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For Pakistanis, Violence Has ‘Profound Impact’ on Everyday Life

May 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Pakistani filmmaker and journalist Naziha Ali and Bushra Hyder, who has developed alternative teaching materials for use in Pakistani schools, offer a first-hand take on what's fueling extremism in their country and what should be done about it. Margaret Warner reports.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next to Pakistan, where an upsurge in violence may have roots in schools and the media.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Across Pakistan, life is often interrupted by terrorist attacks and sectarian violence.

Last year alone, there were more than 600 bomb blasts. The Pakistani government says it’s trying to fight extremism through military means and economic development. The United States is assisting with military aid and drone strikes to kill militant leaders, and by funding projects to boost the economy, civil society and education.

Recently, 12 Pakistani civic leaders, all women, came to Washington to meet with U.S. officials. Among them, Bushra Hyder is the founder and director of two schools in Northwestern Pakistan that seek to promote non-violence and tolerance. And Naziha Ali is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker in Karachi who’s written widely on militant organizations.

I spoke to them at the Institute for Inclusive Security, a nonprofit group that promotes the role of women in conflict zones. They began by describing what it’s like to live in the midst of so much violence.

NAZIHA ALI, journalist and documentary filmmaker: And the violence there is of all kinds, ethnic violence, sectarian violence, political violence.

And I know there are — there are many people who will not step out of their homes every day before checking the news because they don’t know where, what is happening where. So it impacts our lives in a very, very profound way on a daily level.

BUSHRA HYDER, school director: Imagine you meet a person in the morning and the news you get in the afternoon is that he’s no more. So, of course, it’s fearful. It’s a really uncertain situation. But, still, we’re hanging on.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, I want to ask you both from — you both are doing very interesting, different things. From where you sit and from what you do, what do you think is fueling this violence?

BUSHRA HYDER: Actually, there isn’t one reason. There are many, but we can say that it has been — it’s the way the curriculum is designed. It’s the way the students are taught, and it’s the wrong picture of — or the misinterpretation of the Islamic concepts.

MARGARET WARNER: Can you give me some examples about the curriculum? You mean the textbooks?

BUSHRA HYDER: Yes, the textbooks. They are, like, biased, biased towards other religions, and they have content which is derogatory towards other religions and. . .

MARGARET WARNER: So it’s derogatory of non-Islam?

BUSHRA HYDER: Yes, and other religions are not even talked about in a positive way. So, it’s kind of giving intolerant or conveying intolerant teachings to the students.

MARGARET WARNER: But how does that lead actually to violence?

BUSHRA HYDER: Because children are becoming — like, at young age, when they start thinking or they start reading about only wars that have been fought in Islam, and they are not talking about the peace, the love, the tolerance that the holy prophet, peace be upon him, showed in his own life.

So, naturally, when they’re only hearing about people from other religions in a negative way, they are becoming more intolerant. They’re becoming more aggressive towards the other groups and other religions.

MARGARET WARNER: So who’s providing these textbooks? Where do they come from?

BUSHRA HYDER: They’re provided by the government to the government schools, but they are written according to certain common policies. And the private schools have to use the same books also.

MARGARET WARNER: And Naziha Ali, what about in the world you live, media?

NAZIHA ALI: Well, I think, well, the media certainly does play a role in fueling an atmosphere that does lead to extremism.

The industry, the media industry is a very youthful industry. You have a lot of very, very young journalists. The average age of the journalist today is 23. Ten years ago, it was 40-plus. So I think that is a — has a major role to play in how news is disseminated. Like, channels — for instance, if there’s a bomb blast or there’s a terrorist incident, channels don’t — instead of getting their own facts and verifying them, they look at what other channels are saying.

And if another channel has got casualty figures that are way higher, they will go with that, simply because it’s — you know, it’s more dramatic.

MARGARET WARNER: Don’t the editors provide any kind of professional or moderating influence?

NAZIHA ALI: In some cases, editors do exercise a moderating influence, but the de facto editor is really the owner.

So there’s a lot of interference in editorial policy. And they’re driven by their own biases. And it’s — that’s why it’s a very profit-driven industry. There’s a mad scramble for ratings, and journalistic ethics be damned most of the time.

MARGARET WARNER: What are you doing specifically to try to combat radicalization, say in the school that you run?

BUSHRA HYDER: We started having these bomb blasts on a daily basis, so, naturally, my children were affected. And after these incidents, the children were becoming really aggressive and they were really angry.

And in their art classes, they started drawing bombs and victims and dead bodies and ambulances. They were having relatives being killed. And some of them were becoming orphans. And, actually, psychologically, most of my students were affected.

So what I did, I started counseling sessions with them. And then I started peace education, which was a comparatively new idea and concept in Pakistan. And mine was the first school in Peshawar which started this peace education. And in that, we started having classes and small activities of how to be tolerant towards others.

MARGARET WARNER: Naziha, what about for you and your work? Are there ways in which you’re trying to counteract what you see as this sort of sensationalized media coverage?

NAZIHA ALI: The media is very incident-driven. They will cover, you know, incidents of terrorism, but they won’t look at what is actually fueling that, what is causing it.

So there’s no discourse on the causes of extremism. And we have already started working on that. We have had a program discussing the impact of extremism on women and children, a TV program. And now we are working on another TV program to discuss the changes, the reforms that are needed in the education curricula.

MARGARET WARNER: What you all are describing sounds like a very Pakistan-rooted problem in the culture and cultural influences. You’re here in Washington meeting with all these people. What can the U.S. do to help change those cultural influences?

BUSHRA HYDER: Actually, the U.S. government is sending a lot of money to Pakistan. But, unfortunately, it’s not reaching the right people and it’s not going in the right direction.

NAZIHA ALI: I think one thing the U.S. can do is to make sure it talks to the people who are actually being affected, rather than just talking to policy-makers in Pakistan, so that you have a more nuanced understanding of what’s actually happening on the ground.

And, please, talk to women in Pakistan. Treat women as a very critical resource, because they have a kind of influence that men probably don’t.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, in the last two or three years, the U.S. has been using intensified drone strikes to try to take out at least senior terrorist leaders. Is that having an impact?

NAZIHA ALI: Well, I will ask you, do you perceive the radicalism in Pakistan is increasing or decreasing? I think the answer is that it’s increased. So I would say that the strategy isn’t working.

BUSHRA HYDER: There’s a hospital in front of my school, and I usually take my students there to visit the wounded, and these are the wounded men and children who have been victims of drone attacks and extremist activities.

MARGARET WARNER: So both? Both the victims of terrorist attacks and of U.S. drone strikes?

BUSHRA HYDER: Yes.

The idea is not to tell them that this is something good, or just to make them feel sick or ill, but I want them to understand how can hatred affect people. And when they come back to the school, they discuss what they have seen in the hospitals. And that is like — they then decide they didn’t want to be hit by these drones or these extremist bomb blasts. They want to have more peaceful attitudes towards others.

MARGARET WARNER: But, bottom line, you both are saying that this level, this continuing violence in Pakistan isn’t going to change unless these cultural influences are changed. Is that right?

BUSHRA HYDER: Yes.

You know what? The surprising thing and interesting thing is that, even in Pakistan, there is no public discourse regarding extremism. We only discuss the effects. But we are not talking about or not addressing the root causes and how are we going to tackle these extremist activities.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s a very tall order, to change these cultural influences, isn’t it?

NAZIHA ALI: It may be a tall order, I agree. But the underlying fact is that people in Pakistan want to live in peace.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Bushra Hyder and Naziha Ali, thank you both for your very important work, and best of luck with it.

BUSHRA HYDER: Thank you.

NAZIHA ALI: Thank you.