To Paris, with love

Digital artist behind viral video on attack in French capital says social media can help rekindle hope

Huma Choudhary December 02, 2015
Youngest to six siblings, Zaidi is the only one among them who decided to stay in Pakistan. PHOTO: PUBLICITY


In the aftermath of the ghastly Paris attack, a video was uploaded on Pakistani Facebook page House of Lolz, titled To Paris, From Pakistan. In the video, which runs for a little over two minutes, five young Pakistani men extend a hand to those going through the agony of the attack and express solidarity with them. They also address the elephant in the room: creeping Islamophobia and the backlash against those who have little to do with the actions of a few people.

Within days the video went viral, with the international media picking it up as well. In 15 days, it has crossed 0.8 million views on Facebook.

The young men in the video are part of a collective that aims to produce entertainment and activism video logs. It all started when Syed Muzammil Hasan Zaidi, the man behind the project, made a Facebook page titled Lolz Studio, back in 2012. “It was primarily a photography blog where we shared inspiring stories of ordinary Pakistanis,” he told The Express Tribune. Over the years, it evolved into a page where Zaidi and Co started producing video messages targeting the youth.

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In September 2012, they made a video, 22 Random Acts of Kindness, which showed Zaidi spending his 22nd birthday distributing balloons at an orphanage and handing out appreciation letters to nurses and policemen around the federal capital. This video garnered half a million views on YouTube. Their work matured with time and last year, after the APS attack in Peshawar, they made another video which was widely shared around.

To Paris, From Pakistan’s message is pretty clear: Muslims stand with France in this hour of pain but refuse to apologise for the actions of “a few deranged individuals who somehow claim to be like us.” Zaidi said the reason why the idea resonated with the youth all over the world that stereotyping Muslims has become very common. “On the other hand, similar to this Islamophobia, some of the Pakistani youth are suffering from Westophobia. There’s a difference between extremists and conservatives and generalisation is harmful for world peace.”

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Youngest to six siblings, the 25-year-old is the only one among them who decided to stay in Pakistan because he genuinely believes in the country and its people. “I’m not a nationalist for the sake of being one,” he said. This is the right time to invest in Pakistan, money-wise and otherwise,” he shared with a smile.

Zaidi’s videos are mostly in English but his team also wants to reach out to people who are uneducated. “Things on social media spread like wildfire and our videos are seen by all socio-economic classes since everyone has a cell phone nowadays but we want to make videos in Urdu as well,” he said.

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Speaking of using Facebook as a medium to change the hearts and minds of people, Zaidi said, “Everyone is producing media content nowadays which is great but I feel there needs to be a common platform for digital artists in Pakistan where they can collaborate and discuss ideas to reach out to more people.” There are around 35 million registered Facebook users in Pakistan and the number is expected to grow up to 60 million by 2018.  “That’s a huge number; we can really do a lot more in terms of rekindling hope and promoting peace if we join hands.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2015.

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