New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 August 2015
Is’s Psychological War and Role of the Media
By Manahil Ijaz
The Story Of A Lost Opportunity
By Zahid Hussain
Indian, Muslim And Female
By Rafia Zakaria
Education, Extremism And The Elite
By Imtiaz Gul
August 26, 2015
For terrorist organisations, the internet is now being used as an instrument of propaganda. Modern terrorists have become aware of new opportunities to exert mass psychological impact using the latest means of mass communication. Several terrorist have organisations realised the potential of media-oriented terror, in terms of effectively reaching huge audiences. Islamic State (IS) has especially been effective in using social media and other online media outlets.
The effective use of propaganda by IS in psychological warfare has accomplished the set objectives, essential for waging a war. Many statesmen and military leaders have acknowledged the use of persuasion power in psychological operations to achieve objectives and goals with the minimum possible destruction. After World War II psy (psychological) warfare has regularly been used as an effective and major weapons system. However, the reason behind the heavy usage of propaganda in this kind of warfare has been to create favourable public opinion. Technological advancements like radio, cinema, telephone and television have caused a huge information explosion, transforming the modern world into the information age, also called the age of propaganda.
IS is well aware of the fact that the primary function of the media is perception management rather than psychological manipulation. It exploits the people’s perception to guide their thought in a certain direction. The war of idea, thoughts and designs has to fight with profound thinking and research. Minds need to be convinced through arguments and counter propaganda through physical evidence. For psychological warfare the choice of media communication depends upon the target audience. The media engaged in national level operations is usually classified as being slow or fast. Slow media comprises of magazines, books, pamphlets and lectures while fast media largely relies on electronic communication. It includes carefully timed statements by officials to gain sufficient interest. In addition, the intelligence requirements for effective psy warfare are enormous.
There are various techniques used by the media to influence the target audience’s belief systems, emotions and behaviour. In short, it controls the human mind and heart, and has become a weapon of psychological warfare. Psychological warfare goes for any weapon to affect the adversary’s mind. Currently, war-related actions are not conducted by troops but propaganda and tactics through the media have become widespread with time. In this kind of warfare, covert operations are not detected by the general public. Media manipulation and these types of undercover operations must be stopped.
IS is not just battling its way into the cities of Iraq but is also fighting for global support and action through social media, which is defining their propaganda. A string of Twitter accounts has been active in providing live updates and images about the group’s operations. The accounts are not officially used by IS but are promoted by online supporters. IS has launched its social media campaign and is posting mainly on Twitter photos and statements to show its military strength and territorial advancement in Iraq. IS recently launched the One Billion Muslims to Support IS Campaign, calling upon Muslims from around the globe to join and support the IS cause, especially on Fridays, or to travel to Iraq to fight.
The Al-Hayat Media Centre also produced a video presenting the translation of an IS song, ‘Let us go for jihad’, which calls for people to rush to the battlefield, claim their victory and slaughter until the Day of Judgment. The footage, heavy with explosions, gunfire and slow motion effects, looks as though it could have been lifted from a video game, which is another sign of the group targeting a younger audience. It is all because of a range of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts that followers are updated about the latest news and battle in Iraq.
IS stands apart in using social media to fulfill its goals. The main objective of its communication strategy is to persuade all Muslims that fighting to restore the caliphate is the religious duty. Messages of predictable victories present them as fearsome warriors. Images of executions and beheadings are projected to intimidate opponents. These types of images are used to build support among fellow travellers and recruit new members. The group shows the necessary skills of propaganda, using social media and cyber technology to lure in new fighters and frighten the enemy.
IS is following a well-planned strategy. It chooses photos with the potential of strong impact to create fear among its enemies and admiration for other radical groups. The group’s online presence does not necessarily equate with its popularity. The promotion of its messages and campaigns may indicate that it does not have strong organic support.
In an attempt to limit the scope of IS, the Iraqi government has blocked social media sites. Strong protests were held against the closure of sites by IS supporters blaming the Twitter administrators for the unprecedented attack on their blogging sites. Twitter also suspended the account of an IS member earlier in 2014. However, blocking media access did not show any significant impact on public activities. Followers are attracted from all across the Arab and Muslim world and the countermeasures had limited effect.
IS organisers are aware of what social media can do for them and have constructed not only strategies to use social networks and keep one step ahead of having their accounts blocked, they have even created software apps to maximise capturing the attention of a global audience. IS uses social media as a propaganda, financial and recruitment tool as well as a forum for spreading psy warfare. Current reports estimate that between 12,000 and 15,000 foreign fighters are engaged in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Although it cannot be proved that social media played a definitive role in their recruitment, IS’s online propaganda has often targeted westerners.
It can be stated that the use of social media by organisations supporting terrorism is a natural growth of the general acceptance of ‘virtual space’, reflecting its larger growth and popularity. However, it is the very nature of social networks, their ability to reach millions in moments, low cost of use and the relative simplicity of staying ahead of account closure by social feed providers by switching to prepared accounts, using false names and different profile photos, which make it particularly attractive.
Of course, social networks do their best to remove such sites and act rapidly upon receiving information or complaints from the public but it is difficult to gain the upper hand as, once a post is out there, it is, well, out there.
The writer is a freelance columnist
The story of a lost opportunity
August 26th, 2015
THOUGH it may sound incredible given the latest diplomatic debacle, India and Pakistan had come close to an agreement on the most contentious issue of Kashmir a few years ago. It is yet another story of the lost opportunities that have afflicted this region.
Former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, in his recently published book, reveals how the backchannel negotiations from 2004-07 helped the two sides reach an understanding on a draft formula on the future of Kashmir. Many in the two countries believe the same framework could still provide the basis for a sustainable peace process.
For sure, most of the features of the proposed peace formula are known, but perhaps not the entire framework and the details of the diplomatic efforts that went into the draft agreement. These could have changed the entire regional security paradigm. It is arguably the most authentic account of the secret negotiations to which the author was a witness.
Some years ago, India and Pakistan were close to an understanding on Kashmir.
What made the secret backchannel negotiations more useful was that they allowed the two sides to revisit their respective positions away from the media glare and to explore out-of-the-box solutions for the tricky issue that had been the cause of three wars. It was the first sustained backchannel negotiations between India and Pakistan that lasted for three years despite the huge trust deficit that existed between them. More importantly, the numerous exchanges of non-papers remained strictly confidential, something that could not have been possible in official-level talks.
According to Mr Kasuri, the two sides had fundamentally agreed on a four-point formula that envisaged demilitarisation and joint control of the disputed territory. While avoiding the redrawing of the border, it suggested making the Line of Control irrelevant allowing Kashmiris on both sides to move freely.
It was supposed to be the first step leading up to a permanent solution to the long-festering problem. Undoubtedly, it could have been a viable and acceptable proposition had the agreement been formally signed. But, unfortunately, that did not happen because of the 2007 political crisis in Pakistan and India’s own internal political problems. A great historical opportunity was lost.
Interestingly, that peace process, perhaps the most substantive ever to take place between the two South Asian rivals, was initiated by the very leaders who had almost led their countries to a catastrophic war just two years ago in 2002. Not to forget that it was the same Gen Musharraf who was the architect of the Kargil conflict that aborted the earlier peace initiative taken by Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee.
It was Mr Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad in January 2004 for the Saarc summit conference that led to the second peace process. The impact was immediate and immense. The tour of the Indian cricket team to Pakistan after a long hiatus changed the atmosphere, opening up the borders for Indian spectators. The guns at the LoC went silent with a ceasefire agreement in place. The opening up of trade between the two Kashmirs and the inauguration of a bus service helped reunite divided families.
That was also the beginning of backchannel talks. While Musharraf nominated his most trusted aide and friend Tariq Aziz, the Indian prime minister chose his national security adviser Brajesh Mishra as his emissary for the delicate and complicated negotiations.
Most importantly, the process continued even after the fall of the Vajpayee government and the installation of the new Congress administration led by Manmohan Singh. The new prime minister appointed his national security adviser and veteran diplomat J.N. Dixit. This continuity indicated cross-party commitment to the process.
Surely, it was Gen Musharraf who showed greater flexibility stepping back from Pakistan’s long-standing demand for a plebiscite under the 1948 UN resolutions. Mr Kasuri has quoted from Musharraf’s famous speech in October 2006 in which he declared: “They say that the borders will not be drawn a second time. We say that the LoC is not acceptable as a permanent border.” He stressed on finding a middle ground “between these two positions which will mean self-governance with a joint management system at the top for both sides and you make the LoC irrelevant.”
I was there at the Safma conference in Islamabad in 2006 where the general made these comments in the presence of some Indian members of parliament. They were all surprised by his candour. Perhaps being a military leader gave him the licence which a civilian leader would not have.
Mr Kasuri refutes the widespread perception that Musharraf’s initiative did not have the support of other generals or that the Foreign Office was kept out of backchannel diplomacy. While it is true that the number of people involved in the process was limited, the army was on board during that period. Besides the foreign minister and the foreign secretary, Gen Ashfaq Kayani who was then ISI chief, and the vice chief of army staff were always present at the meetings.
Despite the secrecy involved in the backchannel moves, Gen Musharraf would often publicly articulate his position on the issue. His speeches at that time gave a clear idea about the progress on talks. So it is wrong to say that the public or his own institution was completely in the dark on the content of the proposed peace deal.
What happened at that time seems a distant dream today, with the two countries not even being able to talk, let alone pick up the thread from where they left off. The collapse of the NSA talks indicates how things have changed.
Yet no one expected that the talks would die in such an atmosphere of acrimony, amidst an exchange of barbs. Surely the Ufa meeting did open up a window of opportunity for the resumption of long stalemated bilateral talks, but no peace process can be expected to take off the ground with the main sources of tension off the table.
The writer is an author and a journalist.
Indian, Muslim and female
AMID all the hubbub over talks between India and Pakistan, news emerged last week about a survey done by the Indian Muslim women’s rights organisation Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). The results of the survey, which polled several thousand Muslim women, revealed that over 90pc of Indian Muslim women surveyed want a ban on polygamy, oral talaq (divorce) and child marriage.
The results of the survey have since spurred a debate regarding the need for the reform of personal status laws that currently govern marriage and divorce for Indian Muslim women.
Like so much else that ails the contemporary subcontinent, the personal status laws originated in the British era, when the colonist’s zeal for codification resulted in the consolidation of the varying Islamic law positions on divorce into one statutory structure. This supposedly modern and magnanimous innovation gifted by the British annihilated the plurality that existed within law referring to Muslims in India.
The stress of state scrutiny further exacerbates instances of abuse within minority communities.
More helpfully for the British, it enabled the entrapment of India’s major religious groups into separate boxes. Under the veneer of their attempts at equal treatment, the British ensured that Hindus and Muslims, now governed by the laws that they had codified, would, in the years to come, begin to believe that religious difference was something crucial, never to be transcended.
The Indian Muslim woman living in the now, however, cannot sate herself with the colonial origins of inhabiting the uncomfortable position of being a minority within a minority. Add to this the generally Islamophobic timbre of the Modi administration and you have a situation where all calls for reform made by Indian Muslim women are greedily snatched up by a closely listening Hindu right and repackaged as evidence of the problematic nature of Islam as a religion and Muslims as a whole.
As in Bush’s America, in Modi’s India the loyalties of Muslim women, their willingness to criticise Muslim men, whose demonisation is so central to the discourse of the dominant political narrative of the day, is hence weighted with an inflated political significance.
None of it, of course, has anything to do with the actual well-being of Indian Muslim women themselves, or the very real problems caused by practices such as oral talaq or polygamy. These gender-borne burdens that leave women at the mercy of the whims and temperaments of their men, hence combine with the already dire situation faced by Indian Muslims.
According to a report published by The New York Times in the wake of Modi’s election: “Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications and turned-down loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment and economic status, with persistent discrimination.”
In addition, “Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities and less likely to qualify for bank loans”, making it difficult for them to partake of the economic mobility that other urbanising Indians have enjoyed in the past few decades. If they do make it to the city, the report details, they are often relegated to large urban ghettos where only Muslims live, hence creating islands of isolation in what was once a mixed society.
Within these ghettoes of disenfranchisement are Muslim women, subject to all the ignominies the Indian state accords to its Muslim minority plus the dominance of Muslim men, whose power to take and discard wives adds further misery to already miserable lives.
Surveys like the one produced by BMMA reveal the depth of the conundrum they face and the eagerness of the Indian state to further vilify faith or already suspect Muslim men as the source of the problem. It can even be argued that the stress of state scrutiny further exacerbates instances of abuse within minority communities, the emasculation of Indian (or British or American or Canadian) Muslim men by the all-powerful state narrative pushing them into further acts of dominance in the private realms of the family.
The depth or complexity of the situation should not, however, deter Indian Muslim women from either action or advocacy. As Muslim feminists in other political contexts have discovered, it is entirely possible and necessary to advocate both against the larger state narrative that paints all Muslim men as terrorists and simultaneously advocate for reform within the Muslim communities. In this case, Indian Muslims have the opportunity to lead change from within, championing the empowerment of their own women without state intervention.
In the case of both polygamy and oral talaq, precedent exists to consider a cessation of the practices. Earlier this year, even Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology that consists of largely conservative scholars, recommended the criminalisation of oral talaq pronounced at one go by men. It was pointed out by a senior cleric that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself was known to have a dislike for the practice.
The point is simple: if Indian Muslims — like British Muslims or American Muslims — dislike state intervention in matters of religious law, they must create and enact processes that promote the empowerment of Muslim women within their communities.
This would be a knowing and intentional rebellion against the instinctual bent of beleaguered minority communities to turn inward and further entrench practices that need reform just because they are opposed by a state that discriminates against them. Going against this inclination requires recognition that the women among them, who are Indian, Muslim and female, are assets rather than liabilities, and that support for their issues must come first from within rather than without.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2015
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.
Education, extremism and the elite
August 26, 2015
Why shouldn’t young minds turn towards extremist ideologies — I’m not talking of terrorism — if they are marginalised, their basic rights grossly violated, or if they are under-paid or unemployed? What role are many private educational institutions playing in promoting extremist tendencies among young academics? Is the state attentive to this? Is education a market economy product determined by the demand and supply principle, or is it a government responsibility (as promised under Article 25-A of the Constitution)? The state is the guarantor of the right to education, bound to provide decent livelihoods as well as protect the youth from exploitation. These are some of the questions that must be posed to the Sharifs, the Zardaris, the Shahs, the Khans and all those political luminaries who tirelessly speak of turning Pakistan around. Not to forget those members of mainstream political parties who are running educational institutions. These include the Kasuris, the Chaudhrys, the Syeds and the Niazis.
Under-paying highly educated young people employed by high-flying institutions affiliated with Oxbridge and other leading systems, is a perennial issue. Exploitation of the educated youth — both as teachers and students — is prevalent even in Islamabad, the capital, but this curse is omnipresent in its most oppressive forms in under-developed regions and those where the ruling elite control education boards or sit in parliaments. Although Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has seen a proliferation of private universities and colleges, there has been little check on their fee and salary structures. The Abbottabad, Peshawar and Mardan boards seem to be hubs of corruption that are under the control of the political elite and their henchmen. Many of them are involved in issuing fake degrees and under-paying teachers, often invoking the demand-and-supply principle as if teaching were a commodity obtainable at a negotiable price.
Some of Imran Khan’s colleagues in K-P are among those running private education institutions, a practice that has turned into an unchecked money-minting enterprise in the absence of a regulatory framework. The PTI has made a strong point about the accountability of the electoral system. Now, it must also embark on an accountability of those running educational institutions, especially its own members appointed to important positions in the K-P government. Of course they are not the only ones. Scores of private educators are exploiting students, often in collusion with officials of education boards and higher education departments. Why shouldn’t the highly educated young slip into confusion and extremist thought streams if, after a 17-year education, they either remain unemployed or extremely under-paid — earning paltry sums between $40-150 a month? This way, many private institutions are disincentivising education among those who come from poor families.
Another alarming issue is of fake degrees being issued by many private institutions and government education boards. Ironically, the business of fake degrees in Pakistan is nothing new, but really came to the fore only recently because of the activities of Axact. Many universities running under the charter of some London-based institutions have been doing the same thing. Even official education boards have been involved in this as illustrated through the disqualification of a PML-N legislator, Chaudhry Arif Hussain, for holding a fake degree issued by the Lahore Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education. Before Hussain, several other legislators also lost their seats for possessing fake degrees.
It is correctly believed that the government should not interfere in private education; however, it carries the responsibility to prevent fraudulent practices and preempt exploitation of students and teachers. Private educators have the right to determine fee structures, but they are also bound to pay teachers fairly and ensure quality education. They cannot, must not, be allowed to equate market economy principles with exploitation of young academics. Shouldn’t the government ask private institutions if there is a balance between the fees they charge and the salaries they pay to their teachers who hold master’s degrees?
The Sharifs and Imran Khan can turn Pakistan around only if they handle education on a war-footing and start meaningful reform of the sector. When will they crack down on the moth that is eating away the vitals of the education sector, stunting real intellectual development?