In order for terrorists to flourish, they need more than guns, funding and a geographical location to operate in – they also need an ideological space to occupy and work inside.
That is how they persist; that is how they can win.
This fact is one which the majority of Pakistanis have yet to come to terms with: the fact that we ourselves are often individually culpable and involved in the war being waged against the terrorists in our country. Tragically, we are often knowingly or unknowingly on the wrong side of the ideological front.
Nowhere has this been better illustrated than in the current tragedy that is the attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai.
Within hours of the attack, a select group of Pakistanis started creating the ideological space that allows terrorists the upper hand. It would be hard to imagine how a counter narrative could be built around the gunning down of a child, but there it was, coming from our politically charged youth, our parties, our ultra-nationalists and religio-political parties, our extremist/banned organisations and yes, our relatives, peers and friends.
I received this SMS message early yesterday morning from a co-worker:
Zara Sochae! [think!]
MALALA Ko Karachi My Target Kiya Jata; [If Malala was targeted in Karachi]
Ya Hazaron Ki Tarah Isay Bhi Drone Nishana Banata Tou: [or killed like thousands in drone attacks]
1-Na To Wo Qoum Ki Byti Kehlati [nor would she be called nation's daughter]
2-Na Hi yeh Matam [nor this mourning]
3-Na Obama Air Ambulance Offer Karta [nor an Air Ambulance from Obama]
4-Na UNO Ko ko Takleef Hoti. [Nor UNO being hurt]
5-Na tamam Madaris/ulema ka 90 pur data collect hota [Nor the collection of data of madrassas and ulema at Nine Zero]
Aaj Bhi North Wazirastan My Drone Attack My 16 Afrad Shaheed Ho Chuky Hain: [Today also 16 people have died in drone attacks]
1-Na To Qoam Ny DUA Ki? [Did the nation pray?]
2-Na Kiyani Giya Na Kisi kou koi ghum? [Neither did Kayani go, nor did anyone express sorrow?]
3-Na Kisi Ko CMH Muntaqil kiya Geya? [Nor was anyone admitted to CMH?]
4-Qoam Ki Aik Aur Byti AAFIA K Liye Kisi Ny Aaj Tak Yom-e-Duaa Kiyon Nahi Manai? [Why has there never been a day of prayer for Dr Aafia Siddiqui?]
5-Aur Kiyon Na AAFIA K Liye “Azad Media” Ny Aasman Sar Par Uthaya [Why no hue and cry for Aafia in our idependent media?]
6-Aur Laal Masjid ki betiyan? [What about the Laal Masjid daughters?]
Anjuman-e-Ghulamane America Ke Khilaf Awaz Utah Kur Jiyo [Speak out against the US]
You can only imagine how far this SMS campaign has reached if a ‘liberal extremist’ such as myself has managed to get it sent over to him.
You can only begin to imagine what this campaign looks like on Facebook (I’m sharing a few less extreme images below):
Examine the content above and you will see the attack on Malala being obfuscated among drone attacks, target killings in Karachi, Aafia Siddiqui and Laal masjid, not to mention the suggestion of a grand conspiracy involving the US and our local media.
“But surely forwarding this message does not make me the Taliban? How absurd! There is some truth in all that after all!”
That is the tragedy of our nation. An attempt to murder children must also have a conspiracy and double meaning to it. The shooting of a child must serve an agenda (read: my agenda). No matter if this erodes the little resolve the nation may have to come to an agreement on an act of terrorism. No matter if this results in conversations, debates, perhaps policies and action that eventually shapes Pakistan further into the TTP’s Pakistan.
Kill media people
Later that day the web desk ran a report on the Taliban planning attacks on media houses for their coverage of the Malala attack.
I felt fear. But the fear was less from the possibility of being a potential target (a grim reality), and more from the reactions of the online audience when we shared the story to Facebook:
Innocent Kumar Ab Pata Chalega Tum Logon Ko Media Walon
Jalal Khan Hoti taleban zinda bad
FaiZal Ashfaq Should target GEO first
Salman Shafi Should target geo and express tv first.
Ata Ur Rehman Pehli baar Aqalmandi ka kaam karenge
Shahzeb Hassan Has somebody told them ET’s address already?
[and dozens more...]
When this story was shared to the Roznama Express page, an overwhelming majority of the comments supported the Taliban’s decision to kill media folk. Perhaps just a vocal minority? Perhaps just a casual reference to supporting murder? This is also when I started thinking about an incident 10 days ago when I was driving home and was delayed for 20 minutes due to a politician blocking the road due to their VVIP protocol and security contingents.
“I hope a suicide bomber blows up all these politicians someday”
That was my casual thought that evening as I waited in frustration for a light to turn from red to green. The ideological infection of extremism is deep-rooted, and in us all.
I spent the last half of yesterday (my day off) browsing Facebook to try and track down the counter narrative being spun around the Malala attack online. What I found was a coordinated effort being made by political parties and their supporters (JI, PTI) along with extremist outfits such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and ASWJ working alongside ultra-nationalists of the Zaid Hamid ilk to spin, well, this story:
CIA behind attack on Malala; Attackers are in Afghanistan: Royal News
Or this version shared by Pak Nationalist Ahmad Quraishi and his fan base today:
US Govt Is Exploiting Malala: Army Allows Swat Terrorists To Hide & Train Under Its Nose
Or to take it straight from conspiracy pundit Zaid Hamid’s mouth:
Under NO circumstances, the Muslims of Pakistan will wage a war against Afghan Taliban, Haqqani or Gulbadin hekmatyar. But by Allah, we will wage a war against those terrorists and murderers who are created, backed and protected by JSOC, CIA and RAW. That CIA should understand this clearly.
Or take it from any number of sources disseminating a new spin on the Malala attack. Some of the images are easy-to-consume ‘fun’ material like this image below.
Perhaps the most shared image in the anti-Malala campaign has been this image below of Malala and her father meeting the ‘evil’ CIA agents and top US officials. Many of the images have included false statements attributed to Malala claiming she bashed the Pakistan Army, encouraged operations in Pakistan and other such ‘nefarious schemes’.
The image below builds the argument that the Pakistani public is expressing hate towards the Taliban, not sympathy towards Malala because that is what the US and local media wants them to think.
Taking spin yet another step further, the image below states that the Taliban have actually condemned the attack on Malala, and this whole incident has been another move by the US.
There is even ‘Malala was attacked to take attention away from the Anti-Islam film movement’ spin.
This is the ideological ground that allows terrorist outfits like the Taliban to operate.
It is an information-fueled rabbit hole, which goes deeper and deeper depending on the depths an individual wishes to go, and unfortunately, whether it is a preppy teenage PTI supporter up at the top, or all the way down to a hardened ultra-nationalist being paid to pour out propaganda online, the result is all the same:
Create space for terrorism and extremism to flourish.
To quote Karl Marx’s oft cited view on ideology (as a negative force):
“They don’t know it, but they are doing it.”
The terrorists have already won, Wheater we believe it or not.