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  • What drives someone to become a religious extremist, even to the point of becoming a

  • suicide bomber? Like most people I assumed that there were two overriding answers:

  • poverty and ignorance.

  • The poverty line goes like this: grinding poverty from which there appears to be no

  • escape fosters seething resentment against who those have more. If your choice is to

  • die a martyr or die a beggar, martyrdom is the clear winner.

  • The ignorance lines goes like this: the poor have no chance to get a decent education and

  • thus are susceptible to easy manipulation. Clever people play on their prejudices and

  • superstitions. Once the extremist gets this ignorant poor person in his grasp,

  • indoctrination is easy.

  • Since there's plenty of poverty and plenty of ignorance around the world, that's a lot

  • of people to draw from. This is how the source of terrorism is explained.

  • Then, I went to Pakistan and actually lived in the world from which extremists recruit.

  • And I found something much different than I expected. Poverty had little to do with

  • who became an extremist; lack of education even less.

  • Many of those that I met who subscribe to religious extremism -- and are prepared to

  • murder and die for their cause -- are from the middle class; and many had a university education.

  • These are not poor people and these are not uneducated people. They are well fed and well read.

  • So, if poverty and ignorance don't drive people to extremism, what does?

  • One is a desire for meaning and for order. Places like Pakistan are submerged in chaos

  • and corruption. Islamists promise clear cut solutions to every problem: here's how things

  • will change if you follow these rules. And only these rules.

  • Another is a desire for change. The old corrupt order, the narrative goes, must be overthrown

  • and that can only happen through violent action. Again, it is Islamists that step in --

  • with a promise to create a new form of government.

  • Then throw in a strong sense of victimhood -- we are not responsible for the sorry state

  • of our country; others have brought us down -- and you have a toxic brew that many willingly imbibe.

  • These, of course, are the same easy answers that tyrants and demagogues --

  • from Lenin to Mussolini to Hitler to bin Laden -- have always offered their followers.

  • I saw this played out one day while living in Pakistan. After one of the many assassinations

  • of a major figure there, I was sitting with two middle class parents. The father owned

  • a small business and the mother was a nurse. They had given their son a good life.

  • He wanted for nothing.

  • They told me that during dinner with the family a few days earlier, their son noted how the

  • person who was murdered "deserved to die." Why? Because he had spoken out on behalf of

  • religious minorities. They were shocked. How could their son, who had been educated and

  • well raised, think that? This story is all too typical.

  • So what to do about this extremism?

  • The first step is to get off this false narrative that this is first and foremost

  • a poverty or education issue.

  • The second is to take on the narrative of the extremist groups. They promise a better way,

  • but what in fact do thy deliver? The answer is always: more death, more suffering

  • and more poverty. In other words, young people need to see these extremist groups for what they are.

  • Only then will recruitment numbers begin to go down.

  • Third, the media have to stop treating extremists as freedom fighters,

  • a narrative that is all too common in places like Pakistan.

  • Fourth, teachers and parents cannot assume that just because they reject religious extremism,

  • their children and students will, too. Middle class parents and teachers have to be vigilant

  • in instilling moderate, pluralist values in their children.

  • Fifth, politicians have to stop blaming their countries' problems on the West and have to

  • confront the endemic corruption that destroys countries like Pakistan from within.

  • Sixth, and probably most important, Islamic religious figures have to stop looking the other way,

  • or worse, glorifying so-called "martyrs" -- Muslims who murder innocent people

  • -- almost always other Muslims -- in the name of Islam. Muslim religious leaders must promise

  • these murderers eternal damnation, not some sort of twisted heavenly bliss.

  • The people of Pakistan and other Muslim majority countries have real grievances.

  • But extremism only makes things worse. Always and everywhere.

  • It is not poverty and misery that creates religious extremism.

  • It is religious extremism that creates poverty and misery. And death.

  • I'm Haroon Ullah, adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

  • for Prager University.

What drives someone to become a religious extremist, even to the point of becoming a

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Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists?

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    むなかた じゅん posted on 2017/01/09
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