Adam Ellick, a fantastic video journalist, has covered a wide range of topics related to Pakistan – from the issue of Swat to the sex toy industry to the issue of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Karachi. Yesterday, the NY Times released another video report entitled, “Tuning Out the Taliban,” in which Ellick discusses why Pakistan’s music stars have yet to sing out against the Taliban, despite journalists, playwrights, and even moderate Islamic clerics condemning the militant organization. In his accompanying blog post, Ellick wrote,
…in a nation where the West is often the villain, television stations and big businesses have little economic or political incentive to put their name on a musician with an anti-Taliban platform.The result is a surge of bubble-gum stars who have become increasingly politicized. Some are churning out ambiguous, cheery lyrics urging their young fans to act against the nation’s woes. Others simply vilify the United States.
The brothers behind the rock band Noori, told Ellick, “First of all, it is the West that is against the Taliban because it is very heavily affected by it…we are not.” Such a statement is ironic given how many Pakistanis have been impacted by the continuous bombings and violence in the country. In fact, more than 200 girls’ schools have been destroyed by Taliban-perpetrated bombings. When probed on the bombing of girls’ schools, musician Ali Azmat came up with an answer that was frankly disgusting: “You cannot blame the Taliban for that, where do you think the funding is coming from…it’s the agenda of the neocons to de-Islamicize Pakistan…”
Ellick’s video is interesting because it raises some important points. First, as role models for the country’s younger generation, do musicians have a responsibility to come out against the Taliban? We have seen the power of celebrity elsewhere in the world, with stars like Bono raising awareness about AIDS or Angelina Jolie acting as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Whether or not Pakistani musicians care to accept it, their messages have a profound impact on the youth of the country. Columnist Fasi Zaka said in the video, “When they don’t think the Taliban is the problem, the reason is because they’re convinced that we Pakistanis could never be like that, that we’re peaceful people, and that it must be the Indians, Americans, Israelis. If that’s being mimicked by pop stars then that’s a significant problem because it’s reinforcing the wrong view.”
Zaka’s statement raises my second point regarding the power of celebrity in Pakistan. The songs and themes released by these musicians are not just a reflection of their own personal views, they are a reflection of public opinion as a whole. According to a recently administered poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan [via the Zeitgeist Politics], while 51% of those surveyed in the country support the military’s offensive in South Waziristan, most still do not believe it is only Pakistan’s problem. Instead, when asked whether the war was in the American interest, the Pakistani interest, or both, 39% still view the operation as America’s war.
Given the increasingly high anti-American sentiment in the country – a phenomenon exacerbated by U.S. drone strikes in the region – such views may be misguided but they are not surprising. The problem occurs, though, when Pakistani music stars link this sentiment to conspiracies in their songs. In the Azmat song, Klashinfolk, the singer “omits a stream of anti-Western conspiracy theories.” He told Ellick, “We know for a fact that all this turbulation in Pakistan is not us, it’s an outside hand.” Columnist Nadim Paracha asserted, “You talk to a musician over here, you say whats the problem, he won’t come up with a fantastic insightful answer for you…he’ll come up with the most rhetorical, most cliched crap.”
I am attaching Ellick’s report below, and I’ll leave you with one question, “At a time when the very state of Pakistan is under threat, is it the responsibility of all citizens – especially celebrities – to speak out against the Taliban, even if it means putting their own lives at risk?”