Arrest terrorists, not free thinkers

The state is supposed to have a close eye on the suspicious activities carried out by the individuals or groups. State’s vigilance to maintain order is something which gives a sense of protection to the citizens and deters those who dare to dismantle it. In the literature of Political Science, the state’s basic responsibilities are many, but one of the core obligations of the state is to protect its citizens from internal threats and external aggressions. These responsibilities are what justify the very creation and existence of the state.

Unfortunately, the state of Pakistan has miserably failed in performing its paramount duties e.g. protection and security of the citizens from internal and external potential threats. People are being abducted, maimed and killed by the terrorists at on almost daily basis. The terrorists’ ideologies are being propagated, killers are being glorified, and young minds are being indoctrinated all across Pakistan but the state is not seen anywhere in a serious mood to deal with these heinous crimes and malicious campaigns carried out and backed by the terrorists.

The state itself is an abstract idea and it is the government which functions on its behalf. Therefore, I’ll use the two terms interchangeably in this piece.

Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected English language newspaper, did what the government should have done months ago. Dawn investigated the phenomenon of terrorists’ presence on social media during the whole month of April, 2017, to identify as to how many banned outfits are available on Facebook? How do these groups operate and spread their propaganda on Facebook? And what is the Facebook militancy problem?

Dawn has a well-organised factual presentation to describe the dynamics and threat of the cyber terrorism in Pakistan. 41 banned outfits have over 700 Facebook pages and groups using their names, reports Dawn. 160,000 users have liked the pages of banned outfits and 40% of the users belong to AhleSunnatWalJamaat, the newspaper added.

The core objectives behind the presence of these groups on social media sites are quite clear. First, these groups propagate their ideologies, glorify the murders and terrorists, and attempts are made to gain popularity. Second, the more important objective is to provide the platform to the like-mined people and facilitate their interaction in order to indoctrinate more and more people. The Facebook groups are like tiny chat rooms where different things are discussed and views are exchanged.

The use of social media by terrorists is not something exclusive to Pakistan nor is it the end of the story. The ISIS and Al-Qaeda have a strong presence on social media and creating problems for agencies like the CIA.

But the state’s response in Pakistan to the Facebook militancy is no different than its response towards terrorism in the streets. This is what differentiates the state of Pakistan from rest of the world, and it poses a serious threat to the peace and order of the society and of the entire world.

Exactly opposite to this, there is a countrywide crackdown against the social media activists and public intellectuals by the government agency Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Everyone who dares to question is either given a shut-up call or taken into custody by the FIA.

There are different explanations given by the government and its agencies as to why these social media activists are being arrested. The most popular one is grounded on religious basis. The ready-made justification for every arrest the agencies made is to declare the person as blasphemer. And sometimes it is said that the person has spoken against the ideology of Pakistan or the armed forces of Pakistan. Whether is it derisible to question the role of the boys in politics or not is another debate for another time. The bottom line here is that these allegations are artificially created to better serve narrow political interests.

Terrorists have learnt that a platform where people interact and discuss ideas is productive. But the government in Pakistan is still struggling somewhere in 18th or 19th century. It stops people from asking tough questions. It bars people from questioning about the money they themselves pay in form of taxes. It compels its people to love their soldiers like they worship them.

This is the most dangerous thing the government is doing through the notorious agencies in Pakistan. Stopping people from asking questions will create a night without having any hope for the dawn.

Interestingly, the state should have done with terrorists what it is doing with intellectuals for last almost one year. We still remember how liberal-minded bloggers were abducted and what their crime was. Apparently, the terrorists are not a problem for the state but the intellectuals are. And the responsibility of the state is not to protect people from these terrorists rather from those who speak sense and urge people to question.

The government’s politically correct focus on social media activists who question them is probably not in the interest of the people of Pakistan. People want to be protected but not at the cost of being voiceless puppets of the status quo.

The state needs to take actions against the terrorists and the hate speech but shutting down all the available digital public sphere will harm the process of democratisation in Pakistan. Perhaps a closed society will end up having a closed political system where dictators will rule no matter uniformed or un-uniformed.

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