Flogging my sentiments

Awab Alvi April 16, 2010

In April last year, Pakistan witnessed the revelation of a shocking video showing a woman in NWFP being flogged in public for having illicit relations with her father-in-law.

It was recorded from an amateurish, low-end mobile camera and shows a despicable act being committed in the name of public justice. The video was released by prominent women’s rights activists and underwent intense analysis by some flamboyant media personalities. A few suggested, even then, that it might be staged.

Regardless of its dubious authenticity, it was looped continuously on television screens and was shown repeatedly by every channel in every country, further maligning our tattered reputation.

The female activists who released this video took a bit of a drumming after the media adjudged these videos to be fake, but they stood their ground, using this ‘evidence’ to bring forth issues of maltreatment of women in these areas, while the Islamic apologists preferred to avoid addressing this uncontrollable menace in some parts of their belief system.

Only a few days ago the whistleblowing video was questioned yet again as a report published in a national daily claimed that the source who had laid claim to its authenticity backtracked and allegedly stated that the video was staged in an attempt to defame the Taliban at the behest of an Islamabad-based NGO.

Retrospectively, the immediate beneficiaries were the hardliner Taliban themselves, who could have used this video to instill fear amongst the growing liberal elite of Pakistan, giving them a warning for a possible Sharia compliant way of living based on the Taliban’s narrow interpretation of the religion.

A case against the women’s rights activists to have faked this video does not stand valid as they are well-respected leaders and their ethics cannot be distorted. Their only compulsion was to report this video and raise awareness about a genuine problem amongst rural women in Pakistan, caught on tape for the first time, which was brilliant use of mobile technology.

The culprit may be an evil triangle between an NGO, our propaganda machinery and a local intelligence agency, all desperately wanting to sway public opinion behind military action which they were already committed to initiate. It is relevant to point out that April 2009 also happened to be the start of the Pakistan Army’s Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat.

The military may have leveraged the release of this video to create fear among people and make them wake up to the murdering revolutionaries who may have come knocking on the gates of Islamabad. The calculated timing of this media hype must have influenced the moderates on the edge the liberal elite was convinced anyway into demanding and accepting army action in Swat.

It is not the first time that carefully planted intelligence or false reports of an incident have been used to swing public perception. The Vietnam War, which resulted in more than two million deaths, was started using the ‘Gulf of Tonkin incident’ and it was revealed recently as to have been totally fabricated by US agencies.

More recently, the US stands guilty of having furnished fabricated pieces of nuclear documents from Niger to convince the American public and the world of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, resulting in more deaths than in Vietnam on a non-existent premise.

The whole thing smells bad.

We must separate the argument that the Taliban are carrying out such acts from the false imagery used to make a mockery of our judgment potential.

The perpetrators of this dangerous game must unequivocally be brought to justice.

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