How wrong would it be if I say that every problem is a communication problem and right communication can solve many wrongs in a society? Terrorism driven by extremism is one such aspect that needs long-term communication, based on strategy and planned execution to effectively halt it.
The recent disastrous event that took place in Sialkot suggests that the problem is a deep-rooted one where those involved were heavily influenced by misleading information on their religion which has been bombarded on them over a period of time. We have to see why a group of people is made to think in a certain way. What is the message they are receiving on a regular basis and who is giving that message? In the case of what happened in the Sialkot factory incident, some research can help in answering these questions.
The nature of the problem also suggests that in addition to short-term measures like punishment for those involved, a long-term communication strategy is needed to correct certain misconceptions with reference to religion in Pakistan society.
The question we need to answer is who is influencing and who is being influenced? We all know the general answer to this. However, to know precisely which outfits and individuals are giving what extremist information and who are absorbing it and from which channels of communication, will require extensive research on social media, based on keywords. Once you know this information only then you will be in a position to formulate a tactical plan to reach the target audiences with your key messages. It is rather surprising to know that one of the religious outfits which are propagating wrong information is also one of the most followed organisations on social media and the quality of followership in terms of engagement is really good.
Key Messages and Setting Counter-Narrative
The narrative of murdering people on self-judgment rests on a Daeef Hadees, "Kill the one who insults the Prophet" which is repeated on a regular basis. The fact of the matter is that the Prophet (PBUH) has on umpteen occasions given the message of love and forgiveness. There are genuine examples from the Prophet’s (PBUH) life where he forgave people and prevented his companions from killing people even after wars. The counter-narrative of love and forgiveness which is the real one, needs to be pushed through planned communication.
Channels of Communication
Having defined your objectives, problem recognition, target audiences and key messages and counter-narratives, the next step would be to select the right channels of communication to effectively reach your audiences. Who sees and reads what and what influences society in forming narratives.
Religious extremism is one area where Influencers’ communication would be the right response. Only the clergy from the relevant market segment can answer misconceptions that have been exploited with reference to religion. No other groups in society, no matter how vocal, will be heard or will be able to influence the thought process of those who are either spreading or absorbing such misconceptions.
Social media remains the biggest tool to reach well-defined target audiences. While all social media platforms have their strong points, Twitter leads the way (despite smaller numbers) when it comes to influencers and opinion leaders, and that too from every segment of society. So when it comes to pitching the clergy against false religious narratives there is no better platform than Twitter. When it comes to reaching the people who have embraced these false narratives, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can also prove very handy. As said earlier, the flag bearer extremist outfit which is spreading misleading and wrong information is also one of the most popular organisations on social media. Thus the use of social media platforms is likely to bring desired outcomes for this kind of campaign against religious extremism and intolerance.
We should be mindful of the fact that such incidents if forgotten, pave the way for the next disaster. What happened in Sialkot is a big dent in Pakistan’s reputation worldwide and the way to come back is by getting the right messages across to the world, on the corrective measures that the country has taken to prevent such disastrous events from happening again.
Aamir Abbasi is a Chartered PR Professional based in the UK.