Saturday 12 May 2012

On Keyboard Jihadis

(originally published by Pakistan Today)

The recent wave of popularity of Imran Khan and his likes among teenagers and younger generation is an interesting phenomenon. It is heartening to see the so-called ‘de-politicized’ youth taking active part in political discussions. Before the meteoric rise of Imran Khan’s party, younger people also formed the support of Musharraf on social media and organizations like Hizb ut Tehrir and Brass Tacks of Zaid Hamid also find most of their recruits among the same youth. What has led this generation to turn around, unlike their elders, and gotten them active in the political sense? This should be an important question for sociologists interested in Pakistani Society. Following are a few observations by the author about the “New Youth” based on interactions with many youth groups and people on social media.

Who are they?

Urban kids brought up on heavy doses of state propaganda through textbooks, jingoistic dramas about Kashmir on PTV, dramas like Alpha Bravo Charlie portraying a softer, jolly side of the Armed forces, incessant references to the Afghan war in 1980s as Jihad, endless political intrigues throughout the 90s and the relative calm of the early Musharaf years, the conspiracy mongering and everyone-is-against-us proclamations after 9/11, load shedding and suicide bombs. Their political evolution did not start from student politics or local area politics but from IRC channels to Facebook and Twitter via MSN Messenger.
They have compartmentalized the role of institutions in the country. Army good, politicians bad.

What do they think?

They strongly believe that democracy is un-Islamic and democratic institutions cannot provide solutions to their problems. They extol the military and everything it does and anyone who dares criticize the military on human rights issues is a traitor. Their self righteousness is raised to delusional levels.
They read all kinds of articles on the internet but their minds process everything using a simplistic algorithm: Us versus them (they can mean U.S, Zionists, Israel, India or the West). They do not think there is any difference between Islam and Political Islam. They rationalize the suicide bombings and Taliban rule in Waziristan as being funded by “foreign forces”. They completely believe in the myth that Allama Iqbal was the spiritual father of the country(for further explanation, read pages 9 to 12  of Hasan Jafar Zaidi’s thesis “Emergence of Pakistan”) and Mr. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was closer to that of Modern Day Saudi Arabia or Iran rather than that of Modern day Turkey or Bangladesh. They consider secular minded people as the “scum of the earth” and enemies of Pakistan.For them, the concept of ‘Peaceful co-habitation’ is not kosher and is libelous because it negates the “Us versus Them” paradigm.  Internet has offered them the cloak of anonymity and thus they go on abusing their own freedom of speech, inconveniencing anyone who does not agree with their positions. They seek a return to the Islamic model of government implemented by Taliban in Afghanistan or the one favored by our very own, General Zia. They do not know how Zia’s period in power pushed this country back almost 20 years.

Why has this happened?

Nabiha Meher Shaikh in her blog post, “Children of Zia” opined,
“Very few across Pakistan, elite or not, teach critical thinking which is absolutely essential and should be compulsory from an early age. Without the ability to think, education starts to resemble indoctrination. And in a country like ours, where schools have no option but to teach state-sanctioned propaganda under the guise of Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat, which aims to indoctrinate with a linear vision, this becomes even more necessary. One is not allowed to challenge the syllabus and is expected to regurgitate a single perspective – the chosen perspective. If you don’t, you fail and that is not an option most are willing to take. This sends a clear message: difference and diversity will not be tolerated.

By putting profit above quality and by not teaching critical thinking from an early age, we are a part of the problem. What we are breeding is an even more dangerous form of terrorist than the ignorant, brainwashed madrassa students who do not know any better. They were never taught to think unlike those who choose not to and continue to believe in conspiracies, which are trendy and perpetuated by celebrities like Ali Azmat. It is shocking when it comes from a well-dressed, articulate student in a suit attending the top business school in the country; one whose aim in life is to then move abroad, work for a multi-national that he is currently dismissing as an evil Zionist company. I wonder how many future Faisal Shahzads and Dr Aafias are out there.”

Is this a new Phenomenon?
According to cultural critic, Nadeem F Paracha, the slogans and rhetoric of this new urban middle class keyboard-warrior are rehashed version of the same anti-Imperialist rhetoric used by Leftist groups in the 1960s and 70s. The only difference being that after Zia-era indoctrination, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro have been replaced by Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki.


To sum it up, I would like to quote journalist Xiao Lixin from   her recent  article “False impression of post-80s kids

“If we claim that a whole generation is at fault, then there must be problems with the society in which they have been brought up and in which they live, in which case we need to pinpoint the problems and find solutions.

Young people live in a society that is completely different from the one their parents knew at their age and they have developed a different outlook on life.”

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