Willem Koomen and Joop van der Plight, at the department of Social Psychology in the University of Amsterdam, in their book titled “The Psychology of Radicalisation and Terrorism”, published in 2016, have tried to analyse the phenomenon of radicalisation and terrorism from a psychological perspective. All those attributes of individual and social psychology like hate, anger, prejudice, hierarchy, uncertainty avoidance etc, extrapolated through case studies of domestic and international terrorist attacks across the globe that play a role in fuelling radicalisation and terrorism, have been highlighted. The book is an indispensable read for all those who want to understand the phenomenon of radicalisation and terrorism inclusively.
One of the attributes of social psychology, which stands out for me while going through the book was the answer to makes a society vulnerable to radicalisation. Societies susceptible to radicalisation score low on gender egalitarianism. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is currently battling an invisible enemy within its borders that is extremism. Pakistan’s lowest record with respect to gender mainstreaming should worry Pakistan, as according to the authors’ research any country low on gender mainstreaming provides a fertile ground for radicalisation to thrive. It is high time that Pakistan re-examines its approach towards countering extremism in an inclusive manner. The big question is whether there are any omens in Pakistan’s current approach vis-a-vis countering extremism, which shows that gender egalitarianism is being considered as means to counter extremism in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s crusade against countering extremism can be traced back to APS attack in 2014; the aftermath of which gave birth to a furore across the country and question of dealing with extremism squarely came into the spotlight at the behest of popular public opinion. In order to counter extremism squarely with an iron hand, both civilian and military corridors rolled up their sleeves. The National Action Plan was formulated in order to counter one exclusive form of extremism i.e. religious extremism through a set of 20 points. Though NAP, so far, has proved to be a grim saga of failures as the government has failed to consolidate those 20 measures envisaged in NAP. What should be of concern to us here is that the whole plan to counter extremism was with respect to religious extremism, but with a poor understanding of dynamics of extremism discourse. There is no point in NAP that considers ensuring gender egalitarianism in society in order to counter extremism as there exists no understanding among policy circles that there is a link between lack of gender egalitarianism and extremism in society.
This lack of understanding of the fact that more rights and respect for women creates a more peaceful society, is also reflective from the leeway is given to the Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan by the government with respect to passing judgments vis-a-vis women that aim at stopping women from becoming a part of the mainstream. According to the council, the essence of Islam can only be actualised in passing regressive judgments exclusively with respect to women in society.
Currently, the only sphere where lack of gender egalitarianism is being considered a real issue, to some extent, is academia, but academia is not immune to orthodoxy prevalent in mainstream society with respect to gender mainstreaming. There hardly exists a conducive milieu in academia where critical debate over gender can take place. Graduates, even after graduation, because of no critical debates over gender discourse, have this rigidity intact in their minds with respect to the need for bringing a shift in gender roles prevalent in society. Most of the time, they are sceptical right from the beginning to step in to this discussion, as they think that this is western discourse and is a propaganda, aimed against their society and Islam. Orthodoxy with respect to gender is so entrenched in most of the government run universities, especially in the university to which I belong, that gender segregation policies are followed throughout the campuses. Such a gender-segregated atmosphere in academia is also one of the reasons why critical debates over gender discourse do not take place in our academia.
Extremism cannot only be solely confined to religious extremism. It feeds itself from other forms of extremism too. It is also a kind of extremism when one sex defines parameters for the other sex’s social role in society through selective interpretation of Fiqh (which is human constructed interpretation of religion at a particular point in time, instead of inclusive interpretation of divine principles mentioned in the Holy Scripture i.e. the Quran). In order to counter extremism, it is high time that its discourse is studied inclusively, like its discourse has been analysed in Willem Koomen and Joop van der Plight’s book. All those forms of extremism that feed extremism in society are brought to spotlight for critical discussion. In this way, an inclusive picture of extremism can be mapped out and extremism can be rooted out from the society through inclusive measures.