Real-world trolls

Published September 28, 2022

AMONG the many criticisms the PTI receives, perhaps the most common complaint is its role in promoting a culture of intolerance and abuse in Pakistan’s modern political discourse. Though it certainly is not the first or the only party to sully its opponents with slurs and unfounded accusations, its supporters have taken matters several steps further by internalising their leaders’ hate and channelling it in their interactions with rival politicians.

At first, the hate would flow thick and freely from anonymous accounts on social media. Now, it is repeatedly spilling over into the real world.

Several videos were uploaded recently to Twitter and other platforms, showing some UK-based PTI supporters heckling and accosting Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb in London. The videos were condemned by many, and Ms Aurangzeb was lauded for keeping her composure while being subjected to an ugly verbal onslaught.

It is reprehensible how many PTI supporters now seem convinced that politicians from opposing camps are not entitled to even basic dignity and respect. That sentiment explains why they exult in harassing Imran Khan’s opponents and even celebrate their exploits by sharing them on various platforms.

Read: The business of hate

The party leadership’s refusal over the years to condemn such repeated displays of uncouth, mob-like behaviour has only encouraged them further. The resulting nastiness, which Ms Aurangzeb was subjected to, has rapidly eroded the PTI’s promise as a progressive party to lead the youth.

It is in this context that Mr Khan’s Monday address to students at a 158-year-old institute of learning in Lahore becomes all the more disquieting. Invited to address a ceremony being held to launch an ‘Education and Skills Integration’ project at the Government College University, Lahore, the former prime minister loaded his speech with the usual attacks against the individuals and institutions he sees as standing against him.

It was a piteous display of self-absorption from a man who promises the keys to a better, more prosperous future. If all Mr Khan has to offer the students of an institution as prestigious as the GCU is his hate for the chief election commissioner and Maryam Nawaz, it is little wonder that his most ardent supporters, both young and old, have taken to acting like real-world trolls rather than upstanding potential leaders of tomorrow.

Mr Khan must reconsider the means he is adopting in his blind pursuit of power, lest he goes down in history as Pakistan’s Pied Piper of hate.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

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