Growing up in the shadow of 9/11

Growing up in the shadow of 9/11


An entire generation of Muslim youth has grown up around the world in the backdrop of one of the world’s most critical moments, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
Many people of this Muslim generation have knowingly or unknowingly been part of thousands of academic studies which attempted to scrutinize the origins of radicalization and militancy, with many ending  in simplistic conclusions which linked the religion of Islam to militant behavior.
Over the years, the process of radicalization became almost entirely associated with male Muslim youth and all this information was framed without fully understanding the ramifications of such sweeping conclusions on the lives of Muslim youth in the West and in different countries.
Select media in the West promoted stigmatizing and biased reporting in electronic, print and social media for years, fuelling fears and racism.
In a 2018 study on Islamophobia and media in the UK conducted at the University of Liverpool, one Muslim female participant said she was afraid to tell people she was fasting because they would think she was “extremist.”
The youth in Pakistan too, have faced the brunt of direct psychological and other costs incurred in the fight against militancy triggered by powers outside of their country.
Since 9/11, the Economic Survey of Pakistan put direct and indirect losses accruing due to the US-led “war on terror” at around $135 billion. These losses include damage to physical infrastructure, foreign investment, industrial production, exports, and revenues of the state.  What cannot be estimated are the social costs faced by the jobless or underemployed youth in the country.
As the nature and understanding of militancy evolved, and militants targeted marketplaces, weddings, schools, public parks and hospitals, several donor and government funded efforts made Pakistani youth the subjects of experiments aimed at de-radicalization in the most conventional sense and often following the one-size-fits-all approach.

Going forward, a response rooted in local values, is essential if one is to give confidence to the youth in their history, Islamic heritage and long tradition of living in peace and harmony.

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

In 2017, according to International Labour Organization estimates, the share of Pakistani youth ‘not in education, employment, or training’ was estimated to be in the vicinity of 40%. For a country that boasts the largest percentage of youth in population across the globe, this is worrisome.
Today 64% of the population is under the age of 30 while 29% falls in the age bracket of 15 to 29 years. With low economic growth expected for the next two years and a subdued job market, this demographic dividend poses a challenge for the state.
Pakistani youth unable to find decent and productive jobs locally, look for greener pastures abroad, with many met by a complex and negative perception. Impact of several forms of stereotypes is experienced in the form of discrimination from potential employers, lessors refusing to rent out housing, harassment at workplaces, and street attacks.
Going forward, a response rooted in local values, is essential if one is to give confidence to the youth in their history, Islamic heritage and long tradition of living in peace and harmony.
Colleges, universities and madrassas should be more open to debating the root causes and aftermath of 9/11. The students should be provided the tools to differentiate between propaganda (read: fake news) and evidence-based research on any subject. There are good local models, documented in research by Sustainable Development Policy Institute, of how the indigenous private sector came forward in Pakistan and mitigated violent conflicts – examples which could be replicated across the Muslim world.
At a government-to-government level, Pakistan needs to engage with friends abroad to promote a fair image of our youth aiming to study or find employment in other countries, and a substantial effort is required to counter the propaganda of select media outfits that has been extended over 18 years. Social media tools which reinforce stigma and stereotypes need to be checked, through not just a national, but global effort.
Finally, it falls on Pakistan to make the country a better place for youth which are socially and economically excluded. The youth in regions worst hit by violent conflicts require time to eventually counter socio-economic and psychological challenges. Meanwhile, the right to learn and earn needs to be ensured through policy measures. The federal and provincial governments alone will not be able to do this unless they help in establishing and strengthening local community networks. Locally managed customized programs, which help recovery of public spaces for youth, promote arts and dialogue as an expression of peace, and give innovative skills, are still need of the hour.  
– Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an Economist and author of ‘Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms’ published by the Oxford University Press. Twitter: @vaqarahmed

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