What you don’t often hear is “Pakistan: the future of counter-extremism”; or “Pakistan: home of pro-democratic Islam”; or even “Pakistan: stronghold of peaceful debate”.
Khudi is trying to change that. Launched in mid-June, Khudi is a Pakistan-based social movement that is asking the tough questions and offering a platform for airing the right answers. Khudi means “awakening” in Urdu, a deliberate nod to the “Awakening Councils” of Iraq that are credited with having successfully challenged extremism, eliminated al Qaeda’s regional franchise, and ended the insurgent war. The Pakistani initiative is no less ambitious and deserves our admiration, support, and praise.
Khudi is one-part social mobilizer and one-part think tank. It was founded last year by Maajid Nawaz, a former British radical Islamist who has been a leading figure in combating Islamist radicalism in the UK through his work with Quilliam. “Our domain is one of ideas,” Khudi’s mission statement reads, “where we counter dangerous and divisive ideologies and work to promote a climate in Pakistan where discussion and debate are used as the primary methodology to arrive at solutions and to resolve disputes.” The idea is to challenge racial and religious hatred, radical Islamism, and terrorism by inoculating Pakistani youth against extremism. The movement brings together students, young people and civil society groups “to challenge extremism, promote genuine democracy and work for a more peaceful, prosperous and inclusive South Asia.”
Through its website, Khudi offers links (and forthcoming links) to political and social topics that aren’t always openly discussed in Pakistan. There’s a section on strengthening Pakistani democracy (and a link to “Democracy & Islam”). There’s a discussion on “Identity and Nationalism” and on Pakistan’s international role (with subheadings that include “Our Nukes” and “Foreign Policy”). There are forthcoming discussions on “Peace in South Asia” and “Women’s Empowerment”. And the “Radicalization” link includes these golden words: “Let’s just come out and say enough is enough. It’s time we reclaimed our country and our faith from a poisonous ideology that has manipulated the tolerant and pluralistic faith of Islam and packaged it as a political ideology whose end goal is the creation of a totalitarian state. We have to be clear that rejecting the arguments of extremists does not equate to speaking against Islam. And we have to leave no room for doubt that just as extremism has no place in Islam, it will not be tolerated within Pakistan.”
Keep in mind, that this is coming from Pakistan, not from diaspora communities living in Toronto, London, or Milan.
The power of social networking shouldn’t be underestimated. With the right support and a bit of luck, Khudi might just change Pakistani history. By uniting and strengthening anti-extremists and circumventing politically- and socially-enforced restrictions that constrain the dissemination of taboo topics, Khudi opens avenues for debate. In a country where violence and intimidation too often stifles democratic discourse, debate has become a rare commodity. More of it cannot but help.
Consider, too, that with over 60 percent of Pakistanis under the age of 25, social movements like Khudi are active in just the right places to ensure continued growth and expanding appeal (i.e. university campuses, community-level groups, and new media). By targeting the burgeoning youthful demographic, Khudi’s sites are set squarely on the future. Defeating extremism in Pakistan might well take a decade, but by creating a movement that challenges the “causes and symptoms of extremism” while simultaneously building a “democratic culture” within civil society, Khudi is banking democratic capital.
And finally, Khudi’s long-term success is in the best interest of Canada, the United States and their friends and allies. Increasingly, homegrown terrorists, like Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, al Qaeda recruit Najibullah Zazi, and Mumbai Massacre masterminds American David Headley and Canadian Tahawwur Rana, have all allegedly received training from and associated with Pakistan terrorist groups. Let’s not forget, too, that in neighboring Afghanistan, NATO continues to combat insurgent and terrorist forces that are nearly indistinguishable from their Pakistani associates. The bottom line is that fighting extremism over there will result in security dividends over here.
Khudi’s road is an arduous one. Too often voices of Pakistani moderation are silenced. But if Khudi’s message catches fire with Pakistan’s youth, the prospects of extremist violence will do little to derail a social movement whose greatest asset is a public who increasingly rejects terrorism and violence.