Educated and Violent?: Sunni State-Formation, Education, and Sectarian Violence against Shi'a Muslims in Pakistan

  • Author / Creator
    Yaqoob, Banazeer
  • The Pakistani state increasingly focuses on educating youth as a way to eradicate all fundamentalist violence and nurture critical thinking skills. Parroting the Western imperialist view that books can fight bombs has become a common slogan in Pakistan (Ali, 2010). While these Pakistani state discourses flatten the problem of terror and violence and convince parents to enroll their children in seemingly secular government schools, at the same time, a 2012 Pew Research Center survey showed that 41 percent of Pakistani Sunnis did not consider Shi’ites Muslims (Majidyar, 2014). Between 2012 and 2017, there have been more than twenty-five attacks on Imambargahs (community spaces for Shi’a Muslims) and at least two thousand Shi’a Muslims have been killed in different sectarian related attacks (Ali, 2021). The problem of violence in Pakistan thus has a specific sectarian Sunni face.
    Despite the rise in sectarian violence incidents and systematic killing of Shi’a Muslims in Pakistan, the state has been negligent about the sectarian violence against Shi’a Muslims. Significantly, a growing number of attacks are in fact carried out by highly educated youth. For example, the 2015 attacks on and killing of 43 Shi’a Ismailis in Karachi notably involved three highly educated graduates, according to the Chief Minister of Sindh province. In another event in May 2015, Saad Aziz, a graduate student of one of the most prestigious universities, The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi also confessed to plotting the murder of human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud (sect not mentioned) (Ali, 2015).
    The fact that educated Sunni youth engage in anti-Shi’a violence raises questions regarding common assumptions about modern education ushering development, peace, and prosperity and depictions of uneducated people engaging in riots and sectarian violence (Ali, 2010). In this thesis, I address the contradictions of the Pakistani state’s claims to curb violence with education by situating the current education system, laws and reforms within broader Pakistani state-formation processes. I seek to show the ways in which education constructs a national narrative which shifts from Muslim collectivity to sectarian violence over time. I demonstrate that education is a primary arena responsible for teaching and learning the state narratives of “good Muslims” and “good citizen,” and “national integration/ cohesion” which subtly but surely excludes diverse groups from the national narrative.
    Relying on Frantz Fanon and Edward Said’s post-colonial theoretical framework alongside critiques by postcolonial Muslim feminists such as Nosheen Ali, Vali Nasr and Rubina Saigol, this thesis refuses the conventional tendency to study sectarian violence as either an issue of culturalism or as an issue of imperialism. Instead, I rely on a combination of secondary sources in historical research as well as discursive analysis of state curriculum, textbooks, and policies to demonstrate the importance of understanding sectarian violence locally and transnationally in its historical and contemporary complexity. My purpose is to show that sectarian violence is an urgent issue that cannot be understood without understanding the relationship between Western capitalist and Islamophobic agendas and Pakistani state-formation wherein the consolidation of Sunni supremacy has given imperial agendas historical and local traction. Ultimately, this thesis refuses the silence around anti-Shi’a politics and demonstrates that the gradual Sunnization of Pakistani state, schooling and society starting in 1970s is a transnational and constitutive feature of Pakistani state-formation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Education
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Library with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.