on the net
Around 200 youngsters gathered at the Expo Centre, carrying the Pakistan flag which the more artistic ones had wrapped around their arms, neck or head like a bandana and chanted patriotic slogans, ‘we want peace’ being the most common chant. They had one demand from the government; end the violence in Karachi. “We are all Pakistanis, united under one flag,” blared the loudspeaker.
This August, the blogosphere was full of event pages inviting the youth to stand up for Karachi. After protests in small pockets of 30 and 40 participants were held in various parts of the city, a joint event was held at the Expo Centre to mark the ‘strength and unity’ of the youth.
Various groups contacted each other through Facebook, and held a pre-event meeting at the Expo Centre. “There were about seven different groups who planned to hold protests, we inboxed them, exchanged phone numbers and met to decide one event. We wanted numbers to be here, and being united for the cause was an important aspect to it,” says Daniyal Khan Afridi, the administrator for the ‘A step to change Pakistan’ page.
“We want to bring about a soft revolution. Footage of this protest on Facebook will motivate many others who could not make it to this time. This way, societies can bring about change,” says a young spiky haired boy, who had painted his face green for the occasion.
Mark Zuckerburg and other social media giants must have surprised themselves by the power their creation has had over world politics. From the Arab Spring to Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in India, social networking has become a tool in the hands of the youth which can reach across national boundaries. It can unite a disgruntled public, and topple decades old dictatorships. While the previous generation has always considered time spent on such websites a waste, the youth has proved them wrong time and again.
Every young group brings with it new ideas, which others do not dare to dream. Some people ridicule these ‘armchair revolutionaries’ and argue that they are naïve, and that experience is the best teacher. Yet the pent-up energy and raw ideals they have has to come out somewhere.
“It is easy to put up a cause on Facebook. People like it and you can get your message across to thousands,” says a social sciences student at SZABIST. “There is so much you can do from the comfort of your living rooms,” remark some.
However, while it is easy for the ‘ever online’ youth to click the ‘like’ or ‘attending’ tab, actual turnout of people at such events shows a stark gap between sincerity to the cause and simply clicking away free time.
At the protest which was attended on Facebook by 12,000 people, only 200 showed up. The organisers were irritated to put it mildly.
“People should realise that it is irresponsible to click ‘attending’ and not show up. You end up making arrangements for a thousand people and only 10 per cent show their faces. It is about time they realise it is okay to click ‘not attending’,” a volunteer at the event remarked.
Some believe that though social media is a useful tool, its correct usage is what counts. “It is a medium through which you can spread a message. Physical contact, meeting up and door to door campaigning is a must, if you want a successful event,” said another organiser of a peace protest for Karachi.
Yet another drawback of using the Internet for planning events is the lack of credibility. Anyone can make a Facebook page; you can never know for sure who is behind the scene. This very phenomenon hampered the peace protest held by Karachi’s ‘non-political youth’ at the Expo Centre. While originally it was decided no political party’s flag, slogan or agenda would be catered to, a mishap took place. Of the six youth groups which took part in the protest, one of them turned out to have backing of a right wing political party. Though the protest began peacefully, and students neither blocked traffic nor burnt tyres, towards the end this particular group showed its true colours.
“They began blocking the road, and calling out political slogans,” says a member of one apolitical group. When he saw things had started getting messy, he boycotted the protest and left with 70 of the people he had brought in.
While these youngsters are concerned sincere citizens who believe they will make big promises of laying down their lives for the soil they were born on, the truth remains they are hungry for proper guidance. In the absence of true and sensible leadership, they will prop up time and again at different roadsides to register their protests and then disappear back to routine life.
As a theatre actor, Mansoor Ahmed, who heads his own drama troupe puts it, “it is a period of transformation. You cannot accept people to have clear outlines at this stage; they have just started out right now.”
By Rabia Ali
Six thousand and ninety seven is the number of people who like a page of a banned outfit on Facebook. On another social networking site, Twitter, the number following the party’s official media page comes to a lesser 1,032.
Despite a ban on the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), a party which struggles for the establishment Khilafah - the caliphate system for ruling Muslim states- its activities over the Internet continue unabated in the country.
Influencing young minds, the party makes use of social media even as the government and agencies crack down on its members, and senior army officers are detained for maintaining ties with it.
While other religious parties have historically spread their messages by distributing pamphlets, scrawling slogans on walls, or through word of mouth, the popularity of the networking sites is effectively being used by banned outfits run by middle-class men.
On Facebook, various pages like ‘Khilafah movement-Pakistan’, ‘Rise & Mobilize on the streets to eject America’, ‘Declaration from Hizb ut-Tahrir Wilayah Pakistan’ have popped up in a bid to mobilise its supporters. It is here that they are critical of the Americans, thrash the government by calling them ‘traitors’, and invite army officials to carry out what they term their ‘duty’ in overthrowing the democratic system and enforcing the Khilafah. Moreover, links of videos and news stories highlighting the group are also shared on these pages.
Is social media effective in spreading their messages around? Security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa believes so. “For a while, religious outfits having been using modern tools to get their message across. Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban leader in Swat, used the radio to spread his propaganda. Then radical sermons came out in the form of CDs and DVDs by others. And today, a number of organisations, including HuT have their groups on Facebook and Twitter.”
Siddiqa says that since the social media is easily available and accessible hence it is an efficient medium. Also, communication through the medium can be controlled but cannot be stopped. “Every community is connected through the social media. Hence this assists the outfits to penetrate universities since the medium is used by students.”
For the HuT, using social networking sites is important and effective because of its target audience, which comprises educated and young people, says another analyst Mosharraf Zaidi
“The basic aim of the party is to enforce the Khilafah in the Muslim world. But the message is so disconnected from reality that it might not be an actual threat. The real problem lies with the educated people who are using these tools, and are living in a fantasy world.”
Senior Journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai said that while the group has not been found to have any ties with militant groups, the way it is communicating is illegal.
“It is against the law that the HuT is using methods through the Internet as it is officially banned. Since it as an organised party, therefore it uses such tools. But until now it is assumed it poses no real threat but if the government has evidence that it poses a danger, then it should come out in the open about it.”
Another tool commonly used by the banned outfit is the instant messaging service. Text messages are regularly being circulated for the release of their men a well as giving a ‘wakeup’ call to the army. To this, Zaidi believes that the state is not doing enough to control the activities of the HuT.
“Through the social media, HuT is spreading its propaganda quite easily. The action of the state is not adequate and satisfactory towards the group, and it has failed to curb its activities just like it has failed to control target killings or other crimes.”
On the auspicious occasion of August 14 this year, the 64th Independence Day of the country, the broadcast media, which plays the crucial role of being the eyes and ears of the masses today, orchestrated programmes by and for the future of Pakistan – the youth. Based on what is easily the most quoted statistic of our time, that ’60 per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 30,’ talk shows were conducted on almost all the major television channels where young college and university students displayed unyielding commitment to their motherland - vowing lofty oaths of sacrifice and flaunting extraordinary enthusiasm for everything Pakistani.
These sentiments are pretty much in today, which, given the situation of the country - rampant violence, and a general sense of pessimism - doesn’t seem unnatural. At the surface level, such spectacles fill one with great pride and helps ward off the creeping hopelessness. Finding the most active segment of the society, which also happens to be in the majority, not only aware of the acute problem that beset the country, but also determined to change the course of the nation gratifies the aching heart and helpless mind.
Analogies are being drawn with Egypt, where a ruthless dictator was recently toppled by a determined public, predominately made up of youth, that employed modern communication facilities like text messaging, social media websites to organize series of protests that culminated in the overthrowing of a brutal state.
It is claimed that Pakistan’s dynamic young people are faced with the same situation (or worse?) where corrupt rulers have somehow triumphed in hijacking the precious resources of this bountiful land and are bent on looting and pillaging them with absolute disregard for the ordinary people. So the only way forward is: Revolution.
As Bashir Jan, a student commented on a Facebook page: “We have to unite; it’s time that we show our strength and stand for our rights.”
‘Revolution’ is the buzzword. And the popular imagination of the youth is strapped to the vague obsession with the word. At a symbolic level, T-shirts bearing the portrait of Che Guevara, ‘having an opinion on’ every social and global issue under the sun is hip today like never before.
At the virtual level, Pakistan’s blogspere is with full of zealous bloggers who can’t help but share their disillusionment about the state of affairs of the country. Social media websites like Facebook are replete with pages admonishing the young people to wake up and take stock of their situation.
And at a softer, commercial level, there is an unprecedented spike in the number of motivational speakers who charge hefty sums to advise young people on how to contribute effectively to society.
Interestingly, the revolution fever is increasingly found in urban youth, who are far better equipped than their rural counterparts.
As evident in the Pakistan’s first-ever viral celebrity who, in a political rally, summed up the rage of his brethren in these classic words: “the police is beating us, if the police keeps beating us, how are we going to bring about a revolution?” the words of Zohair Toru, a student of law, an instant internet sensation across the country. But his words, although comical, help provide us an insight into this burgeoning trend.
Operating from the comfort zone of their air-conditioned bedrooms, with laptop on their laps, these young, fashionable kids are severed from the political realities of Pakistani society. Their adolescent minds and raw passion ‘to do something for their beloved country’ is easily susceptible to high-flying rhetoric and is practically up for grabs.
Rida Rasul Hashmi, a student of social science at SZABIST, who attended a protest organized entirely on Facebook, against the recent Karachi violence said, “We can’t take this any more, enough is enough. Change was brought in Egypt by a small band of young people, they started, and it spread like wild fire.”
The words brim with optimism and self-belief but at the same time they smack of innocence. Oblivious of the complex social structure of Pakistani society that is layered in classes, where political allegiance is decided over ethnic and sectarian diversity, these young, zealous children from the upper-strata of society, who have the time and energy to brag about their political consciousness, are nothing less than a ticking time-bomb. Because disillusionment, which is rampant in society, can make them prey to utopian ideologies of which there in no dearth in the country. And something that began for many of them as part of fashion can take on their passion and push them to violence.