Move over, Jamat-i-Islami (JI), there’s a new danda brigade in town. But this brigade’s reactive gringos prefer mimicking the Tourette Syndrome and assorted incoherent abusive tics almost entirely in cyber space. Of course, by now, we all know who they are: A generation of apolitical urban middle-class young men and women who suddenly (and as if through shock therapy) became politicised (if one can call it that).
This politicisation did not emerge from the passionate consumption of academically sound political and social literature or with the help of some stimulating debates.
Rather, it has appeared as a by-product of what has gone on in the name of freedom of speech in Pakistan’s electronic media in which, anchors were/are given a free hand to turn debates between politicians into ratings-friendly shouting bouts. A media where demagogic characters were put in front of an unblinking camera and allowed to unabashedly distort and retard history and faith in an attempt to generate a supposedly ‘positive’ nationalistic and theocratic narrative.
It was a passionate, feel-good narrative that, in essence and actuality, glorified hatred of the ‘others’; defined reactionary mob mentality as ‘unity of nation and ummah’; and suggested it was entirely okay to throw unsubstantiated and knee-jerk accusations at anybody’s religious convictions, political ethics and social behaviour if that person even slightly disagreed with the mob’s idea of faith, politics and society.
Just like the Pakistani state’s compulsive habit of creating ‘strategic assets’ that usually mutate and become faithful monsters eating up the state from within, Pakistan’s privately-owned electronic media has fumbled by creating its own monsters.
Recently some well known TV anchors faced an ugly barrage of abuse on social media sites by what are perhaps the most vivid examples of the blithering generation of young Pakistanis I was talking about.
Called the ‘PTI trolls’, this large section of the Imran Khan fan club shower’s anybody with a wide range of Urdu, Punjabi and English abuses if it believes that person has been critical of Khan or his party.
So who are they? Well, most of these misguided missiles are uppity young folks who belong exactly to the target market that many TV channels once rushed in to capture.
The channels did this by putting ideological chauvinists and hate-mongers in front of the camera just so this market’s unstable craving for feel good narratives (built on half-truths and assorted distortions) could be (profitably) served.
Now whenever a channel or a well known anchor tries to even slightly move away from this narrative, he or she is not only abused by this market, but also accused of being on the payroll of any number of ‘enemy countries’ or parties like the PML-N and the PPP.
What’s even weirder is the way some anchors whose shows have been losing ratings or are not taken seriously, have also jumped into the fray, littering social media sites with loud allusions against certain well known anchors, suggesting they were ‘US agents!’
However, most interesting is the fact that the bulk of the abusive nonsense and unsubstantiated dribble that one notices against some journalists, TV anchors, the PPP and the PML-N on social media sites and forums, is almost all coming from young people and media men who appear to be Imran Khan supporters.
Funnier still is how these apparently pro-Khan anchors and journalists and certain sophisticated entrepreneurs-turned-politicians who have joined Khan’s party have suddenly adjusted their tones to that of Khan’s.
For example, one can now come across perfectly ‘normal’ looking media men and PTI members tweeting (on Twitter) like they were quoting from a right-wing Pakistani version of Chairman Mao’s Red Book!
This despite the fact that each one of their gung-ho Khomeini-meets-Mao-meets-Maududi spiels about corruption and bad governance can quite easily be deflated, considering their own not very ‘clean’ pasts as individual bastions of sparkling morality and ethics.
Nevertheless, it is believed by those perturbed as well as bamboozled by the abusive PTI troll phenomenon that the blame for this ultimately lies with a man that the media itself helped to create: Imran Khan the politician.
Even though recently Khan has been heard sounding apologetic to journalists who have been the centre of his trolls’ vicious cyber attacks, the journalists have been blaming his unhinged rhetoric against his ‘enemies’ in which not only has he gone on and on about their ‘corruption’ but has even questioned whether they were real Muslims or not.
But my question is why those anchors and channels who are now blaming Khan’s angry babblings for triggering the tsunami of abuses that many of his young fans have become, allowed him to air his excessive views in the first place?
Just as Khan seems to have become a prisoner of his own rhetoric, the media that once thrived on bagging ratings by putting demagogic pretenders and hate preachers in front of the camera, is facing the crooked music it itself composed.
But whereas certain sections of the media are now trying to rectify this lapse (while others are still milking it), I wonder just how much of an issue it is within the PTI.
My take on this is that though there has been some movement within the PTI to now control this phenomenon, it has actually gotten worse as far as its presence and support in the social media outlets is concerned.
So much so that recently I actually heard a PTI campaigner and a TV actress suggest that a suicide bomber should explode the National Assembly!
Of course, this didn’t stop these ultra-patriots from swinging their fists at drone attacks and then line up for a US or European visa.