Media Review: DAWN’s insensitive portrayal of Shia killings

Another Taseer killed in Karachi (30 January 2012)

Related post: Is Shia genocide in Pakistan an outcome of Saudi-Iran proxy war?

DAWN’s continual slide is best encapsulated in some of the editorial and opinion pieces today.  For instance, Huma Yusuf’s “Sectarian Scourge” is a typical example of the intellectual dishonesty, lazy research and deliberate obfuscation that is prevalent amongst much of Pakisan’s media.  Much of what she has written has been deconstructed in Intellectual dishonesty in misrepresenting Shia massacres in Pakistan.

The most problematic aspects of her article need to be highlighted:

  1. Obscuring and diluting the victims:  Shia Muslims are the largest victims of this violence; something that Huma conveniently omits in her article
  2. Obscuring the antagonist:  While Huma at least mentions the Sipah-e-Sahaba and its militant wing, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, she fails to mention that this group is now operating as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). She vaguely refers to the fact that this group is the most prominent partner of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  She fails to mention that this group is behind some of the most heinous acts of terrorism in Pakistan. Most importantly, she fails to mention that it is this group that is not only killing Shia Muslims but is also targeting Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Barelvi Sunni muslims and even moderate Deobandi Sunni muslims who disagree with them.

Throughout the article, Huma fudges and dishonestly presents some crucial facts.  For instance, she rehashes the two most common false hypothesis that are peddled by Pakistan’s pro-establishment media.

One hypothesis is that the ongoing Shia genocide inPakistanis an outcome of an Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war.  As per this biased hypothesis, a post-revolutionary Iran had to be checkmated by the Ummah and Saudi Arabia and Iraq under Saddam stepped up to the task. This half-baked idea completely fails to take into account the Theri massacre of 118 Shias on Ashura in Khairpur in 1963. Or the burning of the Ali Masjid in Ali Basti, Golimar in 1978; two years before the Iranian Revolution!

Similarly this dishonest hypothesis fails to take into account why Shias are being targeted, oppressed and killed in Muslim countries ranging from Morocco to Malaysia.  It is truly callous and insensitive to explain this away as an Iran-Saudi proxy war!

Like other dishonest media commentators, Huma Yusuf engages in the same tactic of attempting to misrepresent the ongoing Shia massacres as “sectarianism”; a tag that falsely portrays Shia killings as a symmetric conflict which it clearly is not!

Throughout the Muslim world, Shias are suffering due to this false binary based on the dubious scholarship that is being propagated by Ms. Yusuf.  It is one thing to be critical of Iran’s human rights record, its policy for joining the nuclear club and the theocratic disposition of a select bunch of clerics like Khamenai.  It is another to equate Iran with Saudi Arabia; a global funder of terrorism and extremism.  Sadly, in the intellectual and moral wasteland of the Pakistani media, this false binery is par for the course.

The other false hypothesis rehashed by Huma is that sectarian outfits flourished in Punjab “where Shia landlords stirred resentment among lower-middle class Sunnis”. Once again, the problem with this dishonest, shoddy and lazy analysis is that once deconstructed, its absurdist foundations point towards a disturbing bias.  This theory makes no sense of why Jihadi militants have attacked Shia villagers in Parachinar and Gilgit since the 1980s!  Aside from this, the Shia-landlord-in-Jhang-resentment theory sounds absurd when used to explain the massacres of Shia doctors and lawyers inKarachi; victims who have no connection with the dynamics of Jhang!

For that matter, why did a class struggle assume an element of anti-Shia bigotry? If sectarian groups flourished in Pakistan due to feudal resentment, why did they not target feudalism!  Quite the contrary actually.

Sectarian groups flourished in Pakistan because the civil-military establishment needed them for its expansionist policies in Afghanistan and India and for undermining the political process.  These groups flourished immediately with the military coup of Zia-ul-Haq in 1977; a coup which lead to the shelving of wide ranging Land Reforms by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; a landlord with Shia leanings.

In attempting to misrepresent groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba that emerged from Jhang, as modern day Marxist rebels, media commentators like Huma have exposed their sectarian bigotry.  If Sipah-e-Sahaba is the anti-feudal group, why is it that the same 2-3 Shia feudals still thrive in Jhang today.  Wouldn’t land reforms as opposed to senseless violence be a better way to end feudalism! Did this group ever target Sunni feudals in the rest of Pakistan?

Dare one ask, did this anti-feudal group ever target the Pakistan Army; the institute with the largest land holdings in Pakistan? Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was transported in a military helicopter to negotiate with terrorists in 2009; a fact that is clearly lost in the maze of dishonest journalism here!

In Jhang itself, no such resentment existed pre-Partition.  Post Partition, many East Punjabi migrants imported their anti-Shia bias but until the advent of Zia-ul-Haq, these resentments remained dormant and the “lower-middle class migrants” had by then developed into a weathly trading community in the most affluent province inPakistan.

When urban centric media commentators resort to such intellectual dishonesty, they not only open themselves up to charges of alleged bias and prejudice, they also highlight the pathetic state of a compromised and deeply biased media  industry inPakistan.

Nonetheless, Huma Yusuf’s opinion piece is not simply a crass example of bigotry and shoddy scholarship; it is also an example of the typical obfuscation that Pakistan’s powerful corporate media engages in to support the continuing goals of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.  Shia muslims are being killed inPakistan because the establishment still views their killers as “strategic assets” for its “strategic depth” policy.

Blaming the politicians is another dishonest tactic that obscures the real reason why extremist Deobandi militant groups thrive in Pakistan and continue their genocidal policy towards Shias.  Therefore equating the killers with their victims and maligning Iran and mainstream political parties are necessary tactics by Pakistan’s journalists in order to obfuscate the role of the establishment and deflect genunine criticism away from them.



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