Journalists in Pakistan: Here be dragons

By  Zarrar Khuhro

Raza-Rumi 3Never doubt that words have power. It’s likely because of the words he spoke and wrote that Raza Rumi was attacked in Lahore last night, an attack that claimed the life of his driver. More words followed; words of condemnation, outrage and a good deal of despair.

Much of it was standard fare of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are the usual calls (ineffective) for the government to do something, anything (they won’t). There was outrage (cathartic, but impotent) at the usual suspects as well; the unnamed liberation-loving stakeholders one simply does not rub the wrong way. And there were also calls (well-intentioned but idealistic) for the media to pull together and (perhaps) announce a boycott, like the one Afghan journalists carried out after the Serena hotel attack.

Let’s start with that last one. Now, while this would be a wonderful show of solidarity, let’s be clear that it will never happen. After all, this is the same industry that would likely report a nuclear attack on a rival group without actually naming that group. This is apparently the consequence of some arcane policy which posits that naming a name that everyone already knows would somehow direct eyeballs or perhaps ratings their way. Point being that you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a media boycott, unless oxygen deprivation is your idea of fun.

Speaking of fun, what all and sundry seem to enjoy is hurling slander, invective and abuse with a sprinkling of death threats. Take, for example, that very popular “dollar khor” line that so many just love to use as an accusation to be hurled at any who may dare criticise the holy of holies. Oh, I know it’s just two words, from two different languages; strung together to make what can loosely be defined as a point. But let’s take it to its logical conclusion for a moment, shall we?

To accuse someone of being in the pay of a foreign power, presumably to the detriment of Pakistan, is to accuse that person of treason. Treason, last time I checked, is punishable by death. Thus, does having such an accusation levelled (by top part leadership at that) amount to incitement to murder? Now, before the trolls sharpen their dull little claws, let’s be clear that the attackers were almost certainly not inspired by such a statement. They almost certainly didn’t get up one morning and say: “Gee, Mr Khan says those writing against him are US agents, why don’t we kill them?” That’s not how it happened.

But those who hurl such accusations as easily as they scratch their noses should at least be aware of the implications they are making, though I doubt if deep thinking, or thinking at all, is their forte. They are, however, enablers, and need to recognise themselves as such.

Then, of course, there is the counterargument: If someone is called: ‘Taliban Khan’, why can’t he repay with the same coin?

What after all, is the difference between labelling one person a Taliban sympathiser and him labelling his opponents US agents? Prima facie, there isn’t much difference. But if you look at consequences, then the difference is huge indeed. Calling someone “Taliban” will not cause a drone strike on his house.

Calling someone a “traitorous paid agent” will in all likelihood put him or her on a target list. For example, if you go out and accuse one person of being a terrorist, and another of having committed blasphemy and then wait and see who gets arrested and has his house (or entire colony as the case may be) burnt to the ground. You likely won’t have to wait very long for an answer.

This article was published in The Dawn


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