Terrorism: is media a watchdog or lapdog? -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Terrorism: is media a watchdog or lapdog?

Pakistan Press Foundation

Dr Mohammad Taqi

The ostensibly liberal publication gave space quite liberally to Ludhianvi to bash the Shia without a single challenging question being asked

Pakistan finally saw democratically elected national and provincial assemblies plod past the five-year finish line — a first in the country’s history. Despite many flaws the outgoing parliamentarians added several constitutional feathers to their caps. From restoration of the judges made dysfunctional by a tin pot dictator to the president giving up his powers to send the assemblies packing, there are many constitutional achievements that lawmakers and indeed President Asif Zardari, as the co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), can be rightly proud of.

But it is most unfortunate that the parliament, which had come into being within months after Benazir Bhutto was martyred by terrorists, delayed passing the Anti-Terrorism Bill till its last few hours. The ruling PPP did not let out as much as a peep, let alone amend the blasphemy laws, when one of its own leaders, and the governor of the country’s largest province, Salmaan Taseer, was mowed down by his guard in the federal capital. The rulers at the centre and in the provinces presided over the systematic slaughter of the Ahmedis and Christians without letting the stench of the corpses interfere with their opulent daily routines. Ethnic cleansing of the Baloch in their homeland continued unabated throughout the democratic rule while an ethnic Baloch held the presidency. The Pashtun and Afghan blood became even cheaper in the past five years than it had been over the last four decades. The Pashtun mosque, hujra, homes, shrine, jirga and even funeral remained under unrelenting terrorist assaults in the name of religion.

While the death toll from the indiscriminate acts of terrorism over the last five is in tens of thousands, one community that faced a systematic targeted extermination that reached the genocide proportions during the democratic rule is the Shia of Pakistan. Starting with the siege and slaughter of the Kurram Shia for years, it morphed through the massacres like the one at Babusar Top into pogroms of the Hazara and non-Hazara Shia of Quetta and Karachi by way of car bombings. The mass killings of the Shia make headlines in the national and international media for a few days before being relegated into collective oblivion but the hundreds of targeted killings of the Shia individuals hardly make but a news ticker on the tele-media or a blurb on the newspapers’ city pages. In the last five years, Shia doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, government employees and artisans were targeted and killed on a daily basis while the others lived in fear or tried to leave the communities that had been their home for centuries.

The latest Shia professional to be killed is Professor Sibte Jafar Zaidi, a poet and former principal of the Liquatabad College, Karachi. But he was no ordinary teacher or poet. While known for writing and reciting marsiyah, nauha and manqibat, Professor Zaidi truly was the foremost exponent of soz-khwani (soz literally means ‘burning’, a form of poetic lament recited in a melodic tune ‘lehn’ at the Shiite mourning gatherings or Majalis) in Pakistan. It would perhaps take a book to fully describe the martyred Professor and his art but suffice it to say that the brutal assassination of such a cultural icon would have caused a collective national mourning elsewhere. But save a few token condemnations let’s not expect anything more in Pakistan. In fact, Professor Zaidi’s death came at a time when efforts to sanitise the narrative against the Shia genocide took an ugly turn.

For all its faults, the outgoing democratic government had put no leash whatsoever on the media. From Kerry-Lugar-Berman act to the Rental Power Plant cases the media dragged the politicians over the coals and kept the government on its toes. But one area where the media either remained mum and worse underreported or misreported the events was the ongoing Shia genocide in Pakistan. Initially, the media self-censored and did not report identity of the victims as Shia being killed solely for their faith. But when the killings rose exponentially, media, and even human rights activists, squabbled over whether the magnitude of extermination of the Shia ‘justifies’ calling it as genocide. When finally the international media started taking cognizance of the Shia genocide in Pakistan, the apologists of the killers in the local media sprang into action presenting the vicious hatemongers as some benign reformists seeking reconciliation.

The English press was relatively immune to this affliction but one English weekly hit a new low last week, publishing an interview of the Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) — another name for the banned terrorist group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) — leader Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi. The weekly asked the rabblerousing cleric that his outfit is known for chanting the slogan ‘Kafir, Kafir Shia Kafir (apostate, apostate, the Shia are apostate)’ in public rallies but does it not provoke the people to attack the Shia? Ludhianvi’s response was: “Kafir, Kafir Shia Kafir is just a slogan, like any other, such as Roti, Kapra aur Makaan (bread, clothing and shelter). It does not tell anyone to kill Shias. Speeches of Haq Nawaz Jhangvi are available online and in the market. He used this slogan throughout his life but never said Shias should be killed. We call Shias kafir on the basis of a unanimous edict issued by highly reputable jurists of Deoband. This slogan is not the reason behind the killing of Shias, and we don’t force people to chant the slogan in our rallies.”

A slogan like Roti, Kapra aur Makaan? Give me a break, dear editors. No follow up questions were asked about what right does an individual or a seminary — even Deoband — has to ostracise and condemn a community as apostates. Ludhianvi was not confronted with the content from the hundreds of speeches in which he and his cohorts have pledged to make the life miserable for the Shia, made barely concealed calls to arms against the Shia and innuendo about exterminating them. The ostensibly liberal publication gave space quite liberally to Ludhianvi to bash the Shia without a single challenging question being asked. Granted that journalists have to deal with all manner of unsavoury characters but giving projection with such kid-glove treatment to ranting clerics who openly and/or off-the-record threaten the very existence of the Shia seriously impugns the liberal credentials of the editors of the weekly. While politicians are rightly chastised for a spineless and toothless stint but puff interviews like Ludhianvi’s make one wonder if the media has served as a watchdog or lapdog of terrorists.

Source: Daily Times


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