By Abdul Majeed:
Science is supposed to inculcate rational thinking among its practitioners. The whole scientific methodology relies on definitive evidence and not just myths or fable. Paradoxically, in case of religious extremism, it has been observed that students of science have been actively involved in acts of terrorism and their scientific education failed to change their narrow-mindedness and bigotry.
Research by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog has shown that engineers are more susceptible to join Islamic Radical groups than other people. Similar data is not available about Doctors. However, based on information about the terrorist networks and terrorists themselves it is not difficult to find doctors in prominent roles. Most famous and perhaps dangerous is Dr Ayman-az-Zawahiri, a pediatrician from Egypt believed to be the second-in-command of Al Qaeda and the chief ideologue. Abu Hafiza, the master-mind of Madrid bombings, Dr Akmal Waheed, accused of having links with Al-Qaeda, attacking the convoy of the Karachi corps commander in 2004 and providing financial aid to the banned Jundullah activists, Bilal Abdulla, who attempted a terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007, Dr Nidal Malik Hassan, who killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in the worst shooting ever to take place on an American military base at Fort Hood, located just outside Killeen, Texas, Dr Ali Abdullah, who abetted terrorists in attempted murder of wounded Ahmedis in Jinnah Hospital, Lahore, Professor Dr Zafar Iqbal Chohdary, a pioneer of Lashkar e Tayba and last but not the least, Dr Afia Siddiqui(though not a practicing physician/surgeon, she did her PhD in neuroscience), who was one of six alleged al-Qaeda members who bought $19 million worth of blood in Monrovia, Liberia, immediately prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks and who was married in 2003 to al-Qaeda member Ammar al-Baluchi, in Karachi. Al Baluchi is a nephew of al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Khaled Ahmed, veteran journalist, noted in his book that “In 2005, I was asked by the Lahore Chapter of doctors’ association to address them on current national issues. I was prepared to discuss the problem of growing religious violence, but when I saw that most of the medical specialists in the high-income bracket were sporting flowing beards and already making speeches in favour of an Islamic revolution, I changed my mind and did not broach the subject of increased religiosity among the scientists in general and doctors in particular. The meeting was finally dominated by Dr Israr Ahmad, himself a medical doctor, and Dr Amer Aziz who had been to Afghanistan to treat Osama bin Laden.”
(Khaled Ahmed, Sectarian War, Oxford University Press, Karachi; 2011; pp 173) The growing radicalization has also caused problems for doctors aspiring to get training in the United States (US being the country with most advanced training facilities).
According to Dr Saima Zafar, president-elect of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani descent in North America (APPNA), this past year 22 physicians from Pakistan who had managed to get through the rigorous process of residency interviews and were matched with residency programmes lost their spots after being refused visas.
Those already in residency programmes also found their positions precarious. One resident at a prestigious programme who had returned to get married found himself being taken off his return flight to America. His visa was revoked without explanation. His programme at Pennsylvania State University’s Hershey campus announced soon after that it would no longer be recruiting Pakistani medical graduates.
What prompts these people to turn towards extremism is hard to judge. We will examine a few theories about this phenomenon though. Hajra Mumtaz, in an article titled “The benefit of grey” opined, “Science teaches certainties that have the equivalent of a moral upper hand through being absolutely and invariably correct. In this way, we have in people the inclination to either totally accept as right, or totally reject as wrong, ideas and attitudes. And so, quite possibly, we have a society that is one step closer to allowing extreme viewpoints or ideologies to take root.
Students of the social sciences and humanities, by contrast, are taught to navigate their way through endless possibilities with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to light the path. Philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, etc are all areas that require the student to traverse the grey areas and the ‘what ifs’, where the only moral upper hand can be logic and rational, coherent debate. These subjects ask the student to take in context and connections and search for alternatives.”
In a research report named “Red Hot Chilli Peppers Islam – Is the Youth in Elite Universities in Pakistan Radical?” It was stated that “The majority believed that madrassah reforms were being imposed by the US and hence were a ruse to manipulate traditional institutions. Majority of respondents also viewed Islam as the right formula for governance. 62% considered Shiites as Non-Muslim. 40% of respondents didn’t believe that imposing military rule was an act of treason. 57% respondents viewed USA as the biggest threat to Muslim Ummah, 43% listed Israel and 33% considered “West” as the biggest threat to Muslim Ummah. 46% were willing to believe that the Taliban were sponsored the US.” The study concluded that, “they[students of Elite Universities] suffer from a closed mind or are prone to exclusivity rather than inclusivity. The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ divide compounded with greater insensitivity towards social and political issues has created an elite generation which may be incapable of mending fences with other groups. Being affluent these youth may have greater stakes in not turning towards active militancy. But then, cases such as Faisal Shehzad or Afia Siddiqui can always happen. These two cases, in fact, indicate the possibility of latent radicalism transforming into radicalism and militancy.
This study did not find any remarkable difference between the thinking of the youth going to elite institutions. Access to better education did not necessarily produce better quality thinking” The sample for this study included 2 medical colleges as well. A worrying thought is that extremism in medical professional is increasing and not decreasing. A “radd-e-Fahashi seminar” was held in a medical college in Lahore. In the same medical college, Hizb ut Tehrir(a banned organization) conducted many workshops and a similar organization “Sout-ul-Ummah” are quite active there. Student wings of Religio-political parties are active in medical colleges especially in Faisalabad, Multan and Bahawalpur. Doctors are considered as one of the most educated group of people. If they are treading towards the path of extremism, what hope there is for illiterate people who form the majority of Pakistan’s populace?