Wanted: A better class of puppets

Imran Khan, Ahmed Quraishi, Zaid Hamid

A recently leaked internal US government document reveals that the world’s greatest military superpower fears that it is losing a propaganda war to ISIS. Actually, this is not much of a surprise. America is a non-Muslim country trying to persuade Muslims to reject an ideology that claims to be Islamic. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as America’s uncompromising support for Israel mean that the country lacks the credibility necessary to convince Muslims outside their own borders. The Americans seem to realise this to a certain degree, and along with their efforts to increase their own anti-extremist communications, the leaked memo notes that they are looking to Muslim countries for help. However, even though countering the ISIS propaganda is a goal that we have in common a serious problem remains: Our own propagandists are actually worse than the Americans.

I do not claim to approve of government propaganda, but at the same time it is a reality that must be faced. Even so, governments across the world have seen their ability to control messages seriously reduced due to the wide spread of the internet. The effect of cold war strategies like the Soviet Union’s propaganda films and America’s radio broadcasts is nothing compared to the spread of social media that is uncontrolled and available to everyone. Every government in the world has probably tried to find a solution to countering anti-state propaganda, and so far every one has failed. That does not mean that they do not continue looking for the secret formula.

To say that our own attempts at controlling the message have been very disappointing is not to tell the whole story. We have not only failed to get our point across, but we have actually damaged our own credibility in the process. This is partly the responsibility of officials in both the military and the government making bold statements and denials that are then abandoned, but the biggest part of the responsibility lies in our continued use of discredited propagandists and their out dated tactics.

The best example of our puppet class is Ahmed Quraishi. He must be given respect for his tireless ability to keep going after suffering so many public humiliations, but from a practical point of view he should have been let go years ago. I am not going to recount all the times and ways that Ahmed Quraishi has ruined his own reputation since those have already been collected by other sites like Cafe Pyala, Pakistan Media Watch, and Express Tribune. The latest addition being Ali Aftab Saeed’s piece for The Nation about Ahmed Quraishi’s campaign against Bajrangi Bhaijan due to being anti-Pakistan…except that ISPR had already approved the film.

Ahmed Quraishi is a perfect example because his practice consists of pretending to be a journalist on some days and pretending to be activist on other days. One day he will be on Express News promoting a transparent agenda, the next he is being flown around the world to represent at UN meetings. Meanwhile he is also busy with his social media activism re-posting his colleagues like Farhan K Virk and Anjum Kiani whose antics are only additional nails in the coffin of whatever remains of AQ’s reputation. Yes, they may have an army of keyboard warriors ready to make a trending hashtag, but what has it ever gotten us?

This is the reality. Our propaganda army may be using modern technology, but they are using outdated strategies. Ahmed Quraishi has a ruined reputation. Anything he says is immediately questioned. Even if he says it on TV, the few people watching already understand that it is more entertainment than information. Ahmed Quraishi may as well be reading Soviet propaganda in the year 2015. Same effect.

This is also the case with hashtags and phony websites. Our hashtag-walas ability to generate trending hashtags so quickly is impressive, but it is also completely useless. Nobody believes that they represent any kind of popular uprising, and they disappear as quickly as they appear. Daily Mail News and other fake ‘news’ sites might provide paychecks for some people, but they are so poorly run that they don’t actually convince anyone of anything except that we are not a country with a lack of wild imaginations.

America is having trouble countering extremist propaganda because it has credibility problems due to its not a Muslim country and certain events from its own past. We are also having difficulty successfully countering extremist propaganda, but we don’t suffer the same problems as the Americans. We could easily improve our effectiveness if first we would correct our mistake of continuing to rely on the same ridiculous narrative-walas and their failed propaganda strategies.

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