As our tragedies become more obscene, with the killing of children and staff at Army Public School in Peshawar most fresh in our collective memory, calls are being made to eradicate the “ extremist mindset” that prompts ordinary people to commit unspeakable crimes against their fellow human beings. However, much of the discourse about extremism is premised around a narrow, opportunistic view of the problem. It identifies people and places as opposed to ideology. It favours isolating the cause and effects of extremism for political and ideological goals against adapting an honest and holistic approach, extinguishing any hope of ever reaching a relevant, accurate diagnosis. Some would have people believe that extremist ideology belongs and flourishes in the rugged mountains of FATA, while the mainstream society falls victim through either foolishly immersing itself into diabolical ideals or by cowering down under the fear and force routinely unleashed upon it by powerful fringe elements. This distorted depiction of our reality allows us to disregard any need for introspection, to evade responsibility and to sustain our hypocritical stance on extremism, among other national issues.

Extremism’s sole refuge is neither the tainted hearts of bearded terrorists belonging to the TTP, LeJ and al Qaeda nor the unrefined minds of this country’s many illiterate. It also resides in the hearts and minds of our ‘educated’ middle and upper class, of our judges, generals, politicians, teachers and students. It is in our books. If there is one aspect worthy of attention in our quest to rid us from this “extremist mindset”, it is our curriculum, which carries no love letters for human beings of other or no faiths and demonstrates our disregard, even disdain, for facts and history. Those children who do not attend a school or a religious seminary may be an advantage to those who do. While the former are compelled to strictly rely on society for the pollution of their vibrant minds, the latter are systemically nursed with hate for Hindus, Jews and infidels and taught a warped version of history, inducing a perpetual bias and identity crises. Verses calling for waging ‘jihad’ against these ever-conspiring infidels, our rivals on the planet, will not raise a secure, tolerant and enlightened generation. Glorifying Muslim invaders who looted and plundered while completely removing the heroes of our old and rich land – of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – from our memory leads to a generation, which cannot figure out if it is closer to the Indus Valley civilization or the Arabs. The contamination of the national curricula with religious extremism and laughable attempts to link us with far off cultures and peoples through fairytales will not secure a better Pakistan. It is what has brought us here; supporters of terrorism abroad, apologists for terrorists at home, persecutors of minorities, dangerously biased and hopelessly confused. If the government is actually serious, it ought to look what is inside the books our children study in schools. If it doesn’t find the content troubling, it may as well give up and hand over everything to the Taliban.