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May 27th, 2011

Is Islamic extremism tied to poverty?

Submitted by Rashid Jahangiri.

Since 9/11 in my conversations in person and some times on different blogs, I have argued the terrorism in Muslim countries is not breeding due to poverty. Rather it is lack of their understanding of Islamic teachings, in its spirit. My point has been that educated and wealthy Muslims tacitly support terrorism perpetuated by Muslims against Europeans and Americans. These educated and financially well off Muslims hold belief that since they cannot convince Europeans and Americans to stop practicing their double standards when it comes to Muslim countries, so it is justified to at least tacitly support those who do acts of terrorism against these countries.

In my opinion these educated and wealthy Muslims are not convinced that Islam has that capability to convince Europeans and Americans and win their hearts and minds, and invite them to accept Islam intellectually. I am of the convinced that if sizable populations of these countries embrace Islam, then they will become Muslim brothers and sisters. And they will stop practicing themselves and letting their politicians and governments to practice double standards in their dealings with Muslim countries. I being some one who is fortunate to have read some of literature on Islam produced by Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement disagree with wrong notion prevalent among educated and financially well off Muslims.

My father in-law Professor Chaudhary Ghulam Rasool sahib has told me that in many gathering of educated, professionals, educationalists, politicians and other successful Pakistanis he has repeatedly told them on their faces that: you all support Al-Qaeda in your hearts and you feel good when they attack on Europeans and Americans. In reply they all invariably acknowledge with smile and chuckle.

A recent study by Georgetown University Professor Christine supports my point, that poverty is not the reason of extremism in Muslim societies.

Georgetown University’s Christine Fair talks with CNN about her studies that link poverty and Islamic extremism.

3 Responses to “Is Islamic extremism tied to poverty?”

  1. The research article by Christine Fair et. al. [] objectifies the support of extremism as it exists across various economic and rural/urban strata in Pakistan. It is not a cause-and-effect study but more of correlational and cross-sectional survey which brings to light as to where the chips are in this morass called Pakistan.
    Under the general precept of poverty as the cause of all ills, there are numerous NGOs within and without Pakistan who raise money, funds and resources which principally target the poor underclass firstly on humanitarian level to help the needy, and secondly to prevent emergence of extremism.
    What the above article tells us is that extremism has its roots in the urban middle class more than anywhere else in Pakistan. What was beyond the scope of this study was “why middle class?” This is where one can hypothesize and draw natural conclusions and think in term of interventions that one deems will be most effective.
    The confounders hidden in the “middle class” are the economic stability, education and free time. These factors free up mind of middle class to pursue certain paths which cannot be afforded by lower class and are not worth paying attention by upper class.
    In the middle class, for example, a basic level of education and resources enables one to be aware of what’s happening in the world via print and electronic media. Given some economic freedom middle class can spend time on contemplating the ills of the world and pick and choose causes to support. The education also gives them intellectual space to develop and conform to certain ideologies that drive their outlook and the behaviors that come out of such ideologies.
    As a general experience it is the middle class which is more ideology driven than the rich or poor. For example take religion, the poor have no time for it and and the rich have no value for it. It is the middle class which simmers with it as that is the only asset they have that can be shared and propagated without actual cash that to begin with is limited, but available to a certain extent to them. With their spare cash and time they can support and fund certain causes starting from neighborhood mosque to regional madrassah. With their spare time, they can participate in a dialogue to actual warfare. With their abundant zeal they can go to extremes to push their agenda be it from the pulpit, a forum or a rally. It is these resources which create nurseries for ideologies and their natural proselytization. It is from middle class that leadership emerges, whereas lower classes only provide the order taking foot soldiers, whereas the upper class is primarily interested in maintaining status quo because of which they are rich to begin with. This model fits very well the organizations identified in the above paper i.e. Jamaat Islami affliated “Kashmiri tanzeems,” Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and “Sectarian Tanzeems.” It was this kind of intellectual soil that gave foothold and nurturance to Al-Qaida in Pakistan.
    This interplay of lower class and middle class in light of discussion so far is proven on political scene which is the playground of the middle class. In day to day life, the most noticeable and loud are the Religious parties which belong to middle class but most unsuccessful in the voting booth where the poor votes are.
    Now, it is a different question as to what kind of ideology or the leadership that emerges from the middle class. In case of Pakistan, it is the Deobandi ideology and bearded leadership that pervades the middle class both explicitly and implicitly.
    On another note, historically, such kinds of ideologies emerge as counter reaction to dominating Empires. Concept of an Empire is inherently unnatural, which in the long run is not sustainable. History is full of such example e.g. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Sassanids, Ummayids, Abbasides, Ottomans, British, Japanese and Soviet empires. Once these empires wrapped up, there is no lingering hostility against their origins. For example, the present day pulpit in Pakistan hardly speaks of British empire which is non-existent and irrelevant.
    In current times, it is the American empire and its proxies that matter. These proxies could be NATO or the dictators and kings in the world. The world admires and wants to emulate the American society and its institutions, its dress, its entertainment, its food (burgers, pizzas, fries) etc. which are a worldwide staple, but it is the American empire that they detest.
    So the in-congruency is from both ends. America and its proxies have to reform and withdraw within their geographical and ideological boundaries, yet they can maintain the global appeal by the goodness that they have and will bring to the world both by their material and intellectual discoveries. Whereas, the rest of the subjugated world has to learn to envy not hate the West.
    Now coming back to the main focus of this thread, the middle class in Pakistan, they have a choice to make for themselves. Either they go the mullah route and lose generations in a pointless struggle which has no measurable achievement in the end or live the spirit of Islam (peace) which succeeded most when Peace Treaty of Hudaybiah was signed. They also have to learn from history that mullahs in any shape and form be it the Popes of dark ages or the modern “tombkeepers” of the Middle East, they are the single most impediment to achieve “heaven on earth.” Bangladesh has taken the first step. They banned Maududi’s literature. So can Pakistan. But will it?

  2. It’s the middle class stupid! That’s where the money is, both literally and figuratively.
    Fareed Zakaria on CNN further expounds upon the above article by Christine Fairs et. al. Take a look.

  3. Today I came across Gallup Organization documentary, based on polls conducted by them In Muslim world. Couple of months ago, I wrote post on reasons of Muslims hate towards US. What I said in that post is mostly supported by following Gallup documentary.
    Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

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