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Pakistani litterateurs have an alternative narrative to counter extremism

Pakistani litterateurs and intellectuals have an important role to counter extremism in the society. They are not only well aware of the phenomenal increase of extremist trends and its various manifestations; they also hold better solutions and comprehensive recommendations for the culmination of extremism.  These views were expressed by the participants in a dialogue on “Intellectual’s Response to Extremism in Pakistan” organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies on 16 April 2010. The dialogue was a part of PIPS initiative to engage different segments of society against the rising trends of extremism and radicalization.

In his opening remarks, Amir Rana, director PIPS, said though Pakistani intellectuals realize the scale of threat of extremism, their overall response has been inadequate. He said the views expressed by the intellectuals and litterateurs on the issue of extremism carry utmost significance and are different from public view and perceptions.

While chairing the session, Mr. Tariq Rehman, renowned intellectual and the director of National Institute for Pak Studies, stated that extremism in any form or manifestation is adverse to social development and peace. He was of the view that one should not expect the creative writers/artists to play a role in bringing peace and social development because it does not fall under their professional domain. However, their work needs to be analyzed critically in order to measure the psychological and social impact. To substantiate, he quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” in which the writer demonstrates that persons with outstanding skills and characteristics can also commit heinous crime such as murder. Still, the novel is considered a classic since it meets the highest standards of creativity.

Zahid Masood, senior poet and fiction-writer, considered social and economic disparity as one of the major factors behind extremism in Pakistan. He said that protracted dictatorships and political parties’ un-democratic attitude have kept the masses away from the process of decision-making. Public empowerment and their active role in the process of decision-making would pave the way for enlighten moderation in the country.

Shabana Fayyaz, professor of Strategic Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University, opined that syllabus being taught in public educational institutes of Pakistan have also infested our young generation’s mindset with extremist ideologies. There is a need to review the syllabus books to promote tolerance and peaceful co-existence among Pakistani youth.

Ali Akbar Natiq, an emerging fiction-writer and a poet, observed that in the past a significant number of litterateurs have also been supporting and promoting radical and extremist ideologies on behest of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Qasim Yaqoob, a young poet, emphasized that there is a need of constructing scientific and comprehensive definitions of “ambiguous” terms such as extremism and radicalization. He observed that social disparity and political oppression are the major factors behind extremism in Pakistan.

The participants agreed that Pakistani intellectuals are capable to cultivate an alternative narrative that would be helpful to counter extremists’ trends and ideologies. However, it is only possible if this thought process is turned into an organized and well-structured trend.

While concluding the session, Mr. Tariq Rehman said it is encouraging to see intellectuals and literary persons coming together to discuss the most significant and sensitive issue faced by contemporary Pakistan. He appreciated the initiatives taken by PIPS against extremism in Pakistan and termed them timely, objective and courageous.