pakistan's blasphemy law be reformed.
Taseer had angered many people because of his defence of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Lawyers hailed Taseer's killer as a hero, tossing rose petals at him after he was arrested. More than 500 lawyers offered to defend him for free.
"The way that the murderer was treated as a hero openly and brazenly, that's an indication," Nawaz said.
Just this month, Pakistan authorities in the southern city of Karachi were caught off guard by the shootings of polio vaccination workers, saying they had not expected attacks in areas so far from Taliban strongholds.
Signs of tolerance of the Taliban appear even when hotels are blown up and Pakistanis die, Nawaz said. "There's a side-stepping, there's 'oh that couldn't have been the Taliban because why would they kill other Muslims, it must be America trying to make the Taliban look bad.'
"We're a long way from people being able to name and shame the perpetrators, and we're even further away from people disassociating themselves from the aims," he added.
The idea for establishing Khudi as a social movement came from the Islamist way of organizing people.
Islamist groups radically changed public opinion in the Middle East by setting up social movements and sending members into every strata of society – journalism, engineering, medicine, law, politics – carrying the Islamists' ideas, Nawaz said. Arab socialism, which dominated public opinion in the 1950s and '60s, was completely obliterated by Islamism in the 1980 and '90s.
"So I thought why not set up a movement that mirrors that, but instead of Islamism, the democratic culture?"
Nawaz was born and brought up in the British coastal town of Southend. There he saw many of his close friends stabbed in racist attacks, and he and his brother were falsely arrested on suspicion of armed robbery after playing with a toy gun in the local park.
At the same time, atrocities were being committed against Muslims during the Bosnian war. Nawaz writes that this, coupled with the alienation and identity crisis he felt at home, was the ideal breeding ground for an angry young teenager seeking out a subculture. Aged 16, he joined HT.