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December 6, 2010
Funerals were held for three consecutive days in a small Punjabi town of Rabwah. The unfortunate corpses which belonged to people from different backgrounds, locations, professions and status had only one thing in common, they were all Ahmadis. This event was preceded by a prime-time discussion on one of the nation’s most popular channel which ended with a verdict that Ahmadis are liable to be killed [Wajjib-Ul-Qatal] . Ironically, the first of the three men killed because of their faith, was a humanitarian doctor, who after studying from the US had dedicated his life and resources to serve the local people irrespective of their religion. He was brutally murdered 18 hours after the broadcast of the program. Dr Manan’s body was hardly buried when gravediggers were asked to dig another grave in a cemetery dedicated for martyrs in Rabwah… News had arrived of another gunning in Nawabshah that left a 76 year old dead . These agitations are a reflection of daily tortures, assaults and insult that Ahmadis encounter all over the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.
In a country torn apart by sectarian violence, terrorism and political instability, the role of media should be to bridge gap between different sects and schools of thought to unite an already scattering nation. However, vernacular print and TV media in Pakistan has indulged in virulent anti- Ahmadiyya propaganda and played a pivotal role in further spoiling and perpetuating the communal hate climate against this sect.
We are living in a nation where the very mention of Ahmadis stirs hatred and the words like “infidel” and “traitor” have come to be closely associated with this sect. Therefore, an unbiased understanding of their beliefs and history is crucial to our discussion. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as it is called elsewhere except Pakistan, is a sect which believes that the long-awaited Messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian. Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad . More than 4 million Ahmadis reside in Pakistan, where they have been declared non-Muslims by the state. Consequently, this humble yet controversial sect has been a victim of hate campaign, persecution and sectarian violence all over the country.
The persecution of Ahmadis dates back to the very time of this sect’s inception. First Ahmadi killed because of his religious affiliation was a noble from Kabul . In Pakistan the persecution intensified with the declaration that Ahmadis are non-Muslims by Bhutto’s regime. Bhutto’s act was followed by the issuance of the anti-Ahmadiyya ordinance in 1984 by Zia-Ul-Haq that further aggravated the persecution against Ahmadis by providing it legal sanction. Presently, the constitutionally sanctioned violence and persecution against this sect’s members ranges from personal insults to physical assaults and from property damages to brutal killings. As a result, more than 240 Ahmadis have been killed only or primarily for their faith, thousands arrested for proclaiming that ‘God is one’ and many more persecuted for uttering ‘Peace be upon you’ .
The ideology of Pakistan and vision of its creator is essential in understanding the stance Pakistani government ought to have regarding any religious group that dwelt in its boundaries. The father of the nation addressed the constituent assembly thus:
In light of the above sayings, Pakistan was intended to be a secular nation and every individual was to be granted equal rights and status, irrespective of his/her faith. But unfortunately publications in our vernacular media tell a different story.
Before analyzing the various tools of propaganda used by print and news media in Pakistan against Ahmadi community, let us have a look at the extent to which media influences public opinion especially in Pakistan. According to Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gillani, media in Pakistan shapes primordial values of good and evil . Due to its enormous influence media does have some ethics and responsibilities that it is meant to follow and fulfill. Despite the fact that such rules and regulations have been formulated, they are seldom followed. Moreover, when it comes to minorities these codes of conduct are overlooked completely. Reproduced below is an extract from Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA):
It is evident that attitude of Urdu press and TV media apart from being inhumane is also a glaring violation of the PEMRA ordinance as it will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
The history of violence provoking anti-Ahmadiyya content in Urdu print media dates back to 1953 which is the same year in which first sectarian riots erupted in Pakistan against any community after independence. The court of inquiry formulated to investigate the causes of these riots concluded that newspapers were major motivating factors in the Punjab disturbances of 1953. Furthermore it affirmed that “‘Azad’ and ‘Zamindar’ [leading newspapers of that time] had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this controversy and were consistently carrying on a campaign against Ahmadis, their beliefs, their leaders and Chaudhri Zafarullah Khan” .
The Urdu print media has evolved over the years and presently enjoys a broader readership of about 14.6 million people. However its attitude towards the Ahmadi sect hasn’t changed much. Urdu newspapers across Pakistan still publish misleading and hate provoking material aimed at demonizing the Ahmadiyya sect and consequently stirring violence against its members. In fact, a statistical record kept by the Ahmadi community reveals that from 2005 onwards, every year more than one thousand such news and opinions find their ways to pages of Pakistan’s leading dailies. These figures exclude magazines, pamphlets and regional newspapers of the country. These publications range from presentation of opinions as facts to publications of religious decrees (fatwas) against sect’s members.
The first methodology adopted by the Urdu press media is presentation of opinions as facts. Anti-Ahmadiyya clerics frequently deliver hate speeches against Ahmadis in mosques, conferences and other gatherings. Furthermore, these opinionated words and allegations are covered in the print media increasing their outreach exponentially. Pakistan’s most widely circulated newspaper The Daily Jang, quoted: “Qadiani (degradatory word for Ahmadis) are traitors of both the nation and country” . Similarly, The Daily Express stated: “Qadianis are enemies of nation” . However, no proof of these claims was presented in the details afterwards. It is beyond doubt that these claims are unjustifiable because every unprejudiced historian chronicled the role of Ahmadiyya movement in Pakistan’s creation including Sardar S. Hayyat . Furthermore, no anti-state indulgence can be proven against Ahmadis and hundreds are recruited in Pakistan army. In light of all these, it can be concluded that these newspapers intend to demonize the Ahmadi sect and project them as enemies of nation. So for horrid events like the recent exhumation of an Ahmadi corpse, little blame can be placed on people misguided by media which is unfortunately one of their major sources of “guidance”.
Among other anti-Ahmadi writings that appear frequently in our Urdu press media are claims that Ahmadis are at back of virtually every mishap or conspiracy that happens in the country. It is amusing to note that a statement that appeared in The Daily Jang claims that Ahmadis are responsible for even a fight between two fishes in river Chenab . Similarly, Ahmadis are frequently branded as the casual force behind different events that range from sectarian riots to national crisis. An interesting example of how reports regarding Ahmadis are twisted and turned in our local Urdu newspapers can be found in the Pir Mahal incident, where demolition of boundary wall of Ahmadiyya graveyard was reported by both English and Urdu press . A brief comparative study reveals that while English periodicals try as much as possible to stick to facts and give a description of the incident; the vernacular newspapers deal with the matter subjectively, twisting facts to defile “Ahmadi citizens” of Pakistan. The Daily Dawn, which is an English paper, reported it under the heading of “Sectarian strife hits the dead” and on the other hand Pakistan’s vernacular press couldn’t hold itself from passing a verdict that Ahmadis are the ones responsible for this happening. The Daily Ausaf and Jang tagged it under “Protest in Pir Mahal against Qadiani occupation of state land” . It was later revealed that a local land mafia, who wanted to construct a passage passing through the graveyard, bribed local cleric to issue a decree for demolition of this wall . It exposes that our press media provoke general masses to commit acts of hatred against Ahmadis by blaming this sect for different tragic events.
The above mentioned strategies adopted by Urdu newspapers implicitly declare that Ahmadis deserve to be hated and maltreated. However, there is a far more appalling material appearing frequently in our newspapers that demand to usurp a very basic human right of the sect’s members the right to life. This includes the explicit declarations that Ahmadis, being traitors and apostate, are worthy of nothing less than a painful death. To add to this, these claims are made by clerics in politics and other analysts who have a leaning towards sectarianism. On one hand, Pakistani vernacular press never seems to get tired of preaching morality to others, while on the other hand it gives full space to anti-Ahmadiyya entities to profess lynching of Ahmadis.
In such a situation where every other newspaper printed has a statement against Ahmadis, frequent murders of sect members come as no surprise. Whenever such an event occurs, some of Pakistan’s leading periodicals further fulfill their “responsibilities” by reporting the incident as a cause for celebration. A look at the case of Irfan Tipoo a 25-year old Ahmadi who was murdered by four other non-Ahmadis in district Sargodha lends clarity to this stance. His murder was reported as follows:
By charging the victim of blasphemy an open message is conveyed to the public that “Kill Ahmadis as you like and when you are done, don’t forget to cry out ‘Blasphemy’”. Furthermore, The Daily Pakistan seems to have a correspondent in the hereafter as well or it would not have claimed that “Irfan was dispatched to hell”. Such unjustified and unfair reporting of murder completely overlooks the other side of the story. Also, Irfan’s murderers are granted status of heroes, who cleansed the community of a “cursed, evil and blasphemous” Ahmadi. This encourages general masses to slay innocent Ahmadi sect members.
Apart from launching an active hate campaign against Ahmadis, Pakistani newspapers deny them space. As a result, the allegations and rumors against Ahmadi sect go unchallenged and many reports of atrocities committed against this sect’s members go unpublished. In this Regard, Mr. Rashid, an Ahmadi official, used the term of “journalistic terrorism” to refer to the attitude of vernacular newspapers in the country towards his sect. Furthermore, he said that “whenever we have approached the newspapers to publish a response to false allegations put against us, we have been denied space. Even if any response is published by the news paper, it is modified and twisted to the extent that it appears absurd and do more harm than good”. This claim is well accepted by a columnist of Daily Aaj Kal, who wrote that: “As opposed to persecution against other minorities, violence against Ahmadis goes unreported and analyst usually don’t raise voice against injustice done with the Ahmadis” . As a result of this attitude, the only knowledge that an average Pakistani has regarding Ahmadi sect comes from the sect’s opponents. Therefore, the nation’s vernacular newspapers are justifiably responsible for misinforming the population which results in aggression against Ahmadis.
A recent but by no mean trivial addition to the hate campaign against Ahmadis in our “made for Islam country” has been made by TV media. As narrated in the beginning of this paper, a cleric’s call for violence on a private channel’s religious show was met with an enthusiastic response within a time period of one day. Broadly speaking, when it comes to propagating violence and hatred against Ahmadis, Urdu TV media is responsible of actively provoking belligerence as well as resorting to silence when it comes to revealing violence committed by anti-Ahmadiyya entities or voicing support in tragic times.
It all began when Mawlvi Ghulam Murtaza made slanderous and provocative remarks against the founder of the Ahmadi sect on 30th December 1999 on state owned channel. With the advent of private TV media in Pakistan, this trend continues to exist. Unlike the press media, the contents appearing against Ahmadis in TV are less frequent but the effect they have is tremendous. This is mainly because the effectiveness as well as the outreach of electronic media is manifold as compared to press.
Firstly, let us have a look at a program aired this year that had an implicit message of hatred and violence. The recent Lahore massacre of about 86 Ahmadis in their mosque caused a huge uproar in international media regarding safety of minorities in Pakistan. For the very first time, an Ahmadi spokesperson appeared in a talk show in Pakistan. In this show named “Point Blank”, the representative of Ahmadiyya community succeeded in establishing that Ahmadis share the same Islamic believes with all other sects. But what followed two weeks later is deplorable. The same anchorperson, called upon some biased clerics to respond to claims made by Ahmadi spokesperson. The one hour duration of the program was filled with provocative remarks, card stacking of Ahmadiyya literature and allegations against their leaders. This talk show concluded on an equation that “Ahmadis = Apostates; Apostates = worthy of only death” . Furthermore, this program was repeated twice next day and was seen by a considerable amount of people around the country. It should be kept in mind that after the incident of 28th may, about 5 Ahmadis have been lynched primarily for their faith in various locations in Pakistan .
Alexander Solzhenitsyn believes that keeping silent about evil happening around is analogous to implanting it . A similar scenario can be observed in Pakistan’s TV media. Here atrocities committed against Ahmadis are hardly reported or condemned and by keeping facts from the population, hatred prevailing against Ahmadis is further intensified. Commenting on less than enthusiastic response of Pakistani media regarding the 28th may attack on Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, the Guardian’s correspondent for Pakistan, Declan Walsh wrote: “The normally vociferous media were unusually reticent. Commentators expressed dismay at violence, but few dared voice support for Ahmadi community itself” . Also, it was evident that our media anchorpersons, news reporters and analysts were more worried about using “place of worship” instead of mosque and “Worship” instead of Friday prayers when reporting this incident and much less about the actual massacre. The claim is not that news channels should dedicate airtime to praise or profess the Ahmadiyya faith or initiate talk shows to reveal their persecution; however an objective representation of actual facts can help decrease the level of misunderstanding and violence prevalent against this minority.
At this point it is necessary to clarify the relation between intolerance prevailing against Ahmadis in Pakistani society in general and its appearance in our local media. It is usually mistaken that discriminatory attitude of media is a manifestation of general intolerance in Pakistan towards Ahmadi sect members. However, as described above, it is beyond doubt that media is perpetuator and not a mere effect of this intolerance. Also, the fact that media can do a lot to prevent persecution of Ahmadis and other minorities in the country but is deliberately instigating intolerance and hatred in our already prejudiced society further aggravates media’s offense.
No doubt it will be unfair to leave unacknowledged some Urdu newspapers and analysts who do play a constructive role by voicing concern against persecution of Ahmadis. However, the number of news and opinions appearing against Ahmadis outweigh the content published in their support. Last year for example, 1116 hate provoking remarks and reports appeared against Ahmadis in our vernacular press media . As opposed to this huge number, only around 20 articles or news expressed mild sympathy for Ahmadis (Rashid).
A detailed analysis of various contents appearing against Ahmadis in our vernacular print and TV media reveals that media in Pakistan is justifiably responsible for inciting violence against Ahmadis which results in murders, assaults and abuses of Ahmadis all over the country. As described above, these contents appear frequently in widely circulated newspapers and acclaimed channels thereby sowing seed of hatred and enmity between the mainstream Muslim sects and this religious minority.
Furthermore, nothing has changed for Aamir Liaqat Hussain after the airing of his declaration regarding the murder of Ahmadis; neither has anything altered for Jang group. If anything has changed at all, it has for those dessert-dwellers of Thar, for whom a weekly free medical camp of Dr. Manan Sidiqui was a beacon of hope that their children will lead a healthy life. Perhaps much has changed for Manan’s mother, who thought that her son’s smile will be a last comfort on her death bed…
We are living in a country where the state formulates laws to segregate minorities, clerics issue verdicts to kill people and religious intolerance is in full swing. Amidst this blazing desert of extremism and injustice, media should have been an Oasis of sympathy and support. It should have been a power that braced the oppressed and raised voice against oppressors. However, facts narrate otherwise. Till our media decides to play a positive role in changing the mindsets of our misguided population, I can’t tell how many more Ahmadi mothers will have to weep silently every night in memory of their deceased sons.