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Understanding the ‘jihad print media’ in Pakistan and its impact

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) conducted a national seminar on Understanding the ‘Jihad Print Media’ in Pakistan and its impact on 20 October in Islamabad. The seminar brought together a large number of media representatives, scholars and academics to discuss and comment on PIPS’ recently produced report on the subject.

Dr. Tariq Rehman, Director National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad chaired the seminar while Mr. Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director Centre for Civic Education, Islamabad was the key speaker and discussant.  Other speakers included Mr. Taufeeq Asif Advocate, President Rawalpindi Bar Association, Mr. Afzal Khan, South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Mr. Amir Zia, Director News at Samaa TV, Islamabad, and Mr. Javed Siddique, Resident Editor Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Islamabad.

Director PIPS Mr. Muhammad Amir Rana said in his welcome address that the seminar was part of the PIPS series of discussion meant for creating awareness and building up consensus on the analysis of radicalization in Pakistani society and media. The purpose of this seminar, he noted, was to discuss jihad print media, its characteristics and impact on Pakistan society and mainstream media.

Mr. Safdar Sial, a researcher at PIPS, presented an abridged version of the PIPS report on jihad print media taking into account the following 4 sections:

  1. Genesis and Evolution of Jihad Publishing
    a.         Use of Militant Literature in the Soviet-Afghan War (1980-88)
    b.         Period of Growth and Modernization (1989-2000)
    c.         Impact of the War on Terror on Jihad Print Media in Pakistan (2001-2009)
  1. Messengers of Militancy: An Introduction to Jihad Publications
    a.        Profiles
    i.         Jihad publications
    ii.        Madrasa publications
    iii.       Sectarian publications
    iv.       Vernacular mainstream media groups/ individuals which support’ jihad narrative’
    b.        A Parallel Propaganda Campaign: Leaflets and Shabnamas  (Night  Letters)
    c.         Circulation, Distribution and Outreach
  2. Content Analysis of Jihad Print Media
    a .        Space Devoted to Issues: An Analysis on Categories
    b.         Advertising
    c.         Quality and Authenticity of Reporting/Approaches
    d.        Disparagement and Glorification: An Opinion Analysis
    e.        Treatment: Diction, Style and Tone

Impact on Society and Mainstream Media

Keynote Address by Mr. Zafarullah Khan
In Pakistan religious media or the media that used to examine the issues from religious perspective is an old tradition. You can find too many magazines and newspapers that used to interpret society, its development from the perspective of religion. Even the mainstream religious political parties also came up with some publications ranging from weeklies, monthlies and dailies to promote their viewpoints.

‘Jihad media’, as has rightly been pinpointed in this research report by PIPS, emerged particularly during the Afghan-Soviet war. But before that I would like to share with you one report on publicity media prepared by the Council of Islamic Ideology, right from 1962 uptil 1993. It contains many recommendations such as how to include Islamic ethos into media discourses. There are prescriptions for print media on how to check obscenity, establish a film censor board, and promote Islamic view or Islamic way of life in Pakistan. But I was amazed the tone and tenor of recommendations significantly changed when there was Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. For instance I would like to quote one recommendation which emerged in a meeting in 1978 which suggested that we should include Kalima-e-Tayyeba and inscribe Allah-o-Akbar on Pakistani flag as these symbols could be source of inspiration for majority of the people in Pakistan instigating in them desires of martyrdom and jihad. Quite surprisingly flag of Taliban bears these symbols.

Besides these recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology, there was a book published by Idara-e-Moarraf-e-Islami, a publication house run by the Jamat-e-Islami. The title of the book is Islami Sahafat (Islamic journalism) and it is written by Syed Ubaidul Islam who served in the Radio Pakistan for many years. This book said that we would have to create a new paradigm for journalism to mould Pakistani society according to Islamic ethos.

Academic discourse has also remained supportive to this kind of media narrative. Some of the leading scholars of journalism in Lahore and Karachi have been asserting that if we want to reform Pakistani society we need Islamic journalism whose sole source of inspiration should be “Amr bil Ma’roof wa Nahi Anil Munkir”, a methodology which was later on internalized by almost all jihadi publications. Some academics have even argued that it is false that media’s sole responsibility is to provide you accurate and up-to-date information rather its responsibility is to interpret developments from Islamic perspective and try to promote through its discourses Islamic way of life.

I started to collect jihadi publications before 9/11 and found out that they were trying to come up with a very different perspective on our society. They had special pamphlets like “jamhoreat Islami kaise?”, “TV aur azab-e-qabar”, things like that how TV watchers will be treated on the day of judgment,  and democracy is an un-Islamic notion. I was amazed to see that although the message is packaged in a very medieval tone and tenor whereas they are using the modern media, and very interestingly all these gadgets of modernity are described as biddah (new things/innovations in Islam which are considered evil) and jahelah (ignorance).

During ‘Afghan Jihad’ Afghan media center was being run by security apparatuses of the world and they used to come up with this jihadi worldview such as in Nebraska project to Islamize and jihadize text books etc. From 1989 till 1999 one finds some shift from Afghan theatre to Kashmir theatre and many more Kashmir specific publications also emerged.

After 9/11 some important shift was witnessed in jihad or alternative media. Daily Islam of al-Rashid Trust, which is now considered one of the mainstream newspapers, wrote in one of its first editorials after 9/11 that the Western forces were going to destroy Islamic caliphate of Afghanistan. It further said that the mainstream media was not enough and that it was playing in the hands of infidels so there was need to launch such publications which served their (jihadis) purpose; and daily Islam was one of them besides many other publications of Al-Rashid Trust. They were not only producing media publications but also some documented books like “how Kaa’ba is being attacked” and “how lion of mountains Osama bin Laden has challenged the rest of the world”. There were at least 8 media outlets that emerged and they were very much closed to Al-Qaeda, like Ummat Studio, Labbaik media production, Jundullah media, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan media and many more.

When Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged in Pakistan they launched some publications but most of their messages were disseminated through the night letters and pamphlets, and at the same time they quite successfully used the existing mainstream media. Again their major targets were children, youth, women and students. Pakistani Taliban has even appointed their spokespersons who are available to talk about their issues. They also use to send mobile sms. If you look at recent code of conduct issued by Mullah Omer, he talked about not keeping of some pictures of young boys in cell phones. That was special advice to ‘mujahedeen’. Swat Taliban came up with threats to the journalists such as ‘don’t make fun of Nizam-e-Adl regulation,’ ‘don’t describe us terrorists; we are mujahedeen’ and things like that.

Circulation of jihad publications is huge. When I used to collect these publications, they ate all money from my pocket. Off course they are large in numbers. What is their sociology? Obviously they want to promote their world view. Then there is another thing; funding.  These publications are not only used as tools to promote what they are doing but also sources of raising funds. You will find advertisements of charities.

Interestingly during recent times you will find code of conduct which our modern media occasionally failed to evolve. Surprisingly our media professionals are confused that what to report and how to report. There were even efforts that what kind of code of conduct should be for these jihadi publications. When the Lal Masjid administration came up with a blueprint of Islamization of Pakistan, it contained one specific chapter on mainstream media saying if mainstream media didn’t internalize jihad morality than ‘we’ will have to not only ban these channels but come up with our own channels to disseminate our point of view.

Now what is the future of these publications? Pakistani government banned many of these publications after becoming part of war on terror. But there is amazing tendency among these publications to bounce back with the similar layout that is very standardized. You can immediately recognize if Ghazwah has been banned Jarrar is there, which belongs to the same house of publication. May be it is the weakness of our law enforcement.

I wouldn’t say that these jihad publications despite their huge circulation may have some impact. I keep monitoring and don’t see that was a big story or any perspective given by these publications taken up by the mainstream press; very rare indeed. However you can find the commonalities in terms of opinion. The people writing columns for mainstream media sometimes resemble with contributors to jihad media publications. Sometimes it looks like the same [mainstream press] people are writing with pseudo names in those jihadi publications. To be honest the vocabulary, the argument, the construction of the argument especially in Zarb-e-Momin and couple of Urdu newspapers, has startling similarities. I tried to decipher 10 to 12 columns, which have amazing resemblance but I don’t have any empirical evidence may be it is just a simple case of plagiarism.

And why jihadis created their own media? The only answer is maybe they were not satisfied with the stories of 500 hundred words or space of few columns. Now they have abundance of their own products. Who consumes them? I would like to share here that I was very much excited when I was conducting a research related to Lashkar-e-Taiba. I had a chance to attend a workshop on peace journalism held with students of Srinagar University and media school in Jammu. I asked them if they ever had seen Majalla Al-Da’waa. They replied “What is that?”  They had never seen those publications which were dedicated to Kashmir Jihad. Who are the consumers of those publications? Pakistani society? It poses a question of whole economy for whom they are producing. May be they want to keep their worldview well entrenched in Pakistani society. The fact is that despite so many bans and legal frameworks this monster refuses to die.

Toufeeq Asif 
These kinds of events and discussions are important to understand how we can curb extremism and strategic tools of extremists like media. This way we may get success to tell an alternative narrative to the people and children whom extremists use in name of religion and paradise. We may be able to tell people what is real Islam and what is true jihad. At the same time we may influence the people by debate who join extremists and/or are extremists about right and wrong notions. We should not push them to a blind alley rather keep doors open so that they don’t indulge in bad activities.  They should not feel us biased. If we become unbiased and impartial then I am optimistic the situation will be different. Freedom of expression can provide an opportunity to them to express their anger or feelings. And media is also one tool for this purpose but spread of hate speech and violence should not be tolerated.

Amir Zia
I haven’t seen any work before which analyzes the literature and publication produced by the militant organizations. So in a way this work is phenomenal and ground breaking. But I have couple of observations. First if we start discussing its title i.e. Jihadi print media in Pakistan. My question is that should the mainstream journalists, researchers and academic people be calling them jihadi? I mean that we all know the term jihad itself is being held scared by most of the Muslims throughout the world. It is one of the basic tenants of Islam. So if these militants say themselves jihadis should we also use the same terms? I don’t think so. We can use a neutral term; militant organizations. They are armed groups. We should not be calling them jihadis. At the most we call them terrorist groups. Indeed when we use word jihadi we legitimize their many things. It confuses the whole discourse.

My second submission is the term ‘Islamic journalism’. Islamic journalism is no term. A journalist is a journalist. Journalism means being objective, fair and neutral. So what terms should we use for it? This is  a question. So I would say that for this kind of publications by any political group or any armed group we can use the term propaganda literature. Even the Nazis used to do it. The fascists and communists also used to do it and now so-called Islamic forces are doing it. But we should not be calling them Islamic or Jihadi things. It is propaganda literature. It is very effective because the way it changes the minds of innocent people through its half-baked truth, faulty information and discourses it should be looked into seriously.

My third point is the real face of state in promoting this kind of media can not be ignored. There was a time when state had played a very important role in promoting these militant organizations and not just the state but international players have played the role including US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and all other big countries. They used them and abused them. Now luckily after 9/11 our state institutions are gradually changing the course of activities not because of they are now enlightened thinkers but they are under so mush pressure of the world powers.

The last thing is the question of freedom of expression in press, which is also important. I remember when daily Islam was banned couple of years ago the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and Karachi Union of Journalists came out in favor of freedom of speech and employees of these publications joined hand with the mainstream media. So I would say that yes the whole argument was on principle that we believe in freedom of press. But I think propaganda and journalism should be separated. The state and government has every right to ban any literature, writing, and hate material, which may incite violenceand terrorism.

Afzal Khan
My whole career in journalism had been devoted for the causes of freedom of expression and freedom of press. I stand for these freedoms but there are some limits to them and there also come some responsibilities; social, political and cultural etc. Everyone should have right to raise one’s viewpoint but when one uses media as tool and instrument of propaganda to incite and mislead people, and distort facts crossing the limits then you can see the outcome.

This is very important topic the organization, the PIPS, has chosen for discussion. I also pay thanks to Mr. Zafarullah for his enlightening keynote on the issue.  The concept of jihad has seen much transformation in Pakistan. For example Maulana Maudoodi, founder of Jamat-e-Islami, had very moderate view about jihad. He did not even accept fighting in Kashmir as jihad. But the present leadership of the Jamat-e-Islami is agreed that fighting in Kashmir and even Afghanistan is jihad. The Kashmir movement which started in 1989 was neither a jihadi nor a religious movement rather it was secular in nature. It remained so for some years and then it was transformed into jihadi movement.

The jihadi organizations and their literature particularly mushroomed during Zia period or the Soviet-Afghan war. But one can trace the roots of this jihadi literature even before the Afghan war and during the communist era in Afghanistan. Americans took up this ‘cause’ and American Centre at that time was in Rawalpindi. Later under state patronage the mainstream media was also encouraged to highlight jihad in Afghanistan.  There were many publications also. This trend of publishing such literature has continued over past many years till to-date.

Javed Siddque 
First the few words about the concept of jihad. There is a great controversy going on in the Islamic world that what jihad really means. Jihad is an Islamic term and it originates from Holy Quran but there are differences of perception about jihad. For instance Gen. Musharaf once said when he was President of Pakistan that most of the scholars agreed that jihad can be waged only by the state. In an Islamic state the army can wage jihad against the enemies. No other organization in an Islamic state can wage the jihad.

If we look at the publications which were owned by various Islamic parties in Pakistan and before establishment of Pakistan including JUI, JUP and Jamat-e-Islami we don’t find the concept of jihad being promoted in those publications in those times. These publications promoted Islam, Islamic values and injunctions but they never mentioned the concept of jihad. They never promoted jihad with the intensity, it is been promoted now.

I think all speakers have mentioned the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan back in 70s. The United States’ interest to flush Soviets out of Afghanistan did breed the jihadi organizations and jihad was used to damage the Soviets. The jihad groups were taken on board and their fighters were infiltrated into Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet forces. That was one reason in this part of the world, the jihadi organizations took root in our soil and also patronized by the state. ISI, CIA and the government, they were all together in this effort. Subsequently these elements, when the Soviets left the Afghanistan, were used in Kashmir to promote jihad and fight against the Indian army which is occupying Kashmir.

I think that 9/11 also played a very important role in reinforcing these jihadi organizations but they existed even before that. Jihad publications have supported Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other jihad groups in Pakistan. The jihadis have even sought support from mainstream media using different tactics. Almost every newspaper covers the activities of Taliban, whatever is happening in FATA and even in Afghanistan. But I think they are not satisfied with the way the mainstream media is covering their jihad which they are waging against NATO and US forces and also now the Pakistan army. They want publications and huge number of publications to promote not only the concept of Islam but also sectarian concepts which they adhere to. So I think as long as issue of Kashmir, Palestine and presence of NATO/ US troops remain these jihadiorganizations will continue to flourish and I think it is difficult to curtail the number of these jihadi publications. They will have a cause as long as these forces are there. These jihadi groups have a cause to promote and talk about jihad and to insight common Muslims to fight this war which they call the holy war.

Concluding Remarks by Dr. Tariq Rehman 
Basically the questions which are asked generally show that we are still not clear as to what the enemy is and who the enemy is? Certain things have been discussed here and I think the historical aspect was necessary in order to point out how come we have the ‘forces’ in the country which are hitting us. So it is traced out that there is in fact a worldview [of the militants] and worldview is domination over the world through a means that whatever means may be used i.e. force or otherwise etc. This view precedes 9/11 which is there for a long time and it is promoted by international hooliganism, by trade powers but also by the fact that in the Muslim world most people who are ruling the Muslim world are exploitative elites. Because of their exploitation they have not actually allowed their people to think, they have not allowed media to picking up the facts even in Saudi Arabia. They have not allowed the liberties which normally prevent grievances from becoming extremism. Also the elites of Pakistan have used Islam thinking they could dominate and suppress ethnicities. Therefore a lot of selfishness of our ruling elites has to be counted when we say that grievances and poverty provide foot soldiers to militant groups and translate into idiom of Islam.

Along with that we must admit certain basic facts and those are that these forces, for whatever historical reasons, are using the extreme force. And that whichever area has gone into their control including Swat and Buner etc. we have seen they used discriminate force against women and children, who were taken away on the suicide missions etc. Their sources of gathering money like kidnapping for ransom are not allowed from Islamic and legal points of view. Those things people don’t know about.  They talk in terms of black and white but they do not know that there is a lot of way and there is a lot of unknown into it.

They [militants] are very powerful forces. It is not that we cannot fight them in one way but it is also correct that we cannot do so without understanding the enemy. And to understand them reports like this by the PIPS have to be launched and I’m very happy that so many people spoke about it and they have looked at it in different ways.  I myself wrote an article on what I called the Munazara literature in my book which was published by Oxford University in 2004. I have looked at the literatures at higher level and which circulates in madrasa also. They also call it rud (refutation) literature wherein people from different sects refute each other. That means [to them] it is not possible to train people about maslak (religious sect) without actually refuting other doctrine and creating bias. However maslak has been taught for hundred of years and yet this kind of violence against Shia and vice versa was not there before.

The excellent point was made by Amir Zia that should we also call it jihad. This is a point for you to ponder. May be some people can reply. But there is a ground for rethinking terminology we use because language is an important point as it affects the minds. There is a worldview, emotions and attitude which grow with the language. So it is important that which language is used.