Pakistan's "Godfather of MMA" Trying to Keep Pakistanis out of the clutches of Extremism
Pakistan's "Godfather of MMA" Bashir Ahmad has set up a gym to keep young, uneducated Pakistanis out of the clutches of fundamentalists.
Bashir Ahmad, born in Charrah Pind and raised in Virginia, is a 33-year-old U.S. Army vet and also a professional mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter has set up a gym trying to prevent impoverished, uneducated children from getting caught up in sectarian violence.
Bashir returned to Lahore in 2007, after completing his U.S. military service. He has since built up a community of MMA fighters, established the country’s first promotion — as companies that organize MMA bouts are called — and opened two gyms. But most importantly, he is using the sport to create opportunities for kids to get out of poverty.
“Peace through sports,” he says. “I’ve got that on my shorts.”
A small child. Essentially a baby outside my Shaheen Gym in Charrar Pind DHA. I will do my best to get these children off the street and into the disciplined life MMA brings. #onefc #pakmma #lahore #shaheen #poverty #peacethroughsports @forcegenergy @thedieseldiva @callitacultPosted by Bashir Ahmad on Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Ahmad’s commercial gym is called Synergy. But, in Charrah Pind, he has opened a second facility named Shaheen (“Falcon”) and gives free classes to the neighborhood kids. He drives there, passing mothers bundled in ragged shawls and children going from car to car begging for money or selling roses.
Ahmad has big dreams for this place. His mission is to give it the air of a community center, where kids can come “to learn some basics, such as how to read and write,” as well as fight. Such a facility is sorely needed, because Pakistan’s public-education system is in tatters. Out of the country’s 50 million school-aged children, 24 million don’t go to school.
With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under $2 a day, poverty is a huge obstacle to education and fosters the extremism that fuels the country’s sectarian insurgency — devastating conflicts that have cost the Pakistani economy some $68 billion. Lawless hinterlands on the porous border with Afghanistan are overrun with warring jihadist factions, including the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and dozens of smaller Islamic extremist groups. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has also been making inroads.
Attacks and suicide bombings in public spaces, crowded markets and schools have been a common occurrence over the past decade. In the past five years, 2,000 people have been killed in sectarian attacks. The most deadly in the country’s history was the Peshawar school massacre in 2014, when seven armed gunmen from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — the same group behind the attack on Nobel laureate Malala Yousazfai — opened fire on students and staff, killing 141 people including 132 children. In January, four gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University in the northwestern Pakistani city of Charsadda, killing 21.
Original Article Published in Time Magazine
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