As the world moves towards a more digitized and technologically advanced future, we humans find ourselves wrestling with extremism and intolerance. There are many assumptions as to why the world has become so extremist in the last couple of centuries. To the base, the origin of extremism and violence on one event would be defying the complexity of this multifaceted phenomenon. The history of violent extremism is long, but the methods to combat extremism only started emerging in the mid-2000s.

The idea of countering violent extremism (CVE) and preventing violent extremism (PVE) gained popularity in the years following the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9th of September, 2001. CVE and PVE do not only focus on military intervention, but also on strategies to develop the economy, education, and the welfare of a society with the aim to prevent individuals from indulging in terrorist activities. The United States plays a central role in the global CVE agenda. The Ex-President Barrack Obama chaired multiple summits in Washington DC aimed at engaging the international community in the discourse by providing them an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas.

Even though most of the literature on extremism and violence has been produced in western countries, the phenomenon itself has affected the eastern countries as much as it has affected the western countries. This indicates the universal nature of extremism, which transcends religion, culture, and nation. Despite the latter fact, most of the terrorist events have been contextualized as offshoots of religious teachings. The idea that religion promotes extremism has jeopardized the lives of people following religions associated with extremism. Since the western discourse on extremism and terrorism started following 9/11, the literature, media, and news in the west ever since have targeted Islam by portraying it as a violent religion. Muslims to date is the victim of hate crime in western countries because of the stereotypes surrounding Muslims and Islam. The reason these stereotypes are thriving in the media is that no one among the people in positions of power has tried to question them. The lack of critical thinking and the will to quest for facts have made the majority of the population in a western country to view Islam as a radical religion and Muslims as terrorists.

It is not only the western countries where intolerance has taken ground massively, but radical ideas are also common across borders. Pakistan, unfortunately, has also fallen prey to the intolerant ideas mentioned in the educational curricula leading the majority of the masses to adopt an intolerant attitude. Since Muslims are in a majority in Pakistan, the general Islamic narrative has an upper hand over other religions. Most extremists in the country are taking advantage of this narrative to oppress religious minorities. The textbooks are fueled with racial hatred comments which contradict the fundamental teachings of Islam, or mentions nothing at all regarding the kind of tolerance needed in today’s circumstances.

Today, the most intolerant population of the country is the youth, which to date have failed to unlearn those radical ideas. The hostile attitude towards alternative opinions in educational institutions has taken the lives of gems like Mashal Khan, and have halted progressives like Ammar Ali Jan from normalizing critical thinking. The dominance of groups like Islamiat Jamiat Talaba (IJT) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in universities in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have tempted most minority students to drop out. Recently, a student killed his professor, Khalid Hameed, for planning a farewell which would have been a non-segregated function.

Although, there is no evidence as to what tempts an individual to adopt extremist and intolerant beliefs. Most researchers and scholars put the blame on the biased education, which puts religious and ethnic minorities at a disadvantage. Education has played a massive role in shaping human societies throughout the ages. An education system that discourages individuals to question widely held beliefs is bound to be intolerant. Assuming that a good education can instill progressive ideas, and promote tolerance, organizations such as the United Nations have undertaken several projects to counter extremism through education, simultaneously introducing the idea of Global Citizenship.

The education system around the world is very biased and neglects facts to preserve the national and political image. The one-sided stories presented in textbooks alongside with complimentary class discussions have lead individuals to be adamant and have a narrow standpoint of concepts outside the normative realm. A partial curriculum represents a hierarchy, which puts the normative beliefs on the top and less famous beliefs on the bottom. This automatically translates to the superiority of the followers of the normative belief and makes them intolerant towards the beliefs of others.

The education system in Pakistan and in the countries around the world need a curriculum that allows students to explore meanings and values allowing them to make informed decisions. For which, the National Curriculum Review Committee (NCRC) under the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan has approved a foundation course on conflict resolution and critical thinking which is yet to be implemented in all universities of Pakistan.

A more unbiased, and tolerant education can help the youth in the country to be accepting towards alternative ideas. One can only grow up to be tolerant if the education provided to him allows him to critic and explore the values of other people. A critical thinking environment will protect youth from following rigid narratives and will build tolerance for other perspectives.

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Hatoon Gul is a Turbat based YES alumna studying Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Karachi.

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