EDITORIAL: Extremism in universities

KARACHI (Dawn/ANN) - Clearly, secular, even elite, education is no guarantee against radical ideologies.

The alleged mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was a graduate of an American university, while Omar Saeed Shaikh, convicted of Daniel Pearl’s murder, studied at the London School of Economics. Clearly, secular, even elite, education is no guarantee against radical ideologies. In Pakistan, however, the stereotype of the militant — madressah-educated or illiterate and coming from an impoverished background — remained intact for a considerable time. Indeed, it was largely applicable to the earlier generation of militants. But with the conviction of Saad Aziz — a graduate of one of Pakistan’s top business schools — for the Safoora Goth massacre and rights activist Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, it is obvious that the militant landscape in Pakistan has evolved considerably. Last week in Karachi, the Sindh police’s Counter-Terrorism Department organised a seminar titled ‘Growing radicalisation in educational institutions’, in which academicians from around 40 public and private universities called for a coordinated policy to address this pressing issue. A number of practical steps were proposed by the participants such as vigilance committees, increased surveillance on campus and seminars to sensitise faculty members and students.

An exchange of views between members of law enforcement who are familiar with the minutiae of extremism in the country, and educationists responsible for moulding the mindset of young people, is a valuable exercise that shows proactive, long-term thinking. While savage violence such as that carried out by Saad Aziz is an exception thus far, there are umpteen indications of a radical mindset taking root in Pakistan’s higher institutes of learning. The internet has made it even easier for extremist elements to ensnare naïve, impressionable young people, including women. A case in point is Noreen Leghari, an MBBS student from Hyderabad, who was arrested in April on suspicion of being involved in terrorism; she later confessed she was to be used as a suicide bomber. Aside from educational institutions, families too must be made aware of the warning signs which indicate that their younger generation is on the path to embracing a dangerous Manichaean ideology.

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