Radical roots: Hate dot net

Published: January 18, 2011
The assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was celebrated by many young Pakistanis on Facebook.

The assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was celebrated by many young Pakistanis on Facebook.

“Salute to Mr Qadri we love you aashiq-e-rasool,” is just one of the viral Facebook status updates many young Pakistanis shared on their Facebook walls following Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination .

Facebook pages supporting Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, containing hate-speech and calls to violent action in the name of Islam began popping up within minutes of Taseer’s murder. More worrying than the mere existence of these kind of pages is their potential to build connections between people with similar mindsets.

The internet’s impact on Pakistan has never been greater than it is today — according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the number of internet users in the country has touched 20 million.

While this growth is encouraging in terms of increasing exposure to new ideas, enabling people to stay informed and creating opportunities to communicate, educate and entertain, it brings with it a number of problems regarding certain interests of Pakistani audiences. While the debate over Pakistan’s alleged porn-obsession has already made waves in the media, the issue of groups of young people going online to search for religious meaning and inadvertently becoming exposed to religious extremism and increased interaction with extremist organisations presents a danger as yet unacknowledged by either parents or regulators. The speed of technological advancements has resulted in a paradigm shift of rapid information dissemination and processing which many adults cannot fathom, often resulting in young people having completely unmonitored access to the internet.

“My friend supports terrorists on Facebook,” says a 22 year old medical student in Karachi who wished to remain anonymous. “After I added him I found out he was following a number of pages run by banned sectarian groups. I know he has a problem because of his status updates, but he is a totally different person in the real world. No one would know this about him until they ‘friended’ him in the virtual world and checked out what he likes [on Facebook]. His parents are not online.”

Taseer’s assassination and the outcropping of multiple Facebook fan pages for the assassin, some boasting thousands of followers within hours of their creation, has brought to light the fact that many young people have developed, and are disseminating, extremist viewpoints online.

While these activities could be termed a temporary extremist ‘fad’, the real problem lies in the small number of individuals who take this same online social networking model to far more dangerous levels, both inside Facebook, and outside on extremist websites and forums. In the space of 10 clicks, a Facebook user can access, for example, the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Facebook page, cross over to their website to learn about militant jihad and then return to browse the page’s list of followers to connect with. Similarly, one can access the Sipah-e-Sahaba page, watch the latest posted video titled, “Allah’s azaab on Shia” and then befriend SSp Zindabad whose favorite pages include ‘Chelsea,’ ‘Lahori girls’ and ‘Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ke sipahi zinda hai.’

The fact that such pages and such free and easily accessible content is available online, is a preeminently dangerous one. The fact that social networking sites such as Facebook (which has two million local users) can then be used by naïve, misguided, or simply curious teenagers to befriend people supporting extremist ideologies, who are also possibly connected to established militant groups and terrorist organisations across Pakistan is not just a terrifying possibility, but one we can no longer afford to be blind to.

Tips for concerned parents

•  Ask your child what he/she browses online on a regular basis.

•  Monitor your child’s online activities in a non-intrusive fashion. The best way to do this is to actively participate in his/her activities, such as joining Facebook.

•  Speak to your child frankly and openly about possible dangers online. Allow dialogue and rapport to build with your child. Do not impose rules and regulations.

•  Work actively to keep Facebook free of pages/groups promoting terrorism, extremism, sectarian hatred by reporting them. Form a local body to assist in the matter.

•  Report dangerous individual users rather than pages/groups as the deletion of a user account means the loss of connections to individuals as well as removal from administering harmful pages.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 16th, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (14)

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 6:12PM

    It’s pretty sad and funny at the same time. That makes it sadder than it already is.Recommend

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 6:16PM

    Only Allah know who’s right who’s wrong i also see many status and comments on http://www.facebook.com/Zurmat about Salman taseer thats so amazing :ORecommend

  • Anwar
    Jan 18, 2011 - 6:32PM

    Note down all of there names and lets find out where they reside. I wonder if they’ll enjoy it when some random thug comes over to there home and shoots them or there family members 9 times. Sad creatures.Recommend

  • Talha
    Jan 18, 2011 - 7:19PM

    I am a fan of Pakistan’s ISI on facebook, is that bad?Recommend

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 7:56PM

    At the end it all comes down to the media. If media stop picking its target and instead rather concentrate on eradicating anti american and jewish sentiments, we wouldnt be witnessing such celebrations.Recommend

  • arsibux
    Jan 18, 2011 - 9:13PM

    education education and only the education give the oppertunity of education den it might be possible to solve. plz give the basic right of pakistanis of education Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Jan 18, 2011 - 9:21PM

    Everyone should do whatever they can ………. starting from around themselves ………… speak out , inform, help …………. to counter radicalism ………… the power of reason should win out ………….. I believe it will !!
    Hence, thanks for writing the article ……… every bit helps

    P.S. read , see documentaries , strengthen your own argument by being better informed ………. share ideas ………. lets make a list of counter-extremist measures ………. Anyone wants to add on / build up ?Recommend

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 11:42PM

    I miss the good old days when elder siblings/parents just had to check and make sure you weren’t watching porn online. :(Recommend

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 11:46PM

    Geez, the third girl is like, a year younger than me, creepy. Which brings up the fact of whether its wrong or not that you guys just screencapped the whole thing without censoring names or images.Recommend

  • Raza
    Jan 19, 2011 - 5:55AM

    Excellent article Jahanzaib. You have articulated everything I wanted to say for the past 2 years when I started to notice these patterns among Pakistani youth on the internet. And I completely agree with your source that 90% of these people don’t have extremist ideologies in real life. It almost appears that it’s their jihadi, conflicted alter ego in the virtual world. Years of feeding nationalism and religious sermons have made them an unconscious part of their existence now. Unfortunately it’s not easy to reverse this process but we should concentrate on the younger ones (below 25 years) as they are still in their impressionable ages.Recommend

  • sultan a khan
    Jan 19, 2011 - 6:23AM

    Love For All, Hate For NoneRecommend

  • Jan 19, 2011 - 7:02AM

    i have tried speaking with some of these and i am afraid most know nothing about islam yet seem to think they will go to heaven defending this murdererRecommend

  • Momina
    Jan 19, 2011 - 11:43AM

    The youth of Pakistan need some purpose in their lives, we need to start some youth clubs to do some community work. “Vacant mind is a devil’s workshop”Recommend

  • Canuckistani
    Jan 22, 2011 - 12:17AM

    you lose credibility when you bring Salman Taseer into the equation. Though I agree with what you are saying about the extremist organizations, I find that your reference to ST weakens your argument on other issues. It is better not to be identified with the liberal crowd when trying to provide genuine advise for the good of the public. Failure to do so means that your message will thereafter only be heard by 10% of the audience. Recommend

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