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OpinionsNajeeb Ahmed Googling ISIS isn’t the issue, rewarding hate speech is

Najeeb Ahmed Googling ISIS isn’t the issue, rewarding hate speech is


Najeeb Ahmed Googling ISIS isn't the issue, rewarding hate speech is

Angshukanta Chakraborty


A report in the Times of India, which has been picked up by major news channels and has become one of the lead headlines of the day, is that Najeeb Ahmed, the missing JNU student, Googled ISIS-related content before he disappeared in October 2016.


The report says police have investigated his browsing history and have found that Najeeb listened to the ISIS leaders' speeches, and watched incendiary online, videos, by the way, which are freely available to watch and download everywhere on YouTube and countless other websites.


Read along with Najeeb's, who was studying MSc Biotechnology in JNU, obsessive-compulsive disorder syndrome and treatment for depression, a new, extremely usable narrative is emerging now: that Najeeb Ahmad has possibly gone away to join the Islamic State.


Not disputing the findings of the police, or contradicting Najeeb Ahmed's browsing history, it is nevertheless important to draw attention to the battle of narratives that is the biggest issue here.


And, it has much to do with the intercutting montages on our television screens as news channels show the “shuddhikaran” of Uttar Pradesh chief minister's official residence in anticipation of Yogi Adityanath's stay in the bungalow interspersed with the now suspected ISIS connection behind Najeeb Ahmed's disappearance.


The TOI report and subsequent news clips on TV channels say Najeeb Ahmed's extensive browsing history, discovered after a forensic analysis of his laptop, points to a proclivity towards the ISIS and its ideology. Of course, the report doesn't clarify that anyone with an internet connection can look up ISIS-related content that's freely available online, and just looking up content, no matter how communally sensitive, isn't a crime


It is obviously a matter of inference here, subtle messaging, that nevertheless conforms to the larger narrative that had been pushed since last year's JNU agitation, when Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested for sedition. Or, when Gurmehar Kaur was trolled and sent rape threats for saying “Pakistan didn't kill my father, war did”.


The purported link between left-liberalism and an imagined softness, indeed fondness, towards Islamic religious fundamentalism, the latest shorthand for which is the ISIS, is exactly what the Hindutva brigade has been trying to establish for a long time now.


This is particularly interesting because hardly any news channel, with one or two exceptions, wanted to touch the “Najeeb Ahmed missing” story with a barge pole when it came to light last October. The altercation with ABVP members that preceded Najeeb's disappearance could have led to tracks that have been deemed a strict no-go area because they might upset the RSS, the force behind the re-engineering of India as per the Hindutva playbook.


And even when the story was taken up for prime time debate, the blatantly unequal opportunities to speak given to members of regime-affiliated student body members, as opposed to the regular JNU students and Najeeb's friends, was telling.


It is important that we ask why is it that one kind of communalism is rewarded in this country, while even engaging with contents which have communal context but belong to the demonised, minority religion, is singled out for the narratorial extermination? It's basically, death by narrative.


Why is it that one kind of rabid communal indulgence, of course of the Hindutva variety, is becoming the new normal, the new mainstream that is being legitimised by giving its proponents and chief architects – from former BJP national president LK Advani, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and now Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath – pivotal roles in the government, even though that goes against the Constitution of India?


While, even a passing curiosity, an inadequate and misguided vent for the alienated minorities – religious, class-oppressed, a mere engagement online, which each and everyone with an internet connection must have done at some point or another – gets singled out for obsessive hounding on social media and mainstream news outlets, particularly the TV channels, that are in alignment with the Hindutva regime.


If the ISIS videos are problematic for their roles as baits for recruitment of disgruntled Muslims across the , don't we need to ask what drives the youth of a hitherto secular democratic republic to seek solace, or even satisfy curiosity, whether intellectual or sentimental, in/with them?


It is important to point out that Najeeb's medical condition could have been aggravated by the viciously anti-JNU, anti-liberal climate of fear engineered by the ABVP members as well as the JNU administration in cahoots with TRP-hungry media and the central government in the months leading up to his disappearance.


If incitement to murder in ISIS videos is problematic, then so is the newly-crowned Uttar Pradesh CM's clarion call to kill ten Muslims if one Hindu is touched.


While Adityanath looked on, his necrophile supporter called for raping the corpses of Muslim women after digging them out of graveyards, exactly as the Modi-led BJP stalwarts raked up the issue of triple talaq again and again, promising deliverance for Muslim women from Muslim men in their version of Orientalism 2.0, the staple item of garden-variety Hindutva.


That this sits excellently with the PM's election-time rhetoric numerically comparing “shamshans” and “kabristans”, is of course a foregone inference.  But if the of crematoriums has newfound legitimacy, it is obviously happening at the expense of even the existence of cemeteries, and hardly the politics of cemeteries.


Najeeb Ahmed is missing for six months now and there have been several hoaxes of “sighting Najeeb”, as if he were an UFO, an unidentified fleeing object. It is significant that Najeeb has become the BIG STORY today only after an ISIS link, no matter how tenuous, vague and utterly absurd, has been discovered vis-à-vis his disappearance.


That there were hardly any visuals of Najeeb's mother, Fatima Nafees, wailing for her missing son and demanding justice, along with Rohith Vemula's mother, Radhika, playing on loop on TV channels is something we must remember while viewing and reviewing the clips of “Najeeb Googled ISIS” story now breaking on our collective opiated screens.


Narrative is the new battleground, and the seamless juxtaposition of Hindutva with development is evident in the calls from TV journalists who flaunt their ritual and easy access to the new power-centres.


The playful banter, which masquerades as hard-hitting interview and gets endlessly retweeted, shared and endorsed on social media and opinion pages of national dailies, sanctifies and amplifies the drum-rolls of Hindutva welfare and Hindutva capitalism.


It is important to quote what another TV journalist, one belonging to the increasingly endangered lot, has to say about how the agenda-setters of today play judge, jury and executioner, becoming propagandists of this blatantly authoritarian and communal regime.


Ravish Kumar says:


“A chill runs down the spines of those present in this ‘examination hall' whenever a new raiding party visits. And a fear of being implicated falsely – without having committed any crime – takes over. These groups have frightened more innocent people than they have caught wrongdoers. In this era of debates about fake degrees versus genuine degrees, it is the third degree which has made a comeback in various forms. The news anchor is the new centre of power in our times. He freely lashes out at those who speak differently from him. It is a crime to hold an opposing view. To present an alternative opinion is a serious crime, to present facts is scurrilous and to be truthful is sinful. First television only held our evenings captive and now these ‘police-stations' continue their operation throughout the day. You have selected a news-anchor for the first award – this is proof enough that those who are ready to take risks still survive. There still are people who are ready to risk another defeat. Although their survival may be an illusion, I am still grateful.”


When narrative is the battleground, death by narrative is a sentence that is pronounced by a jury that is predisposed towards certain easy conclusions and sweeping generalisations. It is telling therefore that the national security adviser, Ajit Doval, says that the world is facing the fourth generation of warfare, “where the frontier will be civil society and the enemy will be from civil society”.


It works very well to insinuate that Najeeb, or JNU students, or activists fighting for civil liberties, are the fourth generation enemies in the information age. In one stroke, Najeeb has been turned from one who was persecuted to one who might be prosecuted if found, and found out.


Whether or not Najeeb is actually connected to ISIS is irrelevant. The narrative has been changed forever, and narrative is the key to anyone's presumed guilt or innocence.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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