Stoking the fires of radicalisation
One of the great achievements of the Musharrarf regime was the granting of far greater freedom to the press than the previous regimes, which has continued under the PPP government. However, most unfortunately, the relatively greater freedom that the electronic media now enjoy has not been handled with a corresponding sense of responsibility by them within the scope of all their activities including entertainment.
The media have been responsible to a large extent for the radicalisation of the population of the country, infusing more religiosity in a country already greatly obsessed with religion, perpetuating ridiculous conspiracy theories and creating a fiercely, irrational and non-pragmatic anti-American environment. A number of anchors are visibly pro-Taliban and viciously anti-west and their lack of objectivity is barely concealed; such anchors were able to stoke the fires of the outrage that followed the killing of Osama bin Laden. Not one anchor questioned why the declared number one enemy of the power with which the country was on friendly terms remained hidden right under the noses of the establishment while they all castigated the United States for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and spun dark, implausible and laughable conspiracy theories. It was this quite clear tilt towards the Taliban and the extremist forces that one of the anchors on a major network had the audacity to give equal time to the perpetuators of the Lal Masjid fiasco and tried to transform the traitors who wanted to challenge the writ of the government into martyrs. The right-wing electronic media methodically gives exposure to the likes of Hamid Gul and others who are acolytes of the Taliban, declared enemies of the state, question the involvement of the Taliban in terrorist attacks, accusing Indian agents or other outside forces for such atrocities and proclaiming these savages to be ‘our brothers’.
The channels fan the flames of intolerance and bigotry in a nation already obsessed with a crazed religiosity, by offering far too many religious programs. It was on one of such programs that the ‘aalim’ Dr. Amir Liaqat Ali, whose true face was revealed in the video that went viral, showing his obscenity laden outburst, elicited from one of his guests the fatwa that Ahmadis could be killed as they were not just ‘non-Muslims’ but ‘apostates’, leading to the murder of three innocent Ahmadis the very next day.
The disease of radicalism and intolerance has even reached the shores of the United States where the Muslim population is supposedly more moderate. In a program named ‘Ghaib Ki Baatain’ on one of the channels, presented through a TV station owned by a local Pakistani American tycoon, the guest, proclaiming to be a sufi but acting strictly like a salafist in answer to a question, if it was jaaiz for a Sunni to marry a Shia replied in the negative, a viewpoint which was supported by a number of postings on the hazrat’s facebook page accompanied by vicious and hateful tirades against the Shias. During Moharram, in one of his sermons, he referred to Yazid in a respectable manner. However, in an example that could be emulated in Pakistan, through the persistent application of pressure on the producers of the programs by only two people, who relentlessly pursued this matter, the hazrat was replaced by an aalim and the program finally moved to another channel which will hopefully act more responsibly.
The pronounced reactionary tilt in the ‘News and View’ arena is bad enough but even in the entertainment field, the lack of responsibility is most glaringly evident. More than 90 per cent of the TV dramas are penned by novices.
The repetitious hackneyed plots more often than not are idiotic, unrealistic and implausible and do a great harm to the society by presenting archaic stereotypes and awful, conservative portrayals of women as weak, hapless, totally at the mercy of their husbands and in-laws, with no possibility of escape from their horrible life situations, who can be summarily thrown out by the husband merely repeating talaak three times.
The dearth of good playwrights leads to formula plots of a cruel mother-in-law, a spineless, obedient son and a jellyfish of a husband, a subservient daughter-in-law for whom working outside the home, demanding a divorce, returning to her parents or even going to an Edhi center is unthinkable. A distorted version of religious injunctions is presented play after play which stipulates that a woman can be summarily divorced or has a religious duty to stick with her abusive husband. Such awful depiction of women reinforces their second class citizen role that the religious right advocates and by presenting women in such a light the channels are complicit in further marginalising the already pitiful status of women in Pakistan.
When one looks at the trend of the dramas playing at any one time, one is struck by the similarity in plots, as if they were all written by the same playwright e.g. a brother or a sister lusting after his or her sibling’s paramour or spouse, the husband who divorces his wife in a manner most favored by the playwrights in a fit of insane rage now attempting to resort to ‘Halala’ another favorite of theirs. The arrival of the Turkish plays, which may also suffer from this criticism, but may have better plots is causing great concern in the TV entertainment industry but it may induce the stakeholders; the channel owners, the playwrights and the producers to direct their energies to present more socially responsible plays and help fight the battle against rigidity, retrogressive thinking and intolerance.
The author is a Pakistani American based in New Jersey. He obtained his Ph.D from the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco and now heads an independent Clinical Laboratory. Deeply interested in both US and Pakistani politics, he believes the ‘Sir Syed Model’ to be the most appropriate guideline for Muslims for the 21st century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.