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“Liking” the Taliban


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-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

Last week the Pakistani Taliban posted their first recruiting call on Facebook. It was a soft moment, one that in its banal ordinariness aimed to make the band of black masked school girl shooters look just like the gel haired, button down men who try to convince eager college students to work for say, a bank or a new internet start-up. Here was the newly hip and  seemingly suave Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, comfortable with social media and looking for recruits for their new magazine “Ahyah-e-Khilafat”. They needed interns, those unpaid staples of the working world, dictated not by ideology but the ache for “experience”.

Admittedly, this would be of a different sort, video editors and translators and writers for a magazine documenting killing rampages, the valor of suicide bombings and perhaps, the occasional invite to a distribution of spoils from a marauded truck convoy. Someone at the Tehreek-e-Taliban office decided that they needed people and where better to cull from the hordes of Pakistani youth, the Taliban may have concluded in their most recent cave summit in Bara, than Facebook, where the would-be militant and the would-be banker rub shoulders in virtual fellowship.

But Facebook is not Freebook and while the postings went up on Friday, meetings in faraway Los Angeles, perhaps in Mark Zuckerberg’s better equipped cave deemed the issue unsavory for the social networking website that is normally quite reticent to pull content. The 281 “likes” that the Taliban had already got, seemed not to be convincing enough to make a case for retention. It was the end, at least for the present of the Taliban’s efforts at being Facebook friendly recruiters of would-be bombers or editors or writers or video producers.

The Taliban’s failures with Facebook are, however, just a singular episode in what seem to be a series of overtures, however bumbling and misguided, that suggest that some of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are feeling a bit uncomfortable with their image as brute, dirty, medieval killers of little children. One more shred pointing in the direction of this new self-consciousness came with the reports that Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was losing support among the group because (gasp) he was considered “too violent”. The Taliban know that they are fighting a public relations war, the report said, and under Hakimullah Mehsud they are only likely to lose.

Before you swallow this morsel, consider again where it comes from; these are the Taliban who stood before mini hills of burned up CDs in Lahore’s Moon Market and piles of corpses killed in prayer at Data Darbar, who staged one mass execution in Gilgit Baltistan and then barely breathed as they moved on to another, of a 14 year old school girl in Swat. Violence indeed, large, staggering, bloody avalanches of it seems had been both the Taliban trademark and their hallmark; what they produced and forced down the throats and eyes and minds of everyone watching. Digesting this news of the Taliban’s latest worries about being too violent, is for violence-bloated Pakistanis, like imagining free electricity and clean water … both a mockery of the present and a fantasy in the future.

There is also some philosophical significance to this turn of the Taliban and our collective challenge of imagining them as newly cuddly and suddenly peace-loving. The step between the Taliban of now and before can be situated on two seminal philosophical concepts: the “positive” and “negative” conception of rights, ideas and prescriptions. Positive and negative here does not mean as in ordinary parlance simply “good” and “bad” but rather, positive in prescribing something that must be done, versus the negative which simply critiques what exists. Under this philosophical lens, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have in their two decade plus existence, developed an almost exclusively negative project. The vast portions of their actions and prescriptions are hence, based on what they don’t like/want/forbid such as music and schools and NGOs and women.

And while it may be true that the Taliban avow the future establishment of an Islamic state, they show little evidence of having any present knowledge or expertise regarding its provenance; they chop off hands without a Qazi and sell drugs where necessary to pay for “Holy” war. It’s a whole philosophy of being against, of destruction, of critique of what exists with only the vaguest premonitions of what an alternate order would look like instead. Would bank transactions be any different under a Taliban regime, would an economy with no women at all function? We don’t know and its likely that the Taliban don’t either.

Going mainstream on social media or anywhere else is a “positive” project. Much like the angst ridden teenager who must now look for a job, it involves facing some grim realities that may have been happily hidden by the undifferentiated rage of rebellion. The signals we see from the Taliban now, the internal spats about too much violence, the quibbles about leadership judged on the scales of trust and likeability, even the Eid card that the newly earnest Hakimullah Mehsud sent out to Pakistani journalists show the awkwardness of this very turn.

Ultimately, the Taliban  themselves do not know what they are for and shorn of the ghastliness of shock and fear and debilitation; they represent only rage which can take down, but not build up, frighten but never comfort, subjugate but never persuade. As they turn to Twitter and Facebook, they may discover that for all its fickleness, social media with its 140 characters and click-easy “likes” is more of a test than the burning down of a helpless, fearful and easily silenced village.


Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (27) Closed

US CENTCOM Dec 14, 2012 05:49pm
Have we not seen mass scale rejection of the Taliban from the majority of Pakistanis? Creating a facebook page and getting 281
babu Dec 16, 2012 11:35am
AHA, i disagree with your disagreement,any society which questions religion is progressive,Take Hinduism ,at first glance it is sickenly pagan,nauseating for abrahamic religions at its best. But its ills and follies are questioned by Hindus themselves and religion is modified for progress and modernity.The basic tenet , is worship education and work.
hitesh Dec 15, 2012 09:39am
What is the solution ? Should we follow such organized religion ? Shouldn't my relationship with God is between me and GOD only ? We need religion to establish order in society. But do we need divide decree to establish order in our village or our family ? If GOD is omniscience didn't he already established order then made the world ? Aren't All established religion are against WILL of GOD ? If they fear GOD then shouldn't they repent before WORLD ends and they are summoned by GOD to give account of their deeds and misdeeds in this WORLD ?
Banjo Dec 15, 2012 08:08am
I believe Ms. Zakaria may have confused the 'positive/normative' distinction with the 'positive/negative' distinction in her discussion of the philosophy of rights. These are two separate and distinct ideas.
peddarowdy Dec 15, 2012 07:47am
"First of all, there is no conflict between Islam and modernity" What is the punishment in Islam to be an apostate? How can an ideology which doesn't tolerate such dissent be considered Modern and Democratic? Even in a modern country like Malaysia, which has 40 non-Muslim population, its criminal to be a Shia!
Masood Hussain Dec 14, 2012 05:15pm
These articals by very learned writers are alrightbu they don't move a bit towards secular and prog ressive Pakistan.Where is the silent majority,it has grown more silent.Ttp is trying to influence people through Face bookAnd every is watching silently.
peddarowdy Dec 14, 2012 08:35am
Taliban are black and white. They are easy to tackle. Yes, they are bloody and horrible creatures, but they do not confuse you. That is why I don't consider them the most dangerous. The most dangerous are those who are actually talking about Islam under the guise of modernity. The recent example being the Muslim Brotherhood(who are now pushing through an Islamist Constitution). So any political grouping which is not black and white are dangerous for the society. Take Muslim League for instance. After Jinnah died, Liaquat, who was Jinnah's Lieutenant, sat quietly while Pakistan was being declared an Islamic republic. All the quotes of Jinnah where he invoked the Quran and Islam are still being used to push the Rightist agenda in Pakistan.
Aqil Siddiqi Dec 14, 2012 07:23pm
I agree Nasir. Taliban is a Cancer to our Pakistan, and if not removed sooner, the results would ne catastrophic. People are in denial in Pakistan, if they say, every thing is fine over here. We have become a law less and a very very dangerous society. Our good for nothing Govt and other politicians are just trying to grab as much out of this poor nation, and have no feelings or regards for Pakistan. But obove aall, it's the Talibani mentality, wich is killing this nation. Aqil Siddiqi (BC,Canada)
AHA Dec 14, 2012 07:17pm
Threat to Pakistan: Yes. Threat to Islam: Don't know.
AHA Dec 14, 2012 07:15pm
Well, they call themselves the Taliban. To Dawn - Perhaps you should put a new click between thumbs up and thumbs down for 'I am scratching my head'. That would have been my reaction to Amir's post.
AHA Dec 14, 2012 07:11pm
Couldn't have put it better. Hats off.
AHA Dec 14, 2012 07:09pm
No religion can tolerate modernity because no religion can survive modernity. I disagree with disagree.
Nasser Ali Khan Dec 14, 2012 06:58pm
Rafia's article covers very well what the Taliban stand for, their actions, and the effect on the general population. Best is the very apt description of all actions of Taliban being negative and none positive. But the article, and most of the comments, have missed the real issue. In my view, it is all about power and anyone, whether Taliban, or politicians, or the rich elite, and indeed the average individual, will exercise any means available to gain power to the extent possible, in order to try to satisfy one's own agenda. To give an example, an average poor (and hence himself trodden) person in a village would probably discriminate against a non-Muslim - no, not because it is an "ideological" issue (right or wrong) but because it is easier to take advantage of a non-Muslim than a Muslim, since the majority would side with him/her, yes mostly on "ideological" reasons. Our whole society is infected with evil, exceptions excluded, and injustice, with no empathy for a fellow human being. As a Muslim, I believe that all the problems that we face is only due to the fact that we reap what we sow; Allah is rightly punishing u for our deeds. The sooner the average Pakistani becomes a proper human being, the sooner will the ills of the society disappear. May that day come soon InshaAllah.
aabdul Dec 14, 2012 06:05pm
Here is a very simple message. In this day and age, where there are billions of people with diverse views and behavior, you CANNOT endorse one religious view on any single community. Deep in your heart you may think it is beautiful, but your ideology will wreak havoc on the community, and eventually your actions will devour you and your family. People have tried this many times over in the past: just look back and see how devastating it is. So, keep your religious views at home. I am not sure when Pakistanis will ever learn from their mistakes.
disagree Dec 14, 2012 05:22pm
First of all, there is no conflict between Islam and modernity, just as there is no conflict between Christianity, Hinduism Buddhism and modernity. Secondly, Muslim brotherhood, as evident from the name and their platform, have always been a right wing Islamic party, and never secular, very similar to Iran's revolutionary party of Ayatullah khomeini. The people of Egypt know exactly what they were voting for. You can say Morsi wanting more powers was not expected, but Egypt's tilt towards Islamic rule was clearly understood by all sides. Your argument against them is plain false. However, Pakistan was envision to be a secular Muslim state by Jinnah, but he used Islam to promote secular Muslim state to a very religious and conservative majority. The problem was neither Jinnah nor Liquat Ali Khan nor anyone following so much as the problem was the huge divide between the rulers and the ruled.
sturkman Dec 14, 2012 07:43pm
If US Army had created Al Qaeda, it would be just like Taliban in Pakistan. Are we forgetting ISI had created Taliban and they are on Pak Military Pay Roll?
Secular Pakistan Dec 14, 2012 01:48pm
All religions have a cycle: 1. They start out as movements for social justice for the poor and disenfranchised. 2. Once embraced by the royalty, they become protectors of the despots, the feudal, THE STATE. 3. Once the center mass of the clergy is established, they become a business. 4. In the end they morph into a racket, run by street thugs to extort blood and treasure from the same poor they vowed to protect.
raza Dec 14, 2012 04:37pm
Problem is Pakistan was based on certain ideology. When the idea of Pakistan was being conceived there was no talk of co-existence with Hindus. Everyone thought it is according to thoughts they have been following. Everyone thought it will remain like British time. Even Jinna thought in similar way. Jinna never cared for anything. All He wanted was Pakistan. He left the question
Imran A. Dec 14, 2012 04:39pm
Taliban ideology has always existed even 1400 years ago, this is the first time they have an umbrella. Being naive will not save you, you should read history and only then you will find out that it was the Taliban ideology that was responsible for breaking the Ottomon empire to form the Middle East countries. If you are black and white in your daily life, then you should be either a noble person or complete evil.
Silajit Dec 14, 2012 04:43pm
Hopefully people will see the irony of asking Afghanistan to accept the same Taliban to run their country by saying that they represent all Pashtuns.
Amir Bangash Dec 14, 2012 02:01pm
Taliban is the wrong name given by media to the people involved in extremism or terrorism. Taliban means students seeking knowledge. There are thousands of Taliban getting free education in Madrassas in Pakistan and they either belong to poor class, can not afford education in other institutions or others who take it as religious obligation. This word Taliban is misused to the extent that people have started hating every Talib that goes to Madrassa who otherwise has no role in the extremism or terrorism.
Naseer Dec 14, 2012 02:17pm
As per Taliban ideology, computers and internet did not existed at the time of prophet (PBUH) and should therefore be biddat. I wonder why Taliban use the things that did not existed in the prophet's time. Taliban are actually the greatest threat to Pakistan and to Islam.
Cyrus Howell Dec 14, 2012 09:21am
Would bank transactions be any different under a Taliban regime? I think so. They have made a lot of bank withdrawals at gun point.
muhammad Dec 18, 2012 06:33am
How naive you are
BRR Dec 14, 2012 03:09pm
It is easy to dislike, target, eliminate the Taliban types, as they do not hide, and openly profess their biases and horrors. Those that do not, and hide behind bland statements, that are closet Taliban types, that misuse laws to create an Islamic republic in a stealth mode, are lot more dangerous. A Jinnah, who was apparently secular, but promoted a separate country for muslims - is a lot more divisive. Imagine, secular Bhutto made laws to declare Ahmedias were not muslims. These closet Islamic warriors are the real danger, and many of them are in the military.
Beg Dec 17, 2012 12:03am
The problem is not this that taliban are bad, every body know but the bone of contention is that the current dominating elites in pakistan and Afghanistan are not delivering, are worst and people have been trying them for long, further more the west and USA appears to be unjust and hegemonous which further complicate the picture and masses look towards islamists/taliban as lesser evil and being disappointed appears to be ready to embrace even taliban since they are fed up with current elites
Naseer Dec 16, 2012 05:07am
Taliban ideology of "my way or no way" is against Islam. Prophet PBUH had agreements with Christians and Jews living in Madinah. Taliban mindset is greatest threat to Pakistan and to Islam.