VIEW: A confused mind —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad - Friday, April 22, 2011

If someone sports a beard, then he is liable to be a terrorist. If a protester is wearing pants, the so-called western dress, then he has to be a moderate. Thousands have lost their lives during the last decade. Yet we still cannot move beyond the stereotypes 

It is not always a beautiful mind. Some confused minds, in their defence, declare that from confusion comes chaos, which leads to creativity. I would be willing to tolerate confusion if it led to creative ideas and solutions. Some even declare that confusion eventually leads to clarity. I would be willing to accept this if I truly believed it to be true. However, we seem to be getting more ludicrous in our confusion, not to mention less creative and uglier by the minute.

I do not want to use this space to spoon venom but bear with me as I share my frustration with you. Last week, the media reported that activists of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) were arrested as they played hide and seek with the police. The HuT members were of course partaking in the much publicised and expensive Caliphate rally. Expensive, you ask? What would you call printing on card paper notices about the rally with each card at least costing Rs 800? Just on Islamabad Park Road there were at least 30 of them hung on signposts. Thus just on one road, a total amount of about Rs 24,000. Caliphate does not come cheap, clearly.

It was also a rally of the extremely well connected and well organised. How is it that when a friend tried to take off one of the posters for archival value, a gentleman sitting on the nearby green belt, apparently keeping watch, asked him to stop? A lesson to learn from the HuT members is that they believe in soft intimidation, unlike our unruly Taliban. Our friend was told that those posters had been hung with extreme care by ‘our boys’ who have to face a lot of problems with the police but are eager to herald the Caliphate through printed cards; they still succeeded. To spoil their work, the implication was that it was akin to spoiling God’s work. Would he be willing to do that, was the question posed to my now frightened friend. By the way, where was the Capital Development Authority (CDA)? In order to put up any sign on a signpost or street lamp, one has to seek permission from the CDA. If permission is granted, by law one has to print on the sign/board/poster/card the serial number that the CDA allots to you. The HuT posters did not have anything of the sort but still the CDA turned a blind eye.

We now come to the street protests, the role of the police and, most importantly, the understanding of the intricacy of the problem by the media. The HuT members protested and the police, unfortunately or fortunately, did what they always do. However, let us focus on the media’s reporting, and this brings me to the crux of the issue. The media reported that 18 members of the HuT were arrested and, according to the news story, “almost all the protesters were wearing pants and shirts”. The news story then went on to comment about how strange it was that a rally for the Caliphate was attended and organised by individuals wearing pants and shirts. This comment reflects the understanding that our media has after 10 years of active reporting on the crisis at hand. If someone sports a beard, then he is liable to be a terrorist. If a protester is wearing pants, the so-called western dress, then he has to be a moderate.

Thousands have lost their lives during the last decade. Yet we still cannot move beyond the stereotypes. Based on the stereotypes, we label individuals and then categorise them as ‘us’ and ‘them’. The tragedy, in my opinion, is that, as I eagerly scanned the letters to the editor section in the newspaper the next day hoping that at least one reader had noticed this and would have written a letter demanding an explanation, there was none. The letters were still too busy with partisan politics.

However, why am I surprised? In a country where a mainstream English newspaper wrote on its third page on Friday, April 15, 2011, in a story titled, ‘As Geo Super suffers, ESPN India earns Rs 19 billion during World Cup’, “The Pakistani government continues to profoundly and irreversibly screw Geo Super up by denying it up-linking rights.” Such language in a family newspaper and not a whimper out of anyone. While one would not like to ponder more on the particular wording, I would like to focus on the word ‘irreversibly’. Is there a reversible way? Let me leave it at that.

The media does not have the sole monopoly over superficial behaviour and confusion of course. We have political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which is outraged by the closure of Geo Super. In a rally, activists from Chak Jalal Din in Rawalpindi were photographed carrying a banner in Urdu that can be translated as, ‘The governmental drone attacks on Jang and Geo Super should stop’. The newspaper group ran the photograph on its third page on Monday, April 18, 2011, with the caption, ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf holds a protest rally against drone attacks and closure of Geo Super’. Who is more confused, dear reader, is for you to decide. The political party activists unfortunately have internalised the vocabulary of terrorism protests to an extent that drone attack is the new buzzword. To add to all this, the media groups cannot bother to see if the caption and the clearly visible banner’s texts match.

This article has no conclusion. Only confusion. Let me not add to it more.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at

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