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Opinion

April 4, 2018
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Beyond the revelations

Opinion

April 4, 2018

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Pakistan is one of the many countries that have been terribly affected by religious extremism. But it is surprising to note that the revelations made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during his visit to the US did not trigger much debate in the country’s mainstream media.

The crown prince revealed that the Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabi ideology began when Western countries asked Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the cold war. He added that the conservative kingdom’s Western allies had urged the country to invest in mosques and madressahs overseas during the cold war in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union.

Had there been any revelations related to even a minor financial wrongdoing of Nawaz Sharif, the media would have created a storm; so-called analysts would have moved heaven and earth to prove that the revelations vindicated them; and doctors-turned-political commentators would have made vociferous demands for Nawaz’s imprisonment. Since the issue is about the imprudent policies of those who had dreamt of conquering Central Asia and the rest of the world, analysts have adopted criminal silence over it.

Little has been recently written about the harm that this policy has caused to Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world. More than 50,000 people have died in Pakistan due to the Taliban insurgency – said to be influenced by extremist ideologies – and many others maimed or wounded. Schools, colleges, universities, churches, mosques, imambargahs, hospitals, clinics and government installations were the prime targets of these extremists who didn’t even spare innocent women and children. They went to the extent of beheading our soldiers and mounting brazen attacks on the GHQ, and our airbases and airports.

This was prompted by a form of retrogressive indoctrination that was carried out in the name of Islam and wreaked havoc on not only Pakistan but also on more than two million Afghans, whose cities, towns and villages were destroyed and who were forced to become refugees. Many of them were also slaughtered by those subscribing to hatred and extremism. The country has continued to bleed.

The promoters and supporters of this extremist policy don’t just owe an apology to Afghans and Pakistanis, but must also be held responsible for the destruction of Syria and the devastation in Libya. The war in Syria has engulfed more than 500,000 people, forcing more than 11 million people to become refugees and pushing around 13 million into poverty. The country also suffered a financial loss worth $226 billion. Oil-rich Libya has also lost $68 billion between 2013 and 2016 alone due to the conflict triggered by extremist elements.

The Boko Haram-imposed insurgency mowed down more than 20,000 people in Nigeria alone and displaced over two million others. The group also unleashed a reign of terror in Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Such policies of extremism and hate also resulted in the rise of Al-Shabaab and countless other terror outfits.

Western countries are also to blame for the crimes that these terror outfits have committed in the name of Islam. Although it is clear that those who wage war in the name of democracy and human rights encouraged – and if the Saudi prince is to be believed insisted on – religious extremism, and were using Saudi Arabia as a conduit for that, the ruling elite in the Western world has yet to confess to its crimes.

To eliminate this legacy of religious extremism and encourage Muslims to play a positive role in the modern world, there must be a stop to any funding for these centres of obscurantism. The amount spent on spreading such hate would be sufficient to wipe out extreme poverty from areas in many poor Muslim states.

Riyadh must take the necessary steps to reconstruct countries ravaged by religious insurgencies that were influenced by the Wahhabi philosophy. It should help rebuild modern schools, hospitals, basic health units, water filtration plants and housing colonies in countries like Pakistan and Somalia.

The biggest obstacle to fighting religious extremism is poverty. From Bangladesh and Afghanistan to the Philippines and Sudan, people from the bottom layer of social stratification turn out to be the cannon fodder for extremist movements. Instead of pumping billions of dollars into lucrative arms deals that only benefit Western countries and stoke more fear of wars, Riyadh should come up with poverty alleviation projects in Muslim states to liberate them from such religious bigotry.

Riyadh-Tehran tensions are another factor that fuel religious extremism. These tensions need to be addressed. If the crown prince can meet pro-Israel individuals – who openly advocate illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – and is amenable to the idea of adopting a non-confrontational attitude towards Tel Aviv, why can’t talks be held with Iran?

In many matters, Riyadh cannot be blamed. Tehran is also responsible for sectarianism in different parts of Muslim world. It will also have to come up with a plan to resolve the conflict in Yemen; end the sense of marginalisation among Sunnis in Iraq; and play a role in halting anti-state activities in Arab states. For these and many other reasons, the two states – Saudi Arabia and Iran – need to come together and settle their differences.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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