Even as beneficiaries of Western civilization, the Pakistani youth detests as much as it loves Western education, technology and its cultural products. It admires welfare policies of Scandinavians but also aspires to replicate archaic Wahhabi traditions
The prophetic works of Marshall McLuhan, the guru of the electronic age, describes the mass media as the manipulation, exploitation, and control of the individual. Unfortunately, Pakistani media are not only manipulating, exploiting and controlling people, especially youngsters, but have also created a confused-jihadi mindset. This is a form of thinking that indulges in incessant confusion and considers blatant violence as the most potent solution to current socio-politico-economic issues of the world.
Before analyzing why and how this mindset has emerged, here are two recent examples to prove its influence in the masses:
1. The attack and execution of Osama Bin Laden at Abbottabad in May 2011 is still debated and considered a devious American ploy to discredit the nation. Vast majority of Pakistanis continue to question whether he was killed several years earlier and his body was preserved in ice to reveal at the appropriate time to suit American interests. Others claim that he is still alive. There are also theories that Americans staged the attack to discredit the Pakistani army. Many question why they hadn’t attacked him earlier.
But considering the magnitude of evidence available to refute such claims: including affirmation of the attack and OBL’s presence at Abbottabad by the Chief of Army Staff (who apologized for such hindsight by the armed forces in front of the parliament); the confirmation of OBL’s death from Al Qaeda and his followers in the world; the arrest and later deportment of OBL’s wives and children from Pakistan and Dr. Shakeel Afridi’s incarceration and reprimands from the American government on the decision. Yet, even now it is still difficult for most Pakistanis to digest the presence and death of OBL at Abbottabad. There is ongoing debate about the attack when a book ‘No Easy Day’ has been published about the Navy Seals operation that killed OBL and a Hollywood movie based on the book is about to be released. The Pakistani answer is to defeat the foreign forces in Afghanistan, kill all those who are working against Pakistani interests, meaning the usual Hindu-Jew-American targets used by rightwing elements since Western powers deserted them in the late 1980s.
2. A 14 year old child activist, Malala Yousafzai, a celebrity because of the blogs she wrote for BBC during the occupation of her home, Swat, in 2009 is shot in the head by members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Initially, there is widespread condemnation of the attack. The public is disgusted and there is zero tolerance for anyone supporting the attack. Taliban apologists in the country – basically all rightwing parties and apolitical religious groups and individuals – are caught off-guard when the public reacts with shock and horror about the attack.
But no sooner had Malala flown to a hospital in Birmingham for treatment, an unbelievable array of ludicrous theories emerged which sought to downplay and even justify the attack in the public domain. Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha has explained this brilliantly in his article ‘From apology to perversity’. First, there is the hackneyed reply to all terrorist actions – this was a reaction to US drone attacks. But what did Malala have to do with drone attacks? Then questions float that why is she being given that much importance? Why other children killed and maimed in terrorist attacks and US drone strikes, even Malala’s own class fellows injured in the attack, don’t receive similar attention? Obvious response is the Aafia Siddique case and how it has been highlighted and propagated in Pakistan. Then there are attempts to malign Malala and her father. Pictures of her meeting with the former US diplomat, late Richard Holbrooke, and other American “CIA agents” appear on cyberspace. It’s actually from an event hosted by UNICEF with American dignitaries after the war in Swat ended in 2009. The rant continued: she couldn’t have written her own blog at the tender age of 11. Her father is corrupt and has swindled millions by receiving donations from European and American donors. The bullet hit her on the left side and traveled down to her jaw, why are there no scars on her face in her pictures after the attack? Here’s a great analysis of the entire episode and how it has been successfully convoluted by confused-jihadis: Debunking Malala conspiracy theories.
Sadly, these ludicrous theories based on non-sense and forgery have immersed in the public as indispensible Truths.
Both examples illustrate the confused-jihadi mindset, revealing a terrifying inability of the Pakistani public, especially the youth, to rationally comprehend current world affairs. Time and again it is the same process in play: any incident is treated with childish kneejerk reactions, followed by countless non-sense arguments, fueled by suspicion and outright denial of facts and evidences, invariably leading to greater confusion and hatred.
Analyzing the role of mass media, especially television, is essential to determine why this confused-jihadi mindset has taken hold of Pakistan’s youth. Like other third-world Muslim nations, children in Pakistan grow up with a pervasive sense of deprivation, insecurity and uncertainty, victims of a long line of leaders exemplified by their tunnel-vision and jingoistic policies. We are far behind other developing nations of the world, ranking high on international corruption, social inequality and poor human development indexes. Our problems are not only apparent but are reinforced through the constant bombardment of images and sounds on the television and the internet.
We learn to despise the country and aim for quick escapes abroad but not without developing a false sense of pride and grandeur in our armed forces and “Islamic” character. They form the bedrock of our worldview: we (Muslims) have always been exploited, we are suffering the brunt of the post-World War II American military-industrial-complex and its hegemonic neo-liberal polices since the end of the Cold War. From Bosnia to Palestine, Afghanistan, Aceh, Chechnya and Iraq, the West is dictating its agenda on Muslim states through direct military action, using ‘agents’ to conduct covert operations or through economic policies that instigate collapse of governments. Furthermore, we are mere consumers of products supplied by the prosperous West (and now China as well). We cannot participate in the modern world since we have not contributed an iota in the creation of modern technologies, in fact, we lie in the nineteenth century in terms of scientific research and innovation.
Such Truths have created a society rife with xenophobia, paranoia, a distorted view of history and excessive self-importance. The introduction of cable television and internet, providing free interaction and communication with the entire world, has further accentuated these Truths, making our position and socio-economic situation glaringly, and dreadfully, obvious. TV and the internet have regurgitated falsified, official versions of history and politics perpetuating the same old textbook beliefs and biases that form the confused-jihadi mindset. How many of us have seen any program on Pakistani channels talking about Allama Iqbal’s reference to communist leaders in Bal-e-Jibril (Lenin - Khuda Ke Huzoor Mein) and his penchant of Western philosophers such as Nietzsche and Henry Bergson? Has there ever been a show about Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s socialist leanings and his political activities supporting leftist takeover of the government (1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy)? How about the Baloch armed rebellions starting from 1948 to the present?
These new technologies sowed the seeds of schizophrenic personalities that have now ripened in Pakistan: eating McDonalds, wearing Levis, cruising in latest Corollas, working in international corporate firms but also standing shoulder-to-shoulder at politico-religious gatherings condemning capitalism, democracy and western values. Even as beneficiaries of Western civilization, the Pakistani youth detests as much as it loves Western education, technology and its cultural products. It relishes abundant pleasures of the consumerist world but disregards reason and logic inherent in creating such a world, favoring emotional and piece-meal analyses of the prevailing world order. It admires welfare policies of Scandinavians but also aspires to replicate archaic Wahhabi traditions of Saudia Arabia.
However, rather than encouraging critical thinking based on real world facts, using our reason and logic, the confusion is supplemented with militarism. This explains how the present confused-jihadi mentality is so widespread today. TV infects the mind with images of opulence: high-end apartments, villas with sleeping pools and garages full of Harleys and Benzs, pubs, parties, concerts, beaches with bikini-clad women, a whole set of desirable cultural norms, though completely alien, unreachable, and certainly blasphemous for most in Pakistan.
At the same time, there are religious channels and personalities espousing strict “Islamic” values and adherence to local traditions. They promise divine retribution against those who swerve from their self-defined religious and cultural boundaries. They place the depravity of Muslim nations squarely on the shoulders of Westernized liberals, who have strayed from the righteous path. Non-Muslim external actors are blamed for all iniquities in the country. Hindus (not Indians), Jews and Christians are considered prime suspects. Many TV channels and websites consider the rise of terrorism in Pakistan only to America’s presence in Afghanistan. Provincial contentions on equal sharing of resources, such as water are blamed on Hindu agents. Any critique of the armed forces performance and predominance in civil affairs are seditious acts of CIA operatives while questioning Zia Ul Haq’s “Islamic” edicts in the constitution is as blasphemous as doubting the Prophet Mohammad’s divinity.
Talk show hosts and their guests keep repeating that ‘no Muslim can be a suicide bomber’ even with recorded testimonies of captured terrorists and countless documents of terrorist groups confessing their motive to kill all Muslims who aid foreign powers (meaning everyone living in the pro-American government-cum-military of Pakistan).
But most importantly, the only solution presented is to challenge designs against the country is violence. Demagogues like the bi-polar manic Zaid Hamid, suffering from messianic delusions, have garnered a huge television and internet viewership by first painting the world in fairytale like black-and-white divisions, such as:
Muslim = good, Hindu/Jew/Christian = bad;
Long beard and hijab = good, goatee and dyed hair = bad;
Illegibly quoting Qur’anic verses = good, supporting realpolitik = bad.
Then, to strengthen their arguments, Zaid Hamid types insist on the bloody extermination of all opponents and dominating the world through military might. They claim any politicking as works of lesser men and carry no qualms suggesting nuclear war with India or other supposed threats. This is easy digestion for the Pakistani youth, already debilitated by its education system. A brief by the Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU) titled The Landlord, the Mollah and the Military: the Education Issue in Pakistan illustrated how madrassas, along with the public education system, directly encouraged religious chauvinism and glorified militarism, both of which are part and parcel of state sanctioned policies. Government textbooks breed intolerance of Pakistan’s diverse communities, distort and erase significant events, glorify the use of force, promote unquestionable obedience and militancy. This education has naturally entered into new-age TV channels and the internet, where the viewers fall-in-line behind the same militant rhetoric.
Since there is no logical thinking involved, no approach based on facts and reason, imagine who the violence is going to target when the challenges faced are not physical but present on the TV and internet? Psychology describes that when pent-up emotions broiling inside an individual are not expressed outwards then catharsis takes place inwards, leading to mental disorders and suicide. In the absence of tangible targets, reactions against the Enemy can only create the confused-jihadi mindset detailed above. It is really surprising then to find rudimentary arguments providing negligible answers to core existential issues facing the country? To find even “educated” people babbling ‘slavery to the US’, ‘negligence of Islamic teachings’ and ‘selling national integrity for personal benefits’ when talking about real-time issues afflicting the country?
This dire state of the Pakistani youth and the proliferation of the confused-jihadi mindset will not ease the nation’s woes and will deter the creation of new leadership to steer the country from the murky waters where it currently resides. To change the entire discourse on TV and internet is impossible but it is not difficult to understand that if everything can be false and molded into conspiracies than nothing is certain. There are certain Truths in the world which one can comprehend by means of critical reasoning based on empirical evidence. If one is hell bent on disregarding real world facts and refuting logical relations then everything is open to doubt. The reason for the existence of Pakistan, the rise and fall of economies, climate change, the international charm of Hollywood can be linked to conspiracies of Imperialism, global corporate tyranny, secret technology and Zionism respectively.
It is also not difficult to realize that greater readership, constructive criticism and critical thinking will create better individuals and a better society. Realizing that the confused-jihadi mindset will further plunge the nation into internecine strife and violence.
Sheikh Saadi explained this best, ‘though the fire-worshipper may tend his flame for a hundred years, if he falls into it, he will be killed.’
|Faris Kasim works for an international development agency and has a keen interest in social issues. http://fariskasim.wordpress.com/|