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A global culture to fight extremism

02.01.2012 - 14:29

LONDON - It is my belief that hatred has become as global as positive activism. Globalisation has made it easier to hate as well as to love. The fringe has become viral, and localised parochialisms are in danger of becoming new inter-connected pockets of the mainstream, through globally connected social movements. Though such movements heavily influence national political agendas, by their very character, they transcend politics. 

Social movements are defined as an ideas based phenomenon, are spread across societies and connected via loose networks, and are needed as part of the global culture to fight extremism. What is required are inter-connected democratic social movements akin to a democratic internationale to act as a truly global phenomenon, to create a global culture with which to fight extremism. 

But social movements are not new. It is simply that western societies have so far not actively helped to create organised demand on the ground for democratic cultures, even sensitively, because it has not been defined as a ‘good cause’.

Social activism is the idea that I believe will carve out not merely political change, but civilisational change in the near future across the world. Muslim-majority nations happen to be those that currently sit on the precipice of such change. Spreading positive ideas and combining them with providing social services must be recognised as a ‘good cause’ in itself, just as building schools and hospitals is. Policies, resources and focus must be invested in developing real demand for democratic culture on-the-ground in the country, and it is this that sets these trends for the region, Egypt, and in the country that most needs this new trend for democratic youth activism, Pakistan. Indeed, for the last three years, my team in Pakistan has been slowly working on beginning this process with as broad as possible a collation. 

The recent success of the Arab uprisings indicates that a new phenomenon is on the rise. Egypt has tended to set the trend in Arab social movements. In the 1950s and 60s, Egypt witnessed the rise of Arab Socialism, which then spread across the MENA region and beyond. The 70s saw a decade in transition. The 80s and 90s in Egypt were decades of Islamism which again spread across the region and beyond. The 2000s saw a decade in transition. 2010s and 20s could usher in a new era of democratic aspirations in Egypt, which could also spread outwards. To get it therefore right in Egypt is crucial, and perhaps a pre-requisite for this to succeed is for democratic youth to go through a period of opposition facing Islamist regimes.

Though these Arab uprisings were necessary for the chances of a pro-democracy social movement to emerge; though they were indigenous; though they were not sparked by extremists; though they focused on internal reform and not external conspiracies, the uprisings themselves are no guarantee that the call for a democratic culture will take root in the form of a trans-national social movement. Transitioning from this loose coalition to a trans-national social movement will require some effort, and some civilisational – not political – leaders to make this effort. But, without these uprisings, even this would have been impossible to contemplate.

Unless a general agreement can be agreed upon in developing societies about the civilisational direction they wish to see their nation headed in, these societies will be unable to agree on the fundamental legitimacy of any system, and conflict will continue. It is my belief that the best civilisational consensus that human kind has so far arrived at is the democratic culture. The democratic culture is necessarily more than merely elections. It entails a respect for human rights and the freedoms we take for granted. Without freedom of speech, there can be no free campaigning for votes; without freedom of belief, there can be no free right to form parties and so on. 

Our challenge is to help sow the seeds of these movements, and to make a transition from their political goal or removing leaders to one where they strive in the long term in their societies to create buy-in for the civilisational choice of democratic culture. 

We can only move forward when all forms of extremism are challenged by activists from across the political spectrum. I believe it is important for pro-democracy and anti-extremism activists to build effective trans-national networks in order to counter the threat posed by all forms of extremism. These networks should promote liberal democratic values and an inclusive sense of citizenship, enabling people from all backgrounds to feel accepted with their rights and responsibilities respected and acknowledged.