Are there any ‘liberal extremists’ in Pakistan?

Published: September 22, 2016

Even moderately liberal points of views are categorised as extremist hence clearly there is something wrong with our conception and ideological direction. PHOTO: AFP

One of the phrases being used repeatedly in the Pakistani mainstream, as well as social media, is of ‘liberal extremism.’ I have repeatedly heard and read that Pakistani society is polarised – and both the ‘extremes’ are equally harmful.

A few columnists and anchor persons continuously point towards the ‘dangers’ emanating from liberal extremists. Some way or the other, our media is trying to project itself as striking the vital middling position and professes ‘miana ravi’ or moderation in opinion.

This term is no longer just restricted to the media but has also found its way in everyday conversations and drawing room discussions.

Well, at least semantically, a phrase like liberal extremism or liberal fascism can only be termed as an oxymoron. From a philosophical point of view, you cannot be a liberal and a fascist at the same time. However, since in everyday political terminology, the word liberal corresponds to certain positions, therefore at least theoretically it is possible for someone to be a ‘hard core’ liberal. Even from that angle, you can only be called an ‘extremist’ if you are ready to resort to violence or take extremely inflexible and fringe positions.

It is important to know as to what liberal values espouse. Liberalism is not a strictly defined doctrine and has meant different things at different times and places. However, broadly speaking we can say that ideas with liberal underpinning are: women liberationreligious tolerance; preference of self-introspection over irrational patriotism; separation of state and religion, increased role of state for levelling income inequalities, less ambitious external policy; and a passive yet alert military with no expansionist aspirations built around romantic nationalism.

In Pakistan, those who espouse these values are rare and in media – they are restricted to merely English print and web. Moreover, they do not use violent tactics the way religious fundamentalists do and therefore to label them as fascists is a gross exaggeration.

In addition, the local category of liberals is fully cognisant of the fact that Pakistan suffers from acute religious sensitivity and therefore while projecting their point of view in the public sphere, they often carefully word their opinion. They have to otherwise run the risk of being slain. In fact, even their vocal opposition of blasphemy law was mostly on the ground that the said law was against the ‘true’ spirit of Islam, rather than on the fact that there is no place for religion inspired law in the matters of state.

The fact is that liberals in Pakistan are not the ‘hard-core’ variety but rather close to centre and have to argue from position of severe disadvantage. The media does not give them the space, and when they speak, they have to tread very carefully and consequently often end up projecting a much compromised point of view.

And despite this, a sizeable number of people categorise them as some kind of fascists or Western elitists. This in my opinion just shows as to how orthodox and schizophrenic our society has become. Here some of the people claim to be following a ‘balanced’ middle simply on the grounds that they do not out rightly support religious extremism. Yet a substantial number of such people may be giving what is known as ‘soft’ support to the militants through weird conspiracy theories and at times apologetic defence whereby extremists are acting violently due to some sort of ‘reaction’.

In my books, this mind-set is also ultraconservative and extremist though its manifestation is in a different way.

The central issue in my opinion is that in Pakistan, on the ideological spectrum, the orthodox positions virtually dominate. In fact the opinions which would fall under the category of fringe opinions in the West are actually the mainstream opinions in Pakistan. When extreme conservative opinions become the mainstream opinion then even moderately liberal opinions start appearing as the ‘other extreme.’

Moreover, unfortunately the mainstream media has successfully projected liberal values as some kind of a modus operandi cum intellectual vehicle to westernise Pakistan and to undermine the existing ‘rich’ patriotic culture and values.

Consequently, anyone vying for the liberal values is immediately bracketed as some kind of a western liberal extremist and even a fascist. When even moderately liberal points of views are categorised as extremist then clearly there is something wrong with our conception and ideological direction.

Moreover, this is proving seriously detrimental because liberal opinions are being simply shot down as liberal extremism without even being properly considered. Consequently in the battle of ideas, only the variants of one kind of narrative are reigning supreme and counter opinion is virtually absent in the public sphere.

Instead of a balanced middle which emanates from conflation of competing ideas, what we are witnessing in Pakistan is just the dominance of variants of conservative ideology. Hence it is no surprise that intellectually we are becoming bankrupt.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • AA_Southpaw

    “there is no place for religion inspired law in the matters of state.”

    The religion that I follow i.e. Islam, the above is not true. Religion has everything to do with the state.

    Whats the solution?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Two nation theory.Recommend

  • vinsin

    liberal extremism or liberal fascism, and state terrorism are terms found only among Muslims and Pakistani. Freedom of speech, expression and religion include law bound hate speech are part of liberalism.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Islam is a political religion, where it demands complete command and control over all the elements of a life of a human being.

    From how to breathe to how to wage a war against the kuffar, everything is clearly listed in the Shariah books originating from the Arab world.

    Arab-originated-Islam in its true form is completely incompatible with the modern world.

    One can pick up any activity of the modern world, as basic as taking a picture, and it is completely prohibited in Islam and is punishable under Shariah.Recommend

  • Baba

    Liberal Extremism is a reality. The Soviet project to destroy religion was Liberal Extremism. The Current unnatural attempt by Liberals to create so called “Gay marriage” is Liberal Extremism. The idiotic behavior of Qandeel Baloch was Liberal Extremism. Liberal Extremists are a reality in Pakistan, but luckily they are limited to fringes of society.Recommend

  • Baba

    Is this why Hindu extremists call call secular Indians as”sickular” and Congress Party as “Khangress”. Is this why Hindu extremists control people’s dietary habits by banning beef ?Recommend

  • Solo

    I agree. Its completely incompatible and is backward. Most pakistanis are too brainwashed to see this through.Recommend

  • Solo

    So if my religion differs from you, like shia vs. sunni, i should impose my view of the religion on you? are you so naive to think that all of islam is one? lolRecommend

  • Solo

    All liberal countries are peaceful and all religionsRecommend

  • Parvez

    This seems to give the impression that being liberal and being deeply religious are incompatible…….and I think that’s wrong. I know people who are both liberal in their thinking and religious in their ways and they are beautiful human beings.
    Possibly its when people are neither liberal in thought nor properly learned in religion that causes problemsRecommend

  • Jabed Hassan

    Pakistan is a highly conservative country and liberals find it difficult to even present their views. We need to balance this out. Liberalism is more religious tolerance and we need it the most.Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    In Pakistan there’s a tendency to make ad hominem attacks rather than those based on counter rationale or logic. Because most of the prominent liberals have questionable pasts themselves (mostly politically), the liberal position has become associated with corrupt politicians and religion bashers (only the dominant religion, btw). People see that so-called liberals will criticize religious insanity if it is related to Ramzan/Ramadan or Jamat e Islami, but will not say a word when a minority religion or sect is involved in something equally insane, like blocking roads or entire cities for Muharram. Unfortunately in Pakistan, the liberal wing is all but hijacked.

    p.s. anyone who uses that phrase “liberal extremist” needs to read Christopher Hitchen’s take on the matter of apparently atheist/agnostic dictators (like Stalin) using “religious” motivation in their favor.Recommend

  • MR.X

    WE LOVE OUR RELIGION. And we will follow it no matter what someone says backwards etc.. Then what can you say about the Golden islamic era in which muslims were excellent in education and technology.. Islam does not say anything about not to move forward…Please read about our religion before making ignorant comments.. As for your social values which you say are backwards in islam..They are backward for you but not for most muslimsRecommend

  • farhan

    haha…America is the most peace loving country ..right???Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    Both the term liberal and religious are irrelevant and deceptive in the context of Pakistan. Sometimes it seems that the dividing line has been deliberately created to serve narrow personal interests of a small numbers of people on both sides of the aisles. Pakistani society cannot be divided between liberals and religious. If any person is a born Muslim and is committed to birth position in terms of belief then he or she is a Muslim and Muslim only. There may be few exceptions of not accepting the belief of the parents, but if there is any that has not been claimed publicly.
    Being a Muslim there is a certain set of rules he or she is supposed to follow and it is known to every person. Islamic injunctions can be broadly categorized into two sets of rules. One is in terms of direct individual relationship with the God, like five times prayers, fasting, and Haj called “Huqooq-ul-Allah” and the second set of rules is related to interpersonal relationship in the society called “Huqooq-ul-Ebad”. This relationship revolves around two basic terms Adle and Ehsan. Meaning of Adle is to do justice with every person dealing with, whereas Ehsan is to give up one’s own rights for the benefits of the others.
    There is also role of the state to organize and order the society for the welfare of the people. This means to ensure provision of equal opportunities to every citizen. This includes provision of indiscriminate justice across the board, equitable distribution of income, and welfare support to the people who have been left behind in the race. Also it is duty of the state to provide basic needs including health and education to all. In a Muslim society governed by true Islamic injunctions there should be only one education system for all irrespective of income, race, ethnicity or religion- unlike three education systems operating in Pakistan creating three different mindsets. In the nutshell, under Islamic system an egalitarian society is perceived to be created. In such a society the questions raised by the writer becomes irrelevant.
    The type of confusion currently prevailing in Pakistan is due to the fact that Pakistan is basically an aristocratic society where destiny of an overwhelming majority of people is determined at birth time due to implicit and silent acceptance of the dynastic norms. It has been taken as a divine law by both sets of people- the beneficiary class and people who are suffering. The most glaring example is the structure the major mainstream political parties and existence of Grammar Schools where admission is granted based on the position of parents background. Interestingly these types of issues are generally raised by the persons who consciously or unconsciously are beneficiaries of the prevailing aristocratic system. Due to the above mentioned facts, to me, the division is fake and crafted.
    Also extremism is a vague term and has no absolute meaning; rather it changes with the change in place and time. The recent US and European history has seen many twists and turns in the meaning being drastically changed of a number of terms- the most glaring example being the change in the meaning of marriage. There are other examples also like abortion and interracial marriages. I do not know how the writer will take the brukini ban in France-whom the he thinks are extremists?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Al-Razi (865 – 925 CE) from Persia, considered religion a dangerous thing. Al-Razi was condemned for blasphemy and almost all his books were destroyed later.

    Ibn-e-Sina or Avicinna (980-1037CE). He rejected the resurrection of the dead in flesh and blood. As a consequence of his views, he became main target of Al-Ghazali and was labeled an apostate.

    Ibn-e-Rushd (1126-1198 CE) or Averroes, who explained the Quran in Aristotelian terms. He was found guilty of heresy, his books burnt, he was interrogated and banished from Lucena.

    Al-Bairuni (973-1048 CE), he is better known in India, makes it clear that the Islamic invasions made Hindu (and Buddhistic) centers of learning their special targets.

    Al-Khawarazmi (780-850 CE), The historian Al-Tabari considered him a Zoroastrian while others thought that he was a Muslim. However nowhere in his works has he acknowledged Islam.

    Omar Khayyam (1048-1131 CE), was highly critical of religion, particularly Islam. He severely criticized the idea that every event and phenomena was the result of divine intervention.

    Al-Farabi (872-950 CE), considered reason superior to revelation and advocated for the relegation of prophecy to philosophy.

    Abu Musa Jabir- bin- Hayan or Geber (721-815 CE). Although he was inclined towards mysticism, he fully acknowledged the role of experimentation in scientific endeavors.

    Ibn-ul-haitham or Hazen (965-1040 CE). He was ordered by Fatimid King Al-Hakim to regulate the floods of the Nile, which he knew was not scientifically possible, therefore he pretended to act mad and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

    Almost all scientists of the Islam’s Golden Age were Atheists and live their lives in complete fear and trauma.

    Of course the truth has no space where Mullahs lead the people.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    omg i cant believe this. Pakistan is full of hypocritical biased ignorant LIBERAL FASCISTS.

    They live in denial. Pakistan is full of liberties. These fake liberals just dont want to acknowledge them. They pretend to be all oppressed and sad and claim to live in an oppressed environment which is just not true!

    Hell the magnum party just happened yesterday. How many of these fake liberals came forward to acknowledge that ” yes Pakistan is a liberal country ” or ” we are proud to live in a country that appreciates art and modernity and fashion ”

    These fake liberals will never ever ever acknowledge anything remotely liberal happening in this country. Pakistani women are wearing shorter and shorter clothes day by day, botox treatments are on the rise, fashion is flourishing and liberalism is generally just seeing a positive trend but no, lets pick qandeel baloch out of all of this and make the world believe that we live in a sad oppressed barbaric extremist land of honor killings and acid attacks.

    This is just what these idiots like to do. Wait for a tragedy to occur. I bet if God forbid, the magnum party was accompanied by an honor killing or a bomb blast, these pathetic liberals would leave no stone unturned to make pakistan look like a barbaric country by pouring their whining crocodile tears all over social media like they had done with Qandeel’s murder to perfectly ruin pakistan’s image and you would be seeing the magnum party incident all over international media to the point where our image will become so bad that investors will refuse to come to pakistan.

    BUT….since the magnum party was a HUGE liberal success and was not surrounded by any extremist tragedy, these liberals did not care because they just lost a huge opportunity to use an incident to play an oppressed victim so uncle sam in good old USA will have their attention and will speed up their asylum seeking applications. By the way those applications sky rocketed after Qandeel’s incident. see these people just have an agenda here and nothing else.

    These liberal extremists are burden and a cost to our country and our economy and need to be deported to india or bangladesh as soon as possible.
    If i ever see a hypocritical liberal fascists in pakistan, i will pledge the government to immediately deport him to the USA. They can live all happy and free over there.Recommend

  • RHR

    What was that?Recommend

  • siesmann

    These terms are the products of Mullah’s fancy,just as they label Secular as irreligious It is equivalent to calling Mullah moral.All these terms are oxymorons.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    umm wheres my comment?Recommend

  • MR.X

    Bring me verse from quran And hadith which is against education..What abou al jazari??what about hunain ibne-ishaq??what about abu usman?Sind ibn-e-Ali, The banu Musa brothers?
    For the present time: What about dr. abdul Qadeer khan??what about dr. Samar Mubarak,?what about dr.Abdus Salam who won a nobel prize??Food for thought.
    PS:Khalifa harun-ur-rasheed(Religious man) established House of wisdom where people from all over the world gathered for these purposes and thus marked the beginning of islamic golden era..

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    its called a response. are you new to this world?Recommend

  • RHR

    I know, you tried to make it look like a response, but was the meaning of that incoherent rant?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    1. Shariah verses are not allowed to be posted in the comments section. Most educational advancement nowadays comes from the non-Muslim part of the world and Quran and Shariah are very explicit about Muslims vs non-Muslims (Kuffar).

    2. You didn’t get the point. The scientists living in the so-called golden era were harassed and considered blasphemers by their own group. It is only after their death and hundreds of year after wards, the eulogies were jotted down to bring some value to them. Almost all the scientists (majority of them were just translators of greek and roman texts) were considered kuffar by the Arabs, Turks and the Persians. The current brainwashed generation of Muslims are not taught the truth about the real lives these people lead.

    3. Qadeer is a jihadist, who stole the tech from Netherlands (which opted not to go nuclear) and then further sold it to N.Korea and Iran. Pakistan’s own army disposed him off.

    4. Samar Mubarak may be nuclear physicist, but has a Hindu-hating Jihadi mindset. He is more interested in getting Baluchi coal/oil extraction contracts than nuclear physics, which by the way is 100 years old now.

    5. Abdus salam is considered a kafir (he was an ahmedi) in Pakistan and his grave was desecrated. It is quite shameful for Pakistan to claim him as his and then spit on his grave at the same time.

    The kids in Pakistan, unless they do A-levels from a “worthy” institute and then go abroad for real studies, are just taught lies in the text books.

    Ironically, the people behind writing fake text books (GHQ) are the ones who send their own kids abroad to get proper education from top quality universities, while they promote the agenda of hate against the non-Muslims to the masses.Recommend

  • MR.X

    1.there is no verse against education i can assure you..
    2.I was also telling about people who were islamic and scientific just in case you were trying to blame islam for lack of scientific scholars.
    3.Jihad is in the quran..You call jihadist as it is a negative term??It is the sunnah of our Prophet(SAW) and his companions. As for your story ive also heard this version from is no longer credible , do you even keep up with the world?..God knows best which story is right. its he said she said.. But he(qadeer) deserves credit.
    4.If he is 100 years old then why did you named scientist from the golden era…Your points do not match your own criteria of arguing with me.
    5.thanks for this information, i did not know.

    Everybody is taught lies in their textbooks which suit their own agenda, wake up its not only here!
    Every intelligence agency does that through different mediums(media,books). Some do these things for psychological warfareRecommend

  • farhan

    failed attempt to prove that its is because of islam we failed..No it is because of ourselves..we did not work hard..Do you even know about the house of wisdom??Recommend

  • AJ

    I agreeRecommend

  • PatelPara

    “The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently a PhD student at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. ” says all why he does not understand what liberals are doing in Pakistan. Come to Pakistan and the see for your self.Recommend

  • Agha

    Yeah so horrible. But those fundamentalists are just fine. Recommend

  • vinsin

    Hindu extremists have not banned beef. Beef was banned by Congress Party by Nehru.Recommend