We are not Malala, we may be the Taliban

Published: October 15, 2012

Young Malala Yousufzai is now the target of a propaganda campaign.

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):

This picture reads:  Pakistan’s two persecuted daughters — Malala and Aafia

Is the nation’s approach equal in both matters?
Is the media’s approach equal in both matters?
Is the world’s approach equal in both matters?
Is America approach equal in both matters?

This picture reads:    Dr Aafia’s ideal and Malala’s idea – Obama

Which one would you pick? Aafia’s or Malala’s? Think and answer, it’s a matter of faith

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 tongue
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 tongue grin
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:
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’.
This picture reads: Malala with her parents present at a session with officials of US Army
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.
This picture reads:  Conspiracy revealed.First they launched an offensive in Waziristan after a fake video was released.Now, they have attacked an innocent girl to pave way for another operationWe sympathise with Malala and condemn the attack on her. But, why have you not expressed this anger when a number of girls died in drone attacks?

The truth is, you don’t have any sympathy for Malala, but only hate Taliban because of the vengeance the media has instilled in you.

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.
This picture reads:  The Taliban have denied attacking Malala and have condemned the attack on her.
This is another trick to defame Taliban and please America
We request the Pakistani media that it’s been 63 years that we have been independent, but sadly you haven’t been freed from the slavery of Western media and America
Share this as much as you can, because media will not do so.
There is even ‘Malala was attacked to take attention away from the Anti-Islam film movement’ spin.
This picture reads: I, Touqeer Khan, vouch that the attack on Malala was cleverly planned so that people’s attention could be diverted from the blasphemous film. Malala attack is not a big deal. Many such Malalas die everyday from Waziristan to Karachi in different acts of terror.
America, the Pakistani government and the Pakistani media have together planned this conspiracy. And as far as I know, these rented murderers do not leave their victims injured.
Pakistani forces were behind the Lal Masjid operation and openly attacking women in Quetta and the blame was placed on the Taliban.

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.”


Some of the Facebook pages accessed for this blog post include:

Mai Pakistani HoonAl Asir ChannelMuslim Youth


Pakistan media – The fifth column of the enemy

Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid [Official]Ahmed Quraishi

+92 – Plus Nine Two.

Read more by Jahanzaib here or follow him on Twitter @jhaque_

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Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.