A comment on Abbas Nasir’s ‘Terminology of mass murder’


Nasir has raised some important points about media coverage of mass murders.

First of all I thank Abbas Nasir for writing on this much needed topic in Dawn newspaper, responding to at least some of the concerns expressed by rights activists, including Shia activists, on the coverage of Shia genocide (or lack/misrepresentation thereof) in Pakistani media.

In this brief post, I wish to offer some quick comments on Nasir’s article. If I get some more time, I will further update this post with further arguments and facts.

1. I agree with Nasir that there may not be, as such, a sinister agenda about the coverage (or lack thereof) of Shia coverage in Pakistani media. I also agree that perhaps Pakistani print media has not been able to keep pace with modern era of smart phones, twitter, social media etc in which it’s no longer possible to hide the identity of the persecuted or mass murdered community.

You’d agree this [hiding of ethnic or sect identities] worked rather well till these incidents were few and far between. In other words they represented the exception, not the rule. With changing times, the media vocabulary is also changing. More so, because not only has this violence escalated to new, heartbreaking heights, but easy access to lethal weaponry means that one well-armed murderer can cause carnage within a matter of minutes.

2. However, I argue we should also consider the following three facts: (a) the increasing dominance of Wahhabi-Deobandi Islam in Pakistani society including in Pakistani media (e.g., at least 50% of Sunnis in Pakistan consider Shias as non-Muslims or are unsure, surely many of them also work as reporters and editors. This may also explain the overall Nazi style apathy in Pakistani society; Dawn’s own editor laments there is no Salala style national outrage on Shiite massacres in Pakistan http://bit.ly/PaWJei ); (b) the institutional support by the State to Jihadi-sectarian militants killing Shia Muslims and also to their spiritual mentors in right wing and religio-political parties; and (c) strategic priorities of the Deep State and routine formal and informal briefings by the ISPR and other other State officials on preferred discourses and sensitive topics.

3. Nasir writes:

This isn’t to say the media doesn’t need to perpetually fine-tune its language, be a shade more diligent. A case in point may be the coverage of the Babuser Pass incident just a few days ago where passengers were pulled out of buses and identified on the basis of their sect before being shot. Those killed were predominantly Shia apart from a couple of their heroic Sunni co-travellers who paid the price for objecting to this crime and not abetting the killers. Heroic indeed as they had a choice. The next day’s newspapers, and I read three major English ones, ran the news as a major item alongside the militant attack on the PAF facilities at Kamra. None of these papers identified the main victims in their main headlines, though they clearly did in the body of the story. Contrast this with say the killing of militants, police, army or FC personnel, for example, and you’ll find that for each such incident the newspapers will mention those killed/victims in the headlines. This discrepancy can hardly be the grounds for grave allegations.

Perhaps, Nasir could have also addressed why media frequently uses false-neutral term ‘sectarian violence’ which not only misrepresents or rationalizes Shia Genocide (or mass murder using Nasir’s words) but also blames Sunnis for something they haven’t done. If the media is so careful about sectarian distinction between Sunnis and Shias, why does not it also highlight that the same Deobandi-Wahhabi militants who are killing Shias of all ethnic backgrounds in all areas of Pakistan are also killing Sunni Barelvis (Sufis) and moderate Deobandis. The Sunni vs Shia binary only suits and legitimizes the killers of Shias, who are then presented as Sunni scholars in mainstream media.

4. Nasir may also wish to address why Pakistani media (and international media in its footsteps) focuses on Hazara ethnicity of Shias killed in Quetta, wiping out 200 non-Hazara Shias killed in Quetta. It is a documented fact that non-Hazara Shias are the most suffered Shia community in Pakistan with a target killing rate of 1 per cent. Nasir may also consider why biased accounts based on propagandists of a regional, ethnic party (Hazara Democratic Party) are being uncritically circulated by mainstream media, which misrepresent Shia genocide by LeJ-Taliban as a Hazara specific ethnic issue. Out of 19,000 Shias killed so far in Pakistan, 500 are of Shia Hazara background. Does that make it an ethnic issue?

5. Definitions about Shia genocide are subjective. Nasir writes:

While some social media activists may find greater resonance in the genocide definition ‘the policy of deliberately killing a nationality or ethnic group’, the media perhaps relies more on the meaning that genocide should be used when the killings reach ‘extermination’ proportions.

Nasir may wish to review these two posts to understand our position on definition of Shia genocide and also to grasp the actual scale of anti-Shia violence in Pakistan https://lubpak.com/archives/132492 and https://lubpak.com/archives/132675. In a nutshell, the actual scale of deaths of Shias in Pakistan (19,000) has long exceeded the 8,000 figure which was used to legally accept the Bosnian massacre as genocide. Thousands have been killed in Parachinar and Gilgit-Baltisan alone since 1980s.

In the end, I once again thank Abbas Nasir for starting this very important debate through his op-ed in Dawn and hope he and other colleagues in Pakistani and international media will consider this humble submission.


8 responses to “A comment on Abbas Nasir’s ‘Terminology of mass murder’”

  1. Here is Dawn article in case on wishes to read it on the same page:

    Terminology of mass murder
    From the Newspaper | Abbas Nasir | 5 hours ago 0

    MEDIA watchers will have observed the changing vocabulary of newspapers in particular as the print media covers ethnic and sectarian strife.

    Yet, despite this ever-evolving vocabulary, some social media activists have expressed disquiet over the language used by the media to describe the frequent Shia killings. Is this criticism justified or over the top?

    A dispassionate analysis leads me to say that while the critics may be partially justified in their criticism, often their tone and attribution of motives to the media coverage isn’t. It isn’t a grand conspiracy that the print media in particular deploys a certain vocabulary.

    Its language on covering such strife started to evolve many years ago and may partially reflect the reality of that period. There can be no motive for most of the media other than to seek to convey the facts as best as it can in such cases. Better still if this is done in a responsible manner.

    I started my career under the watchful eye of one of the finest and most upright professional editors in the country, Ahmad Ali Khan. Khan Sahab, as everyone called him, was a very cautious editor, forever aware of the onerous responsibility falling on the Fourth Estate.

    He always insisted that in the event of a sectarian and/or ethnic clash, identifying the communities involved was something we couldn’t risk as it could further inflame passions and lead to more violence, create a chain reaction.

    This message got ingrained in all Dawn journalists. Journalists elsewhere more or less followed suit or reached the same conclusion independently. You’d agree this worked rather well till these incidents were few and far between. In other words they represented the exception, not the rule.

    With changing times, the media vocabulary is also changing. More so, because not only has this violence escalated to new, heartbreaking heights, but easy access to lethal weaponry means that one well-armed murderer can cause carnage within a matter of minutes.

    Is it changing fast enough to satisfy the victim’s supporters? One could argue either way. But it won’t be out of place to stress again that whatever the vocabulary used at whichever point in time there was/is nothing sinister about it as some allege today.

    Admittedly, earlier a dichotomy could be observed between ethnic and sectarian strife coverage. The pressure of the various parties aligned with different ethnic groups in Karachi acted as a catalyst and the media dropped the use of the ‘ethnic’ tag.

    For example, the victim of an ethnic murder is identified, albeit via party affiliation. Rather than inflame passions, this perhaps more accurately reflects the ground reality. There is less and less criticism, therefore, from those whose loved ones fall to ethnic violence.

    However, even today when people are gunned down in Karachi because of their ethnic background, and not political affiliations, they are rarely referred to as Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Baloch etc.

    But smart phones, other social media tools as well as 24×7 live TV mean the nature of a conflict or the identity of the victim can barely be kept under wraps for long these days.

    While some social media activists may find greater resonance in the genocide definition ‘the policy of deliberately killing a nationality or ethnic group’, the media perhaps relies more on the meaning that genocide should be used when the killings reach ‘extermination’ proportions.

    The recent editorials in mainstream newspapers have left no doubt where the media stands not just on Shia killings but also on issues confronting other vulnerable groups being targeted by hate-ideology adherents.

    This isn’t to say the media doesn’t need to perpetually fine-tune its language, be a shade more diligent. A case in point may be the coverage of the Babuser Pass incident just a few days ago where passengers were pulled out of buses and identified on the basis of their sect before being shot.

    Those killed were predominantly Shia apart from a couple of their heroic Sunni co-travellers who paid the price for objecting to this crime and not abetting the killers. Heroic indeed as they had a choice.

    The next day’s newspapers, and I read three major English ones, ran the news as a major item alongside the militant attack on the PAF facilities at Kamra. None of these papers identified the main victims in their main headlines, though they clearly did in the body of the story.

    Contrast this with say the killing of militants, police, army or FC personnel, for example, and you’ll find that for each such incident the newspapers will mention those killed/victims in the headlines. This discrepancy can hardly be the grounds for grave allegations.

    One can better explain the criticism when we see it against the backdrop of continued targeting of the community and the little headway in official efforts, if at all any are under way, to check this murder. A sense of outrage and insecurity in the community is a natural outcome. And this anger has to find channels of expression.

    Having had a long association with the Pakistani media, it isn’t possible to say that you won’t find a biased individual or two but I haven’t experienced institutional bias against Shia Muslims as one can find in some media houses for instance against the Ahmadis.

    Whatever the vocabulary, the horror of the crime remains. Someone sent me a link to the video shot by the Babuser Pass murderers. I shudder to say what I was reminded of by the way people were being chosen for slaughter.

    I can’t seem to get out of my head the perplexed, pained, even petrified, expression on the face of one grey-bearded man. He was being questioned one moment, and the next being herded out of the frame possibly towards others who had already been picked out for summary execution.

    With the security apparatus clueless or complicit in this mass murder, it will continue. So, should the media coverage whatever reaction it evokes in one quarter or the other. For only constant media focus can potentially chisel away at official apathy.

    The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

    abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

    http://dawn.com/2012/08/25/terminology-of-mass-murder/

  2. Abbas Nasir ‏@abbasnasir59
    @AbdulNishapuri Many Thanks for a well-articulated point of view.

    Husain Haqqani ‏@husainhaqqani
    Worth reading: @AbbasNasir on ‘Terminology of Mass murder’ http://bit.ly/Qc6zfK via @Dawn_Com

    Abdul Nishapuri ‏@AbdulNishapuri
    @husainhaqqani @AbbasNasir Also you may address why media focuses on Hazara ethnicity wiping out 200 non-Hazara Shias killed in Quetta 3/n

    ShiaHazaraGirl ‏@ShiaHazara1
    @AbdulNishapuri @husainhaqqani @abbasnasir Alarming facts will be unveiled by doing so. Please do.

  3. A very well written rejoinder to Abbas Nasir equally excellent piece….Thank You Mr editor!!!!

  4. I disagree with part 4 of article:
    according to the population of Hazaras in Pakistan (half a million) Hazaras have the biggest lost. Almost every family in Hazara areas are being effected.

    Killing any innocent is a crime but when it come to media, they are right about the hardship Hazaras face in Quetta.

  5. @Azad

    Perhaps you misunderstood. It’s not the total number of Shias killed because in that respect Parachinar has the highest number of casualties (3000-4000) followed by Karachi (1000-2000), which is much higher than 500 Hazara Shias of Quetta or 200 non-Hazara Shias of Quetta.

    It is the relative percentage of target killed Shias within respective community which has been discussed by the author of this post (as per my understanding).

    This point is also explained in the following post:

    http://criticalppp.com/archives/64797

    Non-Hazara Shias are diverse and a very small community; don’t ignore them. Their dead too deserve to be acknowledged and remembered.

    500/500,000 and 200/20,000 is the answer to the question whether it is Hazaras genocide in Quetta or Shia genocide in Quetta. Of the 700+ Shias killed, 500+ are Shia Hazara, their population is estimated to be 500,000. At the same time over 200 people killed were non-Hazara Shias. Their maximum population is estimated to be 20,000 only. Death ratio (due to target killing) in non-Hazara Shias of Quetta is 1 per cent whereas the same ratio in Hazara Shias is about 0.1 per cent. Apologies for this statistical comparison but the aim is to empirically demonstrate that Shias of all ethnic backgrounds are being killed by ASWJ-Taliban terrorists.