Youth and extremism

By Joseph Kayira

A few days ago, in Mangochi a group of young people putting on robs and caps like Muslims, descended on some liquor shops destroying drinks and other property that they came across, saying they did not approve the sale of liquor in the district. Most of them were youthful and just perhaps did not even understand what was going on. By the time dust had settled and businessmen were counting the cost of such extremism, it was obvious that such lawlessness if not tackled, would lead to a path of self-destruction of an otherwise peaceful country.

So, what pushes people to act or react beyond what is generally perceived by society as attitudes that are generally acceptable or are said to be mainstream? Perhaps, here is where we need to define ‘Extremism’. Do we have extremists in politics, religion or other sectors of the economy in Malawi?

According to Wikipedia, extremism means, literally, “the quality or state of being extreme” or “the advocacy of extreme measures or views”. The term is primarily used in a political or  religious sense, to refer to an ideology that is considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of society. Extremists are usually contrasted with centrists or moderates. …extremism (implying ‘bad’) and moderate (implying ‘good’). Political agendas perceived as extremist often include those from the far-left politics or far-right politics as well as radicalism, reactionism, fundamentalism and fanaticism.”

Going by the definition above, the incident in Mangochi is a typical case of extremism. Some people, who think what they believe in, religious, politics or otherwise, should be understood to be universal, have become so intolerant to other people’s views, so much that they are ready to do anything ‘bad’ – to prove that they are on the right path. One may ask, what has a liquor shop got to do with one’s religious belief? It is something that continue to bother many who believe in religious and political tolerance.

Those that went on rampage stoning and vandalizing liquor shops claimed that Mangochi was a holy place where such products should not be on sale. Their extremism should have made them so violently, so much that they have no clue about what the Constitution of Malawi says on freedom of worship and freedom to  engage in any economic activity without one bothering you. This is where rights organisations ought to be to civic educate these extremists on rights and responsibilities.

A few months ago, in Balaka, Muslims and Anglicans battled over the wearing of hijab at an Anglican school. Someone lost his life over the fracas which is yet to be resolved.  Coexistence is becoming a difficult word to mention when two sides – each thinking that it is right in every aspect of the debate – engage in religious ‘combat’.

Such extremism is not only limited to Malawi, it is all over the world. It is deep-rooted in the Middle East. It is wiping out villages in west Africa. Extremism is also partly responsible for the war in Somalia. Some even intone that the Arab Spring had connotations of extremism if one analyses its impact today. The Arab Spring was a series of pro-democracy uprisings that enveloped several largely Muslim countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain.

According to history.com, “Not all of the movements, however, could be deemed successful – at least if the end goal was increased democracy and cultural freedom. In fact, for many countries enveloped by the revolts of the Arab Spring, the period since has been hallmarked by increased instability and oppression.”

In Western Europe and the United States, you also find many instances of extremism. There have been racially motivated violent attacks on Muslims, African Americans and other minority groups. In all these instances, the youth are in the forefront executing the plans. While one would think that such barbaric attacks should be associated with the less civilized, it is coming out very clearly now that even in the developed world, where the majority have had some education, extremism is taking a firm hold on societies.

Al Shabab is one of the extremist groups causing havoc in Somalia

Can Malawian youths change?

In Malawi – and to a large extent – the youth are an easy prey when it comes to using them for wrong reasons. Interesting is how political parties establish among others, youth wings, which are quite instrumental in the game of politics. Since 1964, these youth wings have qualified to be instruments of terror and extremism.

Parties unleash youth wings and thugs to attack rival parties in what has become a part of their campaign strategies to intimidate and harm. This fanaticism which eventually boils down to extremism has no room in democracy. But why is it that parties, religions, tribes and so on and so forth target the youth to deliver their extremist ideas? Is it that the youth do not have the eyes to see where the writing on the wall clearly says “thou shall not kill”? Or are Malawian youths who are so engrossed into extremism and violence so timid to say no to extremist reasoning?

Analysing events in 2019 one gets to a conclusion that some youths in Malawi have nothing worthwhile to do rather than to be agents of extremism. They do not question things yet this is a time that calls for critical thinking – the moment of truth when the youth need to stand up and say no to extremist thinking. In the year there have been reports involving the youth attacking and undressing women during demonstrations. The motive behind this kind of bahaviour can only point to extremism.

In other instances, youths have ended up torching property of people who belong to a different political party or tribe. In short extremist reasoning will only burn the country to ashes. The youth, who are mostly hired to destroy property and harm people should   begin to question the sanity, if there is at all, of burning and looting because someone has disagreed with you on political or religious ideologies.

In other countries like Rwanda, people are exerting their energies on development. Yes, not long ago, extremist idea were responsible for the death of 800,000 people in just 100 days of slaughter, in a genocide   between Hutus and Tutsis. But Rwanda is now the gem of Africa in as far as progress is concerned. Malawi too can take a leaf from Rwanda and do away with extremism.

Malawian youths can help turn the tide and help rebuild Malawi by contributing positively to national development. They should shun extremism and learn to ask critical question each time politicians, religious and traditional leaders and other influential figures bent on propagating extremism want engage them to perpetrate acts of violence.

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