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‘Pakistanis are rhetorically aggressive but moderate in action’

The People in Pakistan have a common tendency to use radical rhetoric when discussing other religions, sects, nations, and people, whereas when  it  comes  down  to  their  practical behavior, the majority  of  Pakistanis  are still  moderate. The majority of the people in Pakistan do not have a specific lust for bloodshed and violence, however a huge majority wants to see Islamic legislation (Shariah) actually implemented in some form. For them, Shariah is seen as a system which would provide them equality, justice, and freedoms, which they so far feel they have been denied. Dr. David Hansen presented this analysis in a discussion session on his upcoming book Radical Rhetoric-Moderate Behavior: Perceptions of Islam, Shari’a, and the Radical Dimension in Urban Pakistan organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad. Academia, intellectuals and civil society representatives participated and shared their thoughts on the book.

The author of the book, Dr. David Hansen, who is currently working as associate professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Bjørknes College, Oslo-Norway, presented a summary of his research findings that are furnished in the book. Hansen investigates controversial themes related to the increasing portrayal of Pakistan as a radical state and Islam as an inevitable violent religion. Through the discussion of a theoretical framework for the genesis and nurturing of radicalism in Pakistan, and careful analysis of his respondents’ perceptions, he concludes that the majority of Pakistanis does not have a ‘specific lust for bloodshed and violence’. Yet, they often portray others using radical rhetoric, something that is mainly attributed to other, non-religious factors, rather than an implicit violent Islam or any specific religious ideology alone.

He explores  that  there  exist  huge  misconceptions of what it means  to  be Muslim  as  well  as  what Shariah constitutes for the Muslims–as compared to what is constantly referred to as an emerging ‘fundamentalist Islam’ in Pakistan. There is however, an increased focus on a more orthodox Islam, in which people often try to ‘purify’ themselves of pre- or non-Islamic culture and practices. This does not however mean that ‘Folk Islam’, commonly associated with Sufi practices, is less popular. People tend to fuse their orthodox beliefs with aspects of Sufism (commonly referred to as piri-muridi), albeit that many people have become more prone to scrutinize certain practices and rituals found in piri-muridi. This also does not mean that people do not want Islamic legislation (Shariah); a huge majority of Hansen’s respondents would actually see it implemented in some form. For them, it is seen as a system which would provide them equality, justice, and freedoms–which they so far feel they have been denied.

Hansen thus challenges the notion of Pakistan’s Islam as being inherently radical and dangerous by drawing on data gathered through ethnographic fieldwork experience in Pakistan. There is no denying that many Pakistanis voice radical expressions, Hansen seeks to situate and explain why certain people explain themselves in radical terms, and on the other, are still moderate in their behavior.

Ms Shabana Fayyaz, associate professor at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, said there is a dearth of empirical research on such issues in Pakistan and this book really presents a public perspective. It reinforces the argument that the majority of Pakistani people is moderate but it may be termed as ‘silent majority’. This is a challenge for the Pakistani leaders as to how to mobilize this silent majority for a positive change.

Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana admired the academic work of Dr. Hansen and said it was yet a big challenge for Western and even Pakistani academia to perceive and analyze such sensitive issues in Pakistani context. He said that the author’s argument that people in Pakistan knew less about Islam was debatable. We should not however mix religious discourse with that of radicalism. At one level radicalism is a debate of political science and may not be called an ideological debate.