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Islamic Society ( 25 Jun 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Attitude Formation: The Tragic Case of Pakistan


Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam

25 June 2012

In Psychology, ‘attitude’ refers to people’s evaluation of virtually any aspect of their social world. People can have favourable or unfavourable reactions to issues (Israel-Palestine), ideas (thinking of harming infidels), objects (bombs or ‘bandooks’), a specific behaviour (amputation), or entire social group (Jews or Christians or Hindus - in short ‘kafirs’). Some attitudes are quite stable and resistant to change, while others may be unstable and show considerable variability depending on the situation. Some attitudes we hold may be certain, while some may be unclear or uncertain. Attitudes can influence our thoughts, even if they are not always reflected in our overt behaviour.

In Pakistan, many schools feed their children with religious extremism and anti-India views. They are taught: A as 'Allah', B as 'bandook' (gun), T as 'takrao' (confrontation), J as 'jehad', H as 'hijab' (veil), Kh as 'khanjar' (dagger) and Ze as 'zunoob'. These are tough times for Pakistan because the young generation is being injected with a negative mental attitude towards non-Muslims and India.

How Attitudes Develop

Many of our views are acquired in situations in which we interact with or observe the behaviour of others- this is called social learning. Such learning can be acquired through several processes, and our attitudes are affected by different forms of influence.

1.    Classical Conditioning- It is a basic form of learning in which one stimulus, initially neutral, acquires the capacity to evoke reactions through repeated pairing with another stimulus. In a sense, one stimulus becomes a signal for the presentation or occurrence of the other.

The case of Pakistan: Initially, young children may have little or no emotional reaction to the members of different social groups. If however, a person sees others showing signs of negative reactions when in their presence (for example constantly criticising other religions or literally looking down with contempt towards non-Muslims), gradually negative reactions toward them will be acquired, due to classical conditioning. Consider the child whose attitudes toward non-Muslims have been classically conditioned to be negative and who is in a later multicultural classroom in which such negative attitudes are non-acceptable. Recent research has revealed that when the norms in a setting such as a classroom are anti-discriminatory, it is only when feelings of threat from that group are low is prejudice expression reduced. If, however, the child feels threatened by that group, the child is likely to continue to show prejudice even when the norms are anti-discriminatory. In Pakistan prejudice will continue to remain, if not increase; because of the presence of the feeling of threat by the non-Muslims.

2.    Instrumental Conditioning- It is a basic form of learning in which responses that lead to positive outcomes or which permit avoidance of negative outcomes are strengthened.

The case of Pakistan: If a Pakistani child learns and applies the lessons of ‘ A for Allah, B for Bandook, J for Jehad, H for Hijab, Kh for Khanjar, T for Takrao and Ze for Zunoob’ he will be  rewarded. This works on the process of reward and punishment. If the lessons are not learnt and not applied then he will be punished.

3.    Observational Learning- It is a basic form of learning in which individuals acquire new forms of behaviour as a result of observing others. This is very important. People have an in-built tendency to compare ourselves with others to determine whether our view of social reality is correct or not. People often adjust their attitudes so as to hold views closer to those of others who they value and identify with, this is known as the reference groups.

The case of Pakistan: When Muslim children see that their parents and teachers hold negative attitudes toward non-Muslims then they will also start to hold the same attitudes, because we consider our parents and sometimes our teachers, our ideals, almost god-like. If the parents and the teachers also believe in B for bandook, J for Jehad, and T for takrao, then the children will also endorse such views and hold the same attitudes because they are our reference groups.

How to Change Attitudes

Fortunately attitudes can be changed, but unfortunately it is difficult to change a negative attitude into a positive one and it is still more difficult to change an attitude that has been formed in childhood- as they are highly fixed.

1.    Persuasion- These are efforts to change others’ attitudes through the use of various kinds of messages.  The research findings on this topic has led to the following conclusions:

·         Communicators who are credible are more persuasive than those who are seen as lacking expertise. Unfortunately we link religious credibility with outward identity of religious appearances. Hence we think that a mullah with flowing beard is more knowledgeable than a person who does not have one in matters of Islam and religion.

·         Inducing mild fears result in greatest attitude change. Too much fear will lead to a counter action and too little will recede into oblivion. And the mullahs are masters in inducing mild fears into children’s mind hence the number of religious extremism is on the rise.

·         A sentence that is positively constructed will lead to more attitude change than one which is negatively constructed. For example, we always hear something like ‘Kill the infidels and Allah will grant you Heaven’; we will rarely hear something like ‘If you don’t kill the infidels then you will not be granted Heaven’.

2.    The Cognitive Processes Underlying Persuasion- According to the theory of elaboration-likelihood model (ELM), persuasion can occur in either of two distinct ways, differing in the amount of cognitive effort or elaboration it requires. For example, the a persuasive message can take two routes:

a)    If the message is important for us, like the Quran promotes tolerance and religious plurality, then the processing capacity is high. Then the message passes through the Central Route in which we process the information in the message, like the Qur’anic verses ‘to you is your way to me is mine’ or ‘Verily Jews, Christians and Sabians will go to Heaven, provided that they believe and do righteous deeds’ or ‘every Prophets hold the same rank and status’ etc. Then our attitudes can be changed depending upon the strengths of the arguments.

b)    If the message is unimportant then its processing capacity is low and it passes through the Peripheral Route in which it is heuristically processed and attitude change depends upon the presence of persuasion cues, which trigger heuristic processing.

Time to Think and Act

We can be persuaded either because we think carefully about a message or because we process the content superficially and are guided by heuristics in a fairly automatic a manner. The second process is almost automatic and unconscious so we cannot do much about it, but the former is in our hands—nay in our minds. It is time we thought carefully and systematically. And it is time to act to save Islam from the clutches of the fanatics.