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Tuning Out the Taliban – A Critique

December 7, 2009

Asif Akhtar’s satirical article on Adam Ellick’s video for the New York Times ‘Tuning Out the Taliban‘ had a comment blasting the video that I felt was at least partially wrong…the first comment, in fact.

I’m surprised anyone has anything to do with the guy, since the two pieces he’s written about the Pakistani music scene are complete hatchet jobs.

(I haven’t been able to find a second piece. This seems to be the first, the text supplement to the video.)

Like Asif, when I first heard of this video, I was happy – even when I knew that it was bashing Pakistani musicians who refused to bash the Taliban. After seeing it, though, my feelings changed.

To summarize:

1) The video could and should have been better.

2) It’s not a simple hatchet job.

Let’s take the bad first and get it out of the way.

This video does reflect negatively on Pakistani music, even when it doesn’t need to (case in point: Shahzad Roy at the end). It is a very poor effort by the standards of the New York Times, for it is to an extent one dimensional and does not accurately reflect Pakistani musicians, much less our society. Adam Ellick needed to be more responsible for he cannot be unaware of the wide audience that the NYT commands.I’m guessing that at least a few statements in the video were taken out of context and then repeated to hammer home a point that is largely untrue. Generalizations cannot be made about either Pakistan’s musicians or the Pakistani youth on the basis of these nine minutes.

What’s interesting is that the comments on the NYT post , from both Pakistanis, Americans, and Indians (wonder why they’re so interested) reflect all three views – that there are no conspiracy theories and that Pakistan is messed up, that everything is a CIA/Mossad/RAW plot, and also that the video is deeply flawed.

Flawed, yes, but completely wrong, no.

I think it’s a GOOD thing that the journalist tried to expose the flaws in our musicians. How long till we stop idolizing them? How many in the Pakistani media are speaking out against the Taliban?

I have been a hardcore Junoon fan for over a decade (a junooni, as we were called) and have immense respect for Ali Azmat the musician – but when he says that the Taliban cannot be blamed for destroying schools for girls, he loses that respect in my eyes. What the hell is that supposed to mean? That people are not responsible for their actions? That people are allowed to release their frustrations on children?!

Again – I am a fan of Noori. They have produced some great music and I still sing along to their songs while driving. But the Taliban is a small problem? Yes, perhaps in a way it is. It’s the symptom of a much larger problem – our collective failure to condemn extremism as a nation, our collective failure to work hard with honestly, our tendency to shift the blame to others, our aversion to any kind of self-accountability and personal responsibility.

We cannot idolize our musicians and blindly follow them. If Pakistani youth are doing that, they deserve to be criticized by outsiders (many of whom repeat the same mistakes with THEIR celebrities, by the way). Ali Azmat and Ali Noor might be scared of being the next targets, but that doesn’t mean that they should deny that the Taliban is a problem. Making guarded statements makes sense. Saying that Pakistanis are not to be blamed for the country’s troubles does not – how’s that for guarded?

context and then repeated to hammer home a point that is largely untrue. Generalizations cannot be

made about either Pakistan’s musicians or the Pakistani youth on the basis of these nine minutes.

What’s interesting is that the comments on the NYT post (http://community.nytimes.com/comments/atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/tuning-out-the-taliban-in-

pakistan-pop/
) , from both Pakistanis, Americans, and

Indians (wonder why they’re so interested) reflect all three views – that there are no conspiracy

theories and that Pakistan is messed up, that everything is a CIA/Mossad/RAW plot, and also that

the video is deeply flawed.

Flawed, yes, but completely wrong, no.

I think it’s a GOOD thing that the journalist tried to expose the flaws in our musicians. How long

till we stop idolizing them? How many in the Pakistani media are speaking out against the Taliban?

I have been a hardcore Junoon fan for over a decade (a Junooni, as we were called) and have immense

respect for Ali Azmat the musician – but when he says that the Taliban cannot be blamed for

destroying schools for girls, he loses that respect in my eyes. What the hell is that supposed to

mean? That people are not responsible for their actions? That people are allowed to release their

frustrations on children?!

Again – I am a fan of Noori. They have produced some great music and I still sing along to their

songs while driving. But the Taliban is a small problem? Yes, perhaps in a way it is. It’s the

symptom of a much larger problem – our collective failure to condemn extremism as a nation, our

collective failure to work hard with honestly, our tendency to shift the blame to others, our

aversion to any kind of self-accountability and personal responsibility.

We cannot idolize our musicians and blindly follow them. If Pakistani youth are doing that, they

deserve to be criticized by outsiders (many of whom repeat the same mistakes with THEIR

celebrities, by the way). Ali Azmat and Ali Noor might be scared of being the next targets, but

that doesn’t mean that they should deny that the Taliban is a problem. Making guarded statements

makes sense. Saying that Pakistanis are not to be blamed for the country’s troubles does not –

how’s that for guarded?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2010 11:26 am

    I’m a little late on this story on this blog, but good thoughts.

    The tone in the report is condescending, true.

    There’s a reason for that.

    The world communities(including a minority number of Pakisanis) are frustrated by the way Pakistanis, who think along the lines of army and religious superstition, have taken the threat to terrorism.

    Denialism is one thing…but then its not just conspiracy mongering…people are outright lying to themselves and the world on who to blame. The hypocrisy doesn’t make sense…How sad one must be in not having able to control their lives or reason properly what’s happening to them, but to go off tangent into fallacies and a ‘foreign hands’ CIA/Zionist/RAW nexus! I understand the brainwashing in North Korea, I don’t understand it in Pakistan…

    And yes, Noor and Azmat do go off there. So they must be condemned for their stupidity denialism which is literally getting people killed by their lack of social mobilization too.

    This superstitious stupidity that everyone in Pakistan is innocent and have never done a thing that would suggest a hand in any of the current militant madness (even though we tolerated them like forever, including sectarian groups, and are flooded with a Kalashinkov culture), it “can’t be us (Pakistanis)”, or “Muslims don’t kill Muslims”, when history and sectarian violence and simple news paper criminal stories suggest otherwise.

    I think Ali Noor and Ali Azmat, along with some politicians and many army leaders and a huge chunk of the population, are unfair to me as a Pakistani and victims of terrorism, than a NY Time documentary…

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