Kill the messenger
These were the top five stories on Pakistan yesterday on Google.
1. The crisis in Pakistan continues
2. A militant leader is set free in Pakistan. Here’s why it matters to the US
3. Gunmen attack Shiite mosque in Pakistan, kill 1, wound 3
4. Pakistani law minister quits after weeks of anti-blasphemy protests
5. Man murders wife over cold dinner in Pakistan
Every day there is one or two self-righteous post on Facebook or Instagram, where people are just not over the idea that “foreign agents” are portraying Pakistan negatively. These people, blamed for shedding light on the worst of the worst in Pakistan include the likes of Malala Yousafzai, or Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, or the new “liberal” everyone wants to hate on. We love to kill the messenger. No one is worried about women getting acid thrown in their face, but everyone is obsessed that Pakistan’s international image is tarnished because a woman had the audacity to film scarred women.
I bring this up, because we have stopped accusing the perpetrators of crimes in Pakistan. Are we going to have a protest to shut Google down in Pakistan because its top hits portray a negative image of Pakistan? That seems to be where we are heading.
A crime committed – whether young school going girls are shot at, or Shias’ are killed, or a man murders his wife over petty squabbles- has nothing to do with the person who is reporting the issue or calling it a problem. The crime also has nothing to do with the privilege and personal agenda of the person. Bringing in Obaid-Chinoy’s suspected personal agendas or personality into the discussion about acid attacks clouds the issue, and does not benefit the victim. It is the critics who bring that in and detrack the debate from what really should matter- the victim- not Obaid-Chinoy who is probably sitting pretty with her Oscars.
Pakistan has a bad image abroad, because there are some really awful things going on here. No body enjoys making films titled “Pakistan’s Shame”, or likes writing articles that criticise the country. But it is irresponsible to stay mum, when one has the capacity, to drag out the vermin into the light so it can be exterminated.
Malala and Sharmeen don’t need your approval, and after such a long time on the receiving end of a lot of random hate, the disapproval probably bounces off of them. It is time to direct our energies away from the messenger to the message. Is women’s education a problem? Should acid victims get better health care? How do we protect young boys who are sexually abused?
It is not going to be easy. We are the people who backed the army and wanted to protect its image during the Dawn Leaks saga, when the army was accused by a state official of slacking on anti-terrorism action. No one had the guts to ask the question, that why did anyone in the government think the army wasn’t doing its job? Was the accusation true? Was it false? That was the real story. The story became who the ‘leak’ was, and how unpatriotic Dawn was for publishing such a thing. And maybe it was not the most patriotic thing to do, but now that it’s done, is no one going to ask the hard question for fear of tarnishing something they thought was/is perfect?
Are we Pakistanis really so soft-bellied? Is criticism so hard to take?
There is a grand conspiracy theory that the media in the west hates Pakistan, and wants to see it destroyed. But maybe there is no conspiracy in the west against Pakistan, other than the fact that many writers are just ill-informed, and that editors are just as bigoted as editors anywhere else about Muslims, or Pakistan, or Syrian immigrants, or whatever new bogeyman they have created for themselves.
The right-wing mind, according to research from University College London, responds to threatening situations with more aggression (current Islamabad dharna is one case it point). Liberals are more patient and creative in their solutions to threat. This is not to applaud the liberal view point, but just to suggest, that sometimes solutions can come from the most disliked of places, and tolerance and pluralism can help find solutions. We have to stop loving witch hunts to be able to engage with the issues that really matter.
Pakistan’s image is truly terrible abroad, and none of what is happening in Islamabad, none of the current political events are making for a good image. Firstly, good images come from art, from film, from music, from festivals – and those out on the street right now and their supporters will hardly let such events in Pakistan build momentum. Secondly, bad news is always good news for the media. It’s not a conspiracy, not an agenda; it’s just how the news cycle works. People want to know what’s going on, and no one is going to watch a broadcast of a food festival when Islamabad is basically under siege. That is the same picture people abroad are seeing, and it’s not pretty. It is time to recognise the real antagonists of the story of Pakistan. It’s time to stop cribbing about our image, and worry about our actual survival when there’s no room for critique or reform… and anyone who raises their hand to ask a question is either endangering Islam, or is unpatriotic.