In search of a counter terror narrative | Pakistan Today

In search of a counter terror narrative

  • State must be the ultimate decider of everything

Human society is based on human narratives. It is said that If there is no narrative, there is no history. Narratives, therefore, form an essential part of our social cultural milieu. Narratives are also associated with the religious phrases which are an elementary constituent of human memory, behaviour, rules and ethics. Due to importance of narratives in society, every intellectual and philosopher has given it due priority and importance. Aristotle, in his epic work Poetics, indicates three essential features of narratives namely the narrator, characters in the narratives and primary audience of these ideas. In fact, a narrative is an interrelated and coherently organised system of stories, structured or unstructured, having a single focal point for resolving or deflecting a conflict through creating smokescreens, augmenting specific actions and relying on available audience. They also tinker with their expectations and manipulate their emotional attachments on different communication channels.

Stronger the communication medium, greater is its impact and outreach. Sometimes an effective message becomes weaker when relayed through a soft medium. Likewise, a weak message registers impressive results when transmitted through an effective medium. Another important factor in narrative dissemination is its continuity and persistence. It has three important implications namely creating a false reality image in the minds of the audience, motivating immature souls to accept external control and engineering impractical hopes in the thinking processes of the poor section of society. Unless a narrative is persistent in its transmission it cannot bear positive results for the narrator. The end product of a narrative is perhaps raising a deceptive mental infrastructure for achieving the desired results.
Though it has rarely been observed that an ordinary persons’ recount becomes a social or national narrative, nonetheless, in todays’ technologically advanced environment, the electronic and print media can become an impressive carrier of an ordinary anecdotal narration and becomes a tool for social change. In December 2010, the narrative of a local hawker in Tunisia, Muhammad Bouazizi, who sets himself on fire due to state repression, receives such acceptability among the masses that a movement started which resulted into intense rioting thus forcing Ben Ali, then president of Tunisia, to leave his office unceremoniously.

We emphasise that hate literature and speech should be completely banned. However, while processing such cases the inability of the institution to collect proper material evidence and present them in the court of law gives unnecessary leverage to the culprits

Abu Bakr Naji, in his book, Management of Savagery, has produced religious texts to legitimise brutal actions of insurgents in Iraq. He has also propounded the narrative of caliphate to give authenticity to mode of recruitment of al Qaeda and other extremists in the Middle East. These ideas, when heard and read by a common person, ignite such extremist notions which lead towards brutality and savagery. Hence narratives can provide legal sanction to commit crime as well. In Pakistan, the terror narrative has been established on multidimensional fora. These include promises of speedy justice, propagation of social equality, claims of purging society of social ills and imposing Sharia principles in day to day dealings. The terror organisations have used these narratives to legitimise their actions against state institutions including military, para military, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and population at large. These groups operate at global, regional, national, sub national and local levels. They employ different means for propagation of their narratives which include written material and pamphlets, audio and video messages, interviews in electronic, print and social media. They also use books to radicalise their followers along with exploiting latest telecommunication services including Short Messaging Service (SMS). Moreover, anti-western and takfiri ideology is also being promoted through these narratives. A counter narrative is therefore required to develop a strong response to the prevailing terror narratives.
The first and foremost factor in counter terror narrative development is therefore strengthening of institutions so that they project the counter narrative line of action in an impressive and effective manner. The existing rules dealing with terror related incidents need to be aligned with our counter terror narrative. For example, we emphasise that hate literature and speech should be completely banned. However, while processing such cases the inability of the institution to collect proper material evidence and present them in the court of law gives unnecessary leverage to the culprits resulting into acceptance of their bail applications which further promotes their narratives. Recently the culprits involved in Benazir Bhutto murder case were acquitted by anti-terror court on the basis of lack of evidence. The misuse of counter terror narratives should not be allowed at any cost. The recent fake encounter in Karachi has already dented the sincere efforts of the state to project and promote counter terror narrative among different population sections living in and around the metropolitan city area.

The Paigam-e-Pakistan decree issued by 1,829 religious scholars and ulema has focused on three important areas. First, it has emphasised on national unity to fight against the menace of terrorism. According to the document, the constitution of Pakistan provides the basis of national integration and cohesion. Second, the leaders and state institutions should play their role in providing an environment of mutual harmony and trust. The responsibilities of different institutions and their failure in discharging their duties faithfully is one of the main reasons of lack of consensus among the citizens. Third, Islamic teachings should be properly interpreted and explained in the light of Quran. Wrong interpretation breeds sectarianism which ultimately leads towards intolerance. The state must be the ultimate decider of everything. It should be the sole authority who can declare jihad against an enemy, foreign or native. The real challenge will be the implementation of the counter terrorism narrative.

The counter terror narrative should be accompanied by a powerful action so that the present state equilibrium is disturbed and a new balance is created in accordance with the wishes of the narrator. A comprehensive strategy should therefore be chalked out in disseminating the counter terror narrative among the citizens of the state through an effective and productive medium in a simplified manner. The moment a poor person starts understanding its contours and themes, terror narratives will face a tough response on psychological and practical levels in Pakistan.