A few weeks ago, CNN aired Generation Islam, a two-hour documentary by Christiane Amanpour that focused on a range of efforts being made in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine to turn young Muslim children away from militant extremism. Amanpour, when asked in a recent interview if these efforts were working, noted, “The big aggregate news that is good and optimistic is that militant-ism and extremism is declining…Whether it’s in Afghanistan or Pakistan, the percentages are plummeting. That’s where the opportunity lies. Now is the time to grab that opportunity.”
Is militancy declining? The issue is not black-and-white, particularly since a survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan last month found that 59 percent of Pakistanis felt the greatest threat to the country was the United States [a statistic not helped by continued U.S. drone strikes or rumors of an increased Blackwater presence in Pakistan]. Meanwhile, only 11 percent of respondents said Taliban militants were the biggest threat to Pakistan.
Nevertheless, efforts to curb militancy and extremism are gaining traction in Pakistan. Below is Amanpour’s interview with Azhar Hussain, who has been working tirelessly with Pakistani madrassa [religious school] leaders to reform the system from the inside out. Often in our effort to address education reform in Pakistan we ignore the thousands of madrassas, acknowledging them only as the problem. Azhar’s work is unique because he engages these schools as a potential part of the solution. The results are insightful, to say the least: