PAKISTAN: Facebook vs. Fanaticism

HAIG TER-GHEVONDIAN WRITES – The death of a single child is a tragedy; the death of over 100 can hardly be put into words.

Last December, Taliban suicide bombers attacked the Peshawar Army School of Pakistan slaughtering students, faculty and staff. As most of the nation wept for the those who lost their lives, controversial cleric Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque declined to condemn the attack. And while Pakistan is relatively tolerant toward extremist opinions, people like Mohammad Jibran Nasir won’t let support of child killers go unchallenged. Wisely, rather than raise a gun, bomb or fist, Jibran Nasir borrowed a viral media tactic from the global fight against the disease ALS.

Jibran Nasir is a young activist in Pakistan who started the Abdul Aziz Challenge.  Similar to the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in America, people state their names and openly denounce Abdul Aziz as well as the Taliban and other terrorist groups. The participants then nominate three other people they know to do the same.

The movement quickly gained popularity with their iconic hashtag #ReclaimYourMosques. In an interview between Nasir and Sonya Rehman of The Diplomat, Nasir stated that at first, “Only three women volunteered to come along with me in addition to a friend of mine, so the five of us went and held a small vigil there [Peshawar]. I then posted a picture on Facebook and made a Facebook event for the following day. A lot of people showed up and that is how the movement started.”

After Nasir made the Facebook event, a total of 5,300 people joined the vigil and called for the arrest of Abdul Aziz. According to Junaid Jahangir of The World Post, Aziz is sympathetic to the Taliban.

Ahmed Rashid, a policy critic and author of several books on Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the spread of extremist ideology is because Pakistan has “a free-for-all system which is extremely dangerous.” Addressing open support of terrorists is an issue the government has charged the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to deal with by taking down any sermons that include a fanatic message over social media. It is in social media that, according to Rashid, most of the hate material finds inspiration.

With the combination of Nasir’s #ReclaimYourMosques movement and the PTA’s crackdown on social media, a united front against extremist groups is likely to come to fruition.  One can only hope that this will lead to a future where a Pakistani child will not fall victim to the actions of fanatic groups.

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