Last week brought about a range of revelations, or at least in some cases “alleged revelations”, where two graduates from the prestigious Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, were revealed to have been involved in two distinct, but devastating nevertheless, acts of utmost gravity. On one hand we have Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh who created Axact, a company which for 18 years made an immense profit by selling fake online degrees to people on an international level until the whole web of deceit unraveled at the hands of New York Times journalist Declan Walsh (although a lot of Pakistanis already did know about Axact’s schemes but of course as typical Pakistanis we just had to wait until a Westerner brought it out in the open). However, on the other, and in my opinion, more bloody hand, we have Saad Aziz, a 27-year-old married man who has, along with his co-conspirators, allegedly confessed to murdering the Civil Rights activist and the director of The Second Floor, Sabeen Mahmud and the Safoora Chowrangi massacre along with a number of other attacks. From these two graduates, Saad Aziz is easily the most shocking alumni to grace the floors of IBA in its 60 year history; well, at least shocking to all those who believe what the media and the police has so far admitted about the whole affair. The facts of the case have not been laid bare to the public and so I resist voicing my opinions on the matter but even if I, along with some like-minded individuals, stay silent and resist verbally attacking Saad Aziz and the past institutions he hails from, such as IBA, the impact of these two cases has been felt at IBA and it will be difficult for the institution to shed this shadow that has enveloped it in the past week. Before I begin, I would like to clarify that I am not taking any stances on any matter regarding Saad Aziz and his crimes as that is not the purpose of this post and neither do I know more than anyone else who reads the news.
The main point of this post actually revolves around some things that are connected to these two sad affairs.Firstly, the media. In both cases, the media has not relented from feasting on the “suspects” of both cases with such savage glee that it could have made Hannibal Lector proud. All major media outlets, such as the Express Tribune, Dawn, ARY News and so on, broke apart all laws of objectivity in order to build a narrative that seems the most romantic, the one narrative that sells. “Liberal educated boy turns in to a terrorist through indoctrination by religious society at university”. That narrative may very well be true, again, I don’t know, I’m not privy to the needed information but it’s the way the media outlets went about declaring this narrative that irks me to no end. Without any thorough fact-checking or proper investigation, they tore through Saad Aziz’s facebook profile and hand-picked certain elements to complete their narrative. I may not be an expert but what news agency investigates a case like a film-maker edits his movie? By just cutting and deleting parts until the only ones left are the ones that fit. In one article they implied a connection between Saad Aziz and the Iqra Society at IBA as the first step in his transformation in to a terrorist. As if that society spews out extremists on a regular basis. I, as a student at IBA, am indifferent towards that society but even I cannot stand it if something takes an unjustified attack. Did Tribune send someone to talk to the Society members? Did they investigate the actions of the society in the last few years? Did ARY News do more than just take a stroll through their website while highlighting specific parts (such as the Scattered Pearls part) that seem to have no relevance to the case? And whenever they quoted some colleague or friend of the suspects as saying something that just added more “masala” (spice) to the story (“Saad Aziz used to have girlfriends in his first two years”), why couldn’t they give their names so that those quotes could be substantiated? As far as I could tell, they did not say anything that would have brought harm upon them and I went through every article possible on the subject. And while we are on that subject, is it really necessary to post a new article and then dictate the whole story of the “liberal boy gone bad” repeatedly? In fact, tribune posted two separate articles in two days, largely re-iterating the same thing. At least give us new evidence instead of exacerbating the drama by bringing us “fresh insights” in to the character of the suspect, which was received through stalking his Facebook profile. In the world of Facebook, that basically equals the investigative prowess of a 13-year old boy. They can blame Mother Teresa of domestic violence, for all I care, as long as they back it up with substantiated facts gained from investigating thoroughly.
What I’m basically saying is not that everything they reported on was false (in fact several parts of the story were interesting especially the bit about his radical online magazine, AlRashideen), but that much of it was just unsubstantiated and the media outlets clearly did not put much effort in to investigating the whole case. Sadly, in the history of the Pakistani media, this trend is ubiquitous. All I’m asking for is a sense of responsibility for informing the public of an objective truth (or what comes closest to it) and a little less inclination towards melodrama. Why wait until Declan Walsh exposed the whole Axact scandal when many of the Pakistani journalists (some of them working for Bol Channel, a subsidiary of Axact) already knew about this? Did they not feel responsible to the public? I understand that media groups may lack the resources to fund such an investigation but then isn’t this proof that the media outlets clearly have to revise their business models in order to fund such crucial investigations? If ARY News had enough time to go through Iqra Society’s website, their events, the online magazine AlRashideen and its publications then could they not have spared even one reporter who could have called up the society members or the IBA administration itself in order to ask some questions regarding the society before putting up pictures in an article that basically looks more like the modern/online version of a witch-hunt?
I rather avoid sounding like a preacher but these are questions that need to be addressed as, even though this may sound clichéd, the media is the fourth pillar of the state; the fourth estate, and so it needs to understand the burden of the obligation they have towards informing the public Just to get my point across one final time, here’s a quote from The Newsroom that seems pertinent to this entire issue:
Will: What does winning look like to you?
Mac: Reclaiming the fourth estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; a place where we all come together.
The second part of my post revolves around the issue of education. In the light of the revelation regarding the educational background of Saad Aziz (again, only if we choose to believe that he committed the crimes), several people were understandably shocked as they have grown to believe that education is the only way to combat the growing threats of fundamentalism and militancy and that no student from a “liberal” institution would ever commit such atrocious acts. As a result of this misplaced belief, it was so much easier for the media groups to point the finger at a religious society like Iqra Society as a possible source of religious fundamentalism . Humans have a tendency to defend their beliefs with all the fervor they can muster when those beliefs are attacked but when their faith in those beliefs falls under doubt, they often jump at the first chance to blame something else. But as a 2007 study by Prof. Krueger of Princeton University revealed, terrorism is not a product of inferior education or economic power. As Helena Roy so beautifully put it,
“Think about it in a simple supply-demand model. On the supply side, the material opportunity cost of committing suicide implies that terrorists should be drawn mainly from low-income groups. However, committing oneself to fanatical extremism requires an understanding of the wider political issues at stake, and this tends to be more common among the highly educated. People with less material wealth tend to prioritise physical gains over ideological goals – and terrorism is rarely concerned with fulfilling the former.”
Many of the fighters who traveled to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria are students from Western universities. Two-thirds of the 25 terrorists involved in the planning and hijacking of the four aircraft in the 9/11 attacks had attended university. Mohammed Emwazi, allegedly known as the true face behind the mask of “Jihadi John”, who has carried out executions of several hostages for ISIS was a student at the University of Westminster. So instead of getting shocked by the backgrounds of the terrorists (which just adds more fuel to the whole drama that the media creates), there are more pertinent questions that must be addressed. Specifically, what kind of education is actually needed to battle the issue of radical thought? Most undergraduate programs, here in Pakistan specifically, do not emphasize the importance of the social sciences and humanities. There is a specific cultural context attached to this belief which has quite a negative impact on the youth as it leaves them susceptible to any indoctrination imposed by an extremist, be it a religious extremist, political extremist or otherwise. This may not be true for everyone but it does for most of the general public. Most people are just not taught how to think or question. Again, there are several other factors in play when addressing this issue such as political repression, societal norms, family pressure and the general wish to stay alive by staying inside the lines (especially if you are a minority). But in any case, the little regard for the social sciences in the eyes of the general public, is a fact and cannot be disputed. And it is this belief that I seek to question since how can one possibly hope to question or think about radicalism when you have not even been taught HOW to question or think about a particular concept? The historical and cultural contexts are extremely important to understand in order to base an argument against a strain of radical thought and yet we do not emphasize this importance well enough in the eyes of the youth. Through degrees such as the Bachelors of Business Administration, the educational system creates mindless consumers that are integrated in to the capitalist economic system without truly understanding what they are doing. This is basically just another strand radical thought: the neoliberal appeal for success and competition. Of course many of my friends, who are business students, may take offense at this and I agree, this does not hold true for everybody and I do not wish to point fingers at anybody, this is simply the result of years of indoctrination that everyone is subjected to, even myself. I just want to highlight the necessity for those subjects that can help a student truly learn how to think and analyze complex systems which are a mixture of social, political, economic and philosophical issues. One may argue that how can this be true since terrorists come from Western education systems too but for that there are other explanations as only by successfully analyzing and putting each issue in its relevant historical and cultural context can we create a holistic picture of what exactly each nation is facing. And that can only start with a question. We just need the courage and the will to ask it.
For more information on the students fighting for ISIS and Jihadi John, do check relevant articles on New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Economist. There’s plenty of material out there for fact-checking.
For the abhorrent ARY News online article that I kept mentioning, go here: