It took them by surprise. Comfortable in the belief that the nation has well and truly been converted to a narrative that explains the violence of Islamic militants in Pakistan as an expression of defiance against everything from ‘US imperialism’ to the ‘invasion of Hindu and Western culture’. The advocates of this narrative were taken aback with the way the majority of Pakistanis and the mainstream media responded to young Malala Yousufzai’s shooting by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
As the social media wing of Imran Khan’s PTI went into overdrive on Twitter and Facebook in trying to explain their leader’s rather ambiguous stand on TTP, religious parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), and the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, were caught stuttering in front of an aggressive media backlash. They were first shaken up and then exhibited anger at the way the media was putting them on the spot.
Amazingly, even though all these parties (including the once ‘new’ PTI) have in them seasoned political players. Their response to the hostility that they faced from the media, and from their political opponents (for not taking a clear stand against the extremists), suggests that none of them had even conceived a scenario where the electronic media would begin to furiously shoot holes in the narrative that these parties bank on.
But a week later and by the time young Malala was being flown to a hospital in Birmingham, a rearguard response from the so-called apologists coupled by a threat to the media by the TTP finally pulled back a bit the tide that was threatening to sweep away those being accused of punctuating their condemnation of the shooting with a series of buts and ifs.
A brief look at the way the events in this respect unfolded can further elaborate this: Malala is shot. TV channels and the websites of major Pakistani newspapers break the news. The news is at once shared across social media. Parties and personnel that are routinely denounced by right-wing outfits for ‘fighting America’s war’, condemn the shooting.
Soon, the TTP claim responsibility. Two of the ruling parties, MQM and ANP, begin to condemn the shooters by name. PTI and religious parties also begin to issue condemnations, but without mentioning TTP.
As details of the shooting begin to flood in, the electronic media, as if overnight, turns the apologist narrative on its head.
This is a turning point. Or so it seems. As hours pass, the media refuses to give vent to the many disclaimers that come with the condemnation statements of the PTI, JI and JUI. What’s more, a stern statement of the Chief of Army Staff, General Parvez Kiyani, appears, suggesting that the military will intensify its war against the Islamist militants.
What, the media begins to ask, did Malala have to do with US drone strikes? Those linking the brutal attack on her to the drones insist that the shooting was part of what the US is up to in the militant-infested areas of north-west Pakistan.
The media is not having any of that. A new day begins. Malala continues to hold on to dear life.
Days go by, as perhaps for the first time in the last decade or so, the apologists are finding themselves drowned out by accusations of being cowards and for trying to dilute the issue with the usual rhetoric about ‘nefarious US designs’ in the region.
The apologists call the shooters animals, barbarians, and what not, but refuse to take the name of those who proudly confessed to have sent the men to execute the school girl.
They are a reaction to US drone attacks, they keep saying. But what did Malala have to do with the drones? The media keeps asking.
On one channel, a woman JI member, pushed into a corner by a TV anchor who popularised the term ‘liberal fascist’ two years ago, tries to squeeze her way out by calling those accusing her party of cowardice, as liberal fascists. It’s a desperate act. She thinks this might soften the anchor’s stance. It doesn’t.
PTI, JI and JUI leaders and their supporters slightly change tact. Now they begin to ask, What about all the other Malalas killed in drone attacks?
The ‘liberal fascists’ snicker: This is strange, they say. When the same media was going about decrying the plight of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, none of them were concerned about so many other Aafias rotting in local jails (many of them without trial) and for crimes that were mostly committed by men.
They further enquire, How come when for weeks the media covered Dr. Aafia’s case, none of these parties accused it of exaggeration, or of overreacting like they are now?
Still feeling cornered and sounding sheepish, some PTI and JI supporters in cyberspace flood Twitter and Facebook with a tragic photograph of a young girl supposedly injured in a drone attack. But within hours the picture is proven to be a shameless forgery.
But even this does not stop those hell-bent on stubbornly holding on to their delusions. Pictures of Malala sitting with former US diplomat, late Richard Holbrooke, emerge. Yes, being a Pashtun girl from Swat valley she should’ve been seen tending sheep instead.
Then a TV anchor suggests that the cyber diaries written by Malala for BBC were actually written by someone else. Malala is unconscious to answer him. But then maybe so is his conscience.
Days pass. In spite of a huge rally by the MQM, openly condemning the TTP, the apologists slip back on the mini-screen. An ‘investigative reporter’, who, during the Swat girl flogging episode, was explaining the act being according to Sharia, this is how he analysed the Malala episode: “Very sad, indeed. But all this is due to our slavery for the US.”
His expert journalistic, geo-political analysis continued: “Our decision to join America’s war was against the dictates of Quran and Sunnah.” Seriously?
The apologists may make a comeback, but their response to Malala’s shooting will not be recorded by history as a story of gallant, principled men.
It will record it as a story of those who lied, forged and carelessly quoted from holy scripture just to defend a questionable narrative inflated by nothing else but their misplaced egos.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
He tweets @NadeemfParacha
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.