There are terrorists, who kill innocent civilians. There are many others who justify such condemnable acts. That's how one of the gravest threats to humanity has lived on for ages. One group kills people. The other group kills the entire reality around the dead. The first group wields Kalashnikovs. The other could be a faceless or a next door neighbor, weaponizing modern communication tools. Both are, however, tied with a common ideological inspiration. Terrorists have a short life. But, that's not the case with the other group providing terrorists certain legitimacy and helping them to recruit misguided youth.
Terrorists choose bullets to take lives of persons. The other group neutralizes the collective consciousness of entire peace-loving societies. In the perception driven world, alphabets penetrate more than bullets, and are now more powerful than ever given their ability to travel across the globe in nano-seconds and without spending much. This is a sketch of the ‘other’ group which has emerged of late more profound in today's global terrorism architecture. Many security experts call them ‘Anti-State Narrative Builders’ whose primary responsibility is to nurture and support extremist terrorist groups. And over the period of time, it has become the most potent tool to justify terror acts and to indoctrinate gullible minds all over the world.
Military theorist David Kilcullen describes 'narrative' as a construct to shape perceptions, beliefs and behavior of the public. In Kashmir valley a large number of narrative builders, largely supported by international media platforms and nondescript news portals, are thriving. These newly minted narrative builders are not baptized in a newsroom but in cafes like the one situated near Amar Singh College. Possibly, they have never worked on beats, desks and possess hardly any exposure on the art of cultivating sources. But, they have other advantages, which a beat reporter will never have- luxury of time and a strong extra-judicial ecosystem. They are well-trained in preaching hatred, providing legitimacy to Pakistan's state-sponsored brutality against common Kashmiri. Harold Lasswell calls such an approach “management of collective attitudes by manipulation of significant symbols".
Newly minted anti-State narrative builders are in denial mode towards existence of terrorists and violence perpetuated by them. For them disturbance is peace. Little they care about the stress social fabric is under due to various fissures perpetuated by them, covering up terrorist’s brutality by spreading misinformation and depriving people of a voice against the exploitation by outfits propped up by Pakistan. The unrelenting push to put a veil of words to justify deeds of violence is the profound capability such narrative peddlers have developed due to the support system that has had backing of the ruling class.
One well-known narrative builder is Ms. Sana Irshad Mattoo. Born in downtown Srinagar Ms. Mattoo is a typical Anti-State, Pro-Pakistan narrative builder. She speaks the same language that finds sanction in lexicon of proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba (leT) or any other Pakistan-supported terror outfits operating in Kashmir valley. But, unlike terrorists, she is not on the run or hiding in a jungle. She lives in a society and carries more potent weapons of mass indoctrination.
In her writing she completely denies existence of terrorists and crime committed by them. For, Ms. Mattoo, terrorist Maqbool Bhat is ‘father of the nation’ and other terrorists are rebels. She willfully chooses the words to justify the terror acts. Sample this: Indian-administered Kashmir, Most Densely Militarized Place on Earth, Aggressive Military Operations, Massive Demographic Changes etc. Not a single such loaded and powerful adjective driven phrase is ascribed by her to terrorists and their acts of sniffing out lives of guiltless Kashmiris. In another article Ms Mattoo claims that Kashmir has been turned into a detention centre. She talks of hope and resistance. She talks of having no other option but to resist. You won’t find even passing reference to killing of innocent Kashmiri’s by Pak-backed terrorists. Truth is a causality like an innocent person in her myopic observation.
She leads a pack of similar narrative pushers and gig consumers selling misery for self aggrandizement. Among others are Uzma Falak, Nusrat Sidiq, Jehangir Ali, Haziq Qadri, Bilal Kuchay, Mohd Raafi,Quratul ul Al Rehbar, Kamran Yusuf, Kaisar Andrabi, Akash Hassan etc. All of them contribute for various publications in India and abroad but the subtext is common to what Ms. Mattoo is ferrying through her write-ups. To comment on each of them would need reams and reams of papers. But, put together they are a classic example of propaganda or subliminal spin mixed with false information to influence target readers. The psychological warfare unleashed by them have twin objectives- deny terror violence and encourage the targeted readers to carry out pre-determined action.
Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli term such writing in reference to Al Qaeda as 'single narrative'- a unifying framework of explanations that provides its followers with an emotionally satisfying portrayal of the world in which they live and their role in it. For example, the government is oppressive and unjust, the government is ruthless and dictatorial, harassing the innocents, the government is responsible for all the problems and so on and so forth.
While a majority of people of Jammu & Kashmir are well integrated in the society and Indian value system, aspiring to be developed like other states, a minority of the young population are still vulnerable to such propaganda. Often, they are radicalized by a single narrative and inspired by symbols like 'resist and exist'.
Alex P. Schmid in his research paper “Countering Al-Qaeda’s ‘Single Narrative’ said: “It is a fact that the single narrative plays an important role in preparing the path for vulnerable young Muslims towards terrorism, by: Identifying a problem as not just a misfortune, but an injustice; Constructing a moral justification for violence ; Blaming the victims; Displacing responsibility; Diffusing responsibility. The pen and the sword, da’wa and jihad, go hand in hand in al Qaeda’s thinking.”
Can human rights of terrorists override those of their victims? Why is the state often helpless against peddlers of single narrative? The answer perhaps lies in democratic values a state is bound with for effective counter-propaganda action against such peddlers. If the state has to win the battle of ideas it has to come up with innovative initiatives to kill the militancy and not militants alone.
What action can be taken against Ms. Mattoo & her tribe?
By calling Maqbool Bhat ‘father of the nation’ and showing disloyalty and disaffection to sovereignty and integrity of India, Ms. Mattoo has clearly crossed the laxman rekha of freedom of expression and safeguard provided by Article 21 of the Constitution. Ms. Mattoo and other calling terrorists as ‘heroes’ and using the term ‘Indian Administered Kashmir’ may lose government benefits, will have to face the law and her passport too can be impounded because the law of the land is very clear about country’s sovereignty.
Passport Act, Section 10, sub section (3) (c) says, "if the passport authority deems it necessary so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public."
This is the right moment for the government to take a decisive step towards anti-Constitution, pro-Pakistan single narrative peddlers.
(The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Newspaper)