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Flogging the truth

April 13, 2010

Email

Much has been said about the report claiming that the infamous video showing a girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat is fake. I remember being outraged by the incident and the claims of Taliban spokespersons who betrayed their indifference to the outrageous act. Now, however, "a five-member team investigating the flogging by Taliban militants of a teenage girl in Swat has said in its final report that the video footage of the incident shown on TV channels is fake and false.”

The interior secretary [Kamal Shah] said the probe team, headed by the Malakand DIG, had been formed after the Supreme Court chief took suo motu notice of the incident.

‘It has completed its investigation and handed over a report to me,’ he said, adding that the report would be submitted before an eight-member bench of the Supreme Court during the next hearing.

Since the video’s release, the only information regarding who the girl actually was and why she was being punished came from the media, and their only source was the man who claimed to have filmed it. Shaukat was the only eye-witness to come forward and speak to DawnNews about the incident.

At the time of the clip’s release, we were all out on the streets, condemning the horrific incident. Political parties such as the MQM were on the forefront, protesting the heinous crime and calling for more people to join the protests.

Now, months after the incident and the completion of the Swat offensive, a man has claimed that he faked the video. According to Professor Khurshid Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami, a man involved with making the video maintains that an Islamabad-based NGO paid him Rs 500,000 and gave additional amounts of Rs 100,000 to the girl who is shown being flogged and Rs 50,000 each to the children shown in the video.

So was the earlier outcry in vain? Was our collective anger baseless? Why was the video widely distributed without confirming its authenticity? And what are we expecting from the suo moto notice now?

When the video was released, those who questioned its authenticity were cast as Taliban sympathisers. I too had lashed out at a friend when she questioned whether a girl who had just been flogged multiple times could simply get up and walk off at the end (as is shown in the clip). Enraged, I had asked my friend: "What are you suggesting? Even if the video is fake, haven’t the militants done much more that deserves condemnation? And considering that, why should we give them the benefit of the doubt?"

I still stick to the point I made that day. The English newspaper claiming the video is fake provides no further details. Absolutely nothing about the name of the NGO, the girl who acted like a victim, the man who filmed it, and other people who could be seen in the video has been revealed. So why should we give the Taliban, of all organisations, the benefit of the doubt?

Moreover, when a Taliban spokesperson was asked about the details of the incident, he said he wasn't aware of where the video had been shot, but was certain that justice had been done the Islamic way. Is that not worse than the actual crime? If we stand by injustice, we become equally responsible. And when this video was released, people like Muslim Khan stood by the act without even hinting at the need for an investigation or debate into the nature of the punishment. In my books, then, he’s guilty.

Even though it matters less in the end whether the video was fake or real, we can certainly learn a lot from this incident. Most importantly, we should recognise that we have become too reactionary. Knee-jerk reactions have come to determine both our associations and enmities, and our propensity for believing things without questioning whether they are authentic or credible reveals gullible we have become.

The same people protesting the flogging video about a year ago have now jumped on the bandwagon suggesting that the video was propaganda aimed at 'defaming Islam'. This is the kind of hogwash we are quick to base our judgements on. But for the sake of reason, we should put our energies to better use and interrogate issues – or ask our authorities to investigate circumstances – before jumping to conclusions.

Ironically, restraint and sound judgement has been outmoded by media platforms – including one that claims to be the country’s most popular – that have made it a ritual to hype, politicize, and sensationalise things before investigating their veracity. That’s well beyond the call of duty of responsible media organisations. As long as it’s the case, though, the masses should take a moment to scrutinise the issue before bursting into outrageous protest.

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Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Pro-Pakistan her personal blog Mystified Justice. She tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

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.