A couple of months ago I attended a talk on ‘Today’s Peacebuilders…Tomorrow’s World Leaders’, hosted by Initiatives of Change USA. The underlying theme for the talk was how violent extremism in the world today could be addressed peacefully, and drew specifically on how leading thinkers and activists such as Gandhi, Mandela, and King would have countered violent extremism in today’s world.
One of the key take-aways from this talk for me was the concept that “the majority should protect the minority”, as alluded to by one of the key speakers Dr Rajmohan Gandhi (Biographer, Journalist, Peace-Builder, Former Initiatives of Change President). This concept was based on Mahatma Gandhi’s address to the Indian subcontinent’s Frontier Province’s Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in 1939, during which he asked the Muslim leaders (who comprised the majority at the time) to become “a living wall of protection” for the Hindus and the Sikhs.
This message appears to me to be as relevant today as it was seventy-seven years ago, if not even more so given the wide spread prevalence of different categories of violent extremism, be it race, sect, religion, class, ethnicity, gender, or others. In Pakistan, there are numerous cases of violent extremism related to religion, sect, and class. One such example is that of the increasing number of attacks and incidence of hate speech against the Ahmadi community – a minority community which was declared as non-Muslim by the Pakistani government in 1974 because of its belief in a prophet after Muhammad. According to media reports (http://www.dawn.com/news/1175694), eleven Ahmadis were murdered in Pakistan in 2014 because of persecution against their faith. Similarly, attacks on the Ahmadi community’s places of worship and personal properties are also widespread, such as the attack on the Ahmadi place of worship and Ahmadi owned factory in Punjab’s Jehlum district during late November 2015. The concept of the majority protecting the minority as a peaceful strategy is thus extremely relevant in this scenario of increasing religious intolerance, as well as overall intolerance in Pakistan.
Another message which reinforces the need for the majority to protect the minority, and resonated with me on a personal level from this talk, was the idea of bringing together divided people and overcoming enmities. Dr Rajmohan Gandhi’s inference from Gandhi, Mandela, and King’s teachings in this regard was the concept that “if all people are not my people, then I contribute to violence”, thus emphasizing the underlying reality that at the end of the day, all people are human beings belonging to the same family, and thus should treat each other with respect and compassion, rather than targeting each other because of the differences between them.
One promising example of this approach that was shared at the talk was that of the non-profit organization Peace & Education Foundation (PEF)(http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/pakistan/peacebuilding-organisations/pef/) in Pakistan, which teaches peace in religious schools/madrassahs by running capacity building programs, organizing cultural exchanges, and conducting research to help promote peaceful coexistence. Some of their programs include inter-faith skills training in Pakistan for leaders of all faiths including Muslims, Christians, and other religions; conducting imam trainings, and certification programs for madrassah teachers, amongst others.
Through these and other positive examples, and by practising tolerance and raising awareness amongst all communities, we can thus work towards reducing and eradicating violent extremism peacefully, both in Pakistan and globally.