The past few weeks have seen a strong narrative being built against terrorism; from the top military and civilian brass to the civil society, people have come out to express their unwavering resolve to tackle terrorists, their support structures and apologists. The state has made some headway on the first count, although it still has difficulty defining the word terrorist. Yet, what about the terms ‘support structures’ and ‘apologist?’ how do we define such terms? How do we proceed to tackle them?

The starting point for the first term would be to tackle madrassas and seminaries; institutes which are significant in creating brainwashed, radicalised and isolated students, following a one-track path to religious fundamentalism that has no place in the modern world. Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, the general secretary of both Ittehad-i-Tanzeemat-i-Madaris-i-Deenia (ITMD), an umbrella organisation of five main bodies representing seminaries from different schools of thought, and of Wafaq ul Madaris Al-Arabia, the organisation representing the seminaries of the Deobandi school of thought, on Thursday has come out vehemently defending the seminaries by quite simply negating that any link exists between seminaries and terrorism. Jalandhari demanded evidence from the state to prove that the two are related, while writing off the criticism of seminaries as propaganda campaigns by the West. While declaring the Peshawar Massacre a tragedy and offering support in action against institutes behind it, he threateningly – and ironically – said that any action against the wishes of ITMD will not be accepted.

Of course, this is hardly surprising. In his role, this is all he can do; the Madrassah system is, amongst other things, an enormous financial network with the stakes of many powerful men vested in their continuation. The state will have to deal with a lot more than the wrath of Jalhandhari if it truly wishes to dismantle the seminary system for good. This brings us to another problem; the problem of alternatives. As it stands, the state has been consistently unable to provide a counter-method of reasonable literacy or a counter narrative to its people. Madrassahs don’t only encourage fundamentalism, they also usually provide free meals to their students as well as shelter. Perhaps this is the most important point of all. It is one thing for the state and its technocrats to draw ideological links between madrassahs and violence, but there is another link almost as simple, between madrassahs and poverty. And between poverty and extremism.

As long as the state does not address that crucial link, and does not accept responsibility for its failure to provide alternative ways of life to the people enrolled in seminaries, it will remain the greatest apologist of all.