Malala in the Media: Consensus and ConfusionOct 24th, 2012 | By admin | Category: Uncategorized
The Taliban’s attack on Malala Yousafzai put Pakistan once again in the headlines. What was less noteworthy, though, were the headlines in the foreign media – it was the Pakistani media that was raising eyebrows. Immediately after the attack, there was a rare moment of unity in the media. Conservative and liberal, English and Urdu media groups found common ground in repulsion at the Taliban’s attempted murder of a 14-year-old school girl, and the demand for strong action to be taken in the national defence.
Consider the following sample of newspaper editorials in the days after the attack, and think when you have ever seen such consensus in recent memory:
The News, 10th October: ‘Condition Critical’
Malala Yousafzai is in critical condition today, and so is Pakistan. We are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies.
The Nation, 11th October: ‘Courage, thy name is Malala’
This is as great a warning as we can receive. The Pakistani government and military, which has absolutely failed to protect its citizens in especially the northern border areas, must now do what taxpayers employ them to do: govern and protect, respectively.
Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, 11th October: Cowardly attack on Malala
Trying to take the life of this girl is condemnable and a hateful act. Perpetrators should be tried to the harshest and fullest extent of the law.
Dawn, 12th October: ‘Moment of Truth’
Politicians and civil society need to prop up the current national consensus against extremism so that it doesn’t die down. This is not a moment Pakistan can afford to waste.
Daily Express, 13th October: ‘Need for clear determination’
We are taking on heavy damage in this war on terror because we do not have a clear direction. We have to come out of this good versus bad Taliban rhetoric. Saving our nation is first priority, if this time passes by it will never come back.
Express Tribune, 13th October: ‘Will Malala unite us against terror’
Let us hope that this time Pakistan will fight its war against terror as its own war because there is no other way forward.
It seemed then that the nation was for the first time in decades united in a common cause of self-defence and self-preservation. This consensus was to be short-lived, however.
As the nation became more and more united against the militants, a new wave of reports began to appear in the media. Dr Haider Mehdi, a UAE based ‘analyst’ wrote in The Nation that “CIA footprints are all over the script and narrative of this entire incident” which he claims is “the CIA’s latest attempt to divide public opinion and incite conflict in Pakistani society”. What exactly those ‘CIA footprints’ are, and how the US would gain from dividing public opinion and inciting conflict in Pakistan, the good professor fails to explain as he simply commands readers to “know thy enemy!” – presumably not the militants who shot a child in cold blood, but the old bogey…America.
It is worth noting here that Dr Haider Mehdi is an author for the propaganda website ‘Opinion Maker’ run by retired officers and colleagues of Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Hameed Gul and which includes on its Board of Advisors such luminaries as Ahmed Quraishi who was also soon clumsily trying to suggest that the Taliban attack on Malala was somehow America’s fault. Other conspiracy websites linked to retired officers accused Malala herself as a CIA operative, and Asif Ezdi shamelessly termed the young education activist as ‘a child soldier…in a role similar to that of the teenage suicide bombers’.
Neither does it appear to be a coincidence that these ‘opinion makers’ simultaneously came to the same conclusion that the Taliban attack on a young girl should unite the nation not against militants, but against America. On 14th October, Amir Mir reported in The News that national agencies had decided to use the attack as a bargaining chit against their American counterparts.
According to well informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the Pakistani establishment has decided to exploit the Malala assault to its own advantage by reminding the Obama administration that the grisly attack was carried out by the shooters of Mullah Fazlullah a.k.a. Mullah Radio operating freely from Afghanistan despite repeated requests by Pakistan to proceed against him.
Is it, then, a coincidence that by 19th October The New York Times was reporting that the ‘Malala Moment’ – the one Dawn said “is not a moment Pakistan can afford to waste” only one week earlier – ‘May Have Passed in Pakistan’?
“We have mixed feelings about Malala,” said the man, Raja Imran, 30, his eyes shaded by sunglasses, fiddling with a pack of Marlboros. “Was it the Americans who shot her or was it Al Qaeda? We don’t know. Some people think this is all an American publicity stunt to make their point against the Taliban.”
Is it difficult to understand why so many people are confused despite all the facts? Why so many people think this is all an American publicity stunt? After decades of conspiracy theories and propaganda targeting our own people, can we expect anything but confusion? Then again, is it really going too far to connect the dots between the establishment’s media campaign to re-orient blame onto America and that belief among the masses?
Much has been said this week about the disbanding of ISI’s political cell in 2008. But political manipulation is not limited to election rigging. President Zardari recently said that “There is a need for consensus following the policy of reconciliation to achieve the desired results in the war against terror and ensure peace and security”. The question remains how we can ever reach consensus when we can’t even have an honest discussion without certain elements attempting to rig the outcome? If we are to have a free media, it must be free from manipulation – even if the manipulators think they’re acting in the national interest.
Asif Ezdi, in his shameful piece, wrote that ‘The responsibility for what befell her lies squarely with those who cynically exploited her idealism to advance their strategic goals and their political ambitions.’ He may have been more right than he intended.