Flood Relief, Illusions, and Extremist PR

Militants are very good at two things only: Killing people and public relations. But for all the publicity that extremists are getting for taking part in flood relief, they are actually doing very little. Compared to the work being done by the government and military, the partnerships with the international community, and the work being done by everyday people – extremists are doing practically nothing. So why does it seem like every time you open a newspaper or turn on the TV, there is some story about JuD or some other jihadi group doing some relief work?

President Zaradri told The Telegraph that,

“I see always such organisations and such people taking advantage of this human crisis,” Zardari said. “It is again a challenge to not let them take advantage of this human crisis.”

And what’s interesting is not only that he’s right, but that it’s completely ridiculous that he even has to say it.

Nadeem Sarwar had a great article last Friday about how moderates are actually outdoing extremists in flood relief, despite the illusion of a widespread effort by extremists.

Islamists might be more organized in their relief activities for the millions of flood victims across Pakistan and even better at publicising their efforts for political gain, but ordinary, moderate people are far ahead on the ground.

Saira Bano, 24, does not have links with any political or religious groups. What motivated her was empathy for the flood victims. After a couple of consultations with her classmates at Islamabad’s National University of Modern Languages, which promotes moderate and liberal values, Bano launched a campaign to help.

“We started donation collections from the university. We asked the students to give whatever they can do – all of their pocket money or just one rupee, a glass, a bag of wheat flour or bottle of water,” she said. “We collected much more than we expected.”

Within few days, Bano, her classmates and teachers at the international relations department had raised 4,705 dollars and collected used clothes for the flood-affected people.

“We went to the market, bought ourselves the items and packed them here at the University,” Bano said. “Each packet consisted of two-time uncooked meal for a family of seven to eight people, and clothes for male, female members of the family and children.”

The three truck loads of aid were distributed in Nowshera, a city in the north-western province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains devastated large areas and forced millions to take refuge in relief camps or stay in the open.

Encouraged by the early success, Bano and her colleagues collected donations and now have enough money to dispatch several trucks of relief items to the central province of Punjab.

“Our department has only 60 volunteers but almost every department in this university and all the other universities in Islamabad are helping the flood victims. Everyone is helping them – not only the Islamists or extremists,” Bano said.

Actually, this illusion can be blamed mostly on the Western media, according to Rasool Bux Raees, political scientist at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

“So far the focus has been on the organizations that are linked with militancy. Everybody believes that perhaps these are the ones which are doing the most in terms of providing aid to the flood victims. But that’s not a true perception,” said Rasool Bux Raees, a political scientist at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

“Militants are visible in relief activities not because of the reality on ground but because of the Western media’s sensitivity towards them,” Raees said. “Whatever little they do is highlighted because of this attitude of the Western media and the good work of the rest of the general society and organizations remains unacknowledged.”

The truth is, moderate Pakistanis are going out of their way to bring help to flood victims.

“People and private organisations have shown a willingness to provide relief goods worth millions of rupees, but the majority of them want to distribute it themselves,” said Idrees Masood, the agency’s director.

Flood survivors camping out in miserable conditions under the increasing threat of water-borne disease have staged spontaneous demonstrations, shutting some highways in protest at what they see as a lacklustre official response.

This all goes back to the ongoing problem of media promoting jihadi narratives. Militants turning into saints makes a good media story. Jihadis love it, of course. Somehow they can bomb a mosque, and the newspaper reports that they are humanitarians! This is pretty good PR for people who would just as soon kill you as give you some rice.

It also makes a good bogeyman for the Western media to scare their own people. Ever since 9/11 you see media in the US and UK jumping on any story they can to make people think that jihadis are one minute away from taking over the world or getting some nuclear weapons. The truth is completely different, of course, almost nobody in Pakistan likes the extremists. The fact that these monsters can bomb mosques while people are trying to rescue flood victims says all you need to know about their “humanitariansim”.

Unfortunately, our own media is happy to help by using the opportunity. Some elements see the opportunity to bash the government, which is about as short-sighted as you can get. Do they really hate one man so much that they’re willing to destroy the whole country just to carry out some sick vendetta? Let it go, guys.

Most people are doing relief work because they love their country, they love their brothers, and they love humanity. They are not extremists, they are good people. They won’t turn away some families for being Ahmadi or Hindu or Christian or “the wrong kind of Muslim”. They don’t have a religious test to take before they will give you some food. They are doing relief work without asking for a photo shoot or a news camera. Jihadis never go anywhere without their media team in tow so that they can seem like they are the ones doing everything, when the reality is the complete opposite.

If the media paid more attention to the beauty of what our people are doing, and stopped giving these jihadis a free PR service, things would improve faster.

 

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