I have been trying to write a post about the latest video released by the Pakistani Taliban for a while now. But every time I try to pen down what I felt when I came face to face with this monstrosity, words fail me. Perhaps because they know - as I do - that some emotions are indescribable. But I'm going to try again, because I feel like I must.
This link was shared by a journalist friend this morning. I clicked it with a combination of dread and morbid curiosity. (For the record, I have a strong tolerance for gruesomeness, as do most people who make a career out of studying humanity). The page (published by the 'Islamabad Observer', a newspaper I haven't come across before, but I digress) is fairly alarming. The article is dated April 20, 2009 and the text that introduces the video embedded below says: "Members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), orignated from SWAT valley video filmed the slaughtering of the persons accused of spying for the Pakistani and American agencies"
Warning is given that this video is not for the fainthearted. I ignore that. It also asks me to certify that I am over eighteen before I click play. I certainly am. The video begins on a non-impressive note, with shoddy graphics and a soundtrack that sounds like it may have been borrowed from a bad Pushto film. A book, ostensibly the Quran, is open on the screen and various Arabic words/phrases are scattered around the frame. It is difficult to miss their point, this is an ISLAMIC video. The frame shifts to a 'hukum-allah' (written in Arabic script) arranged above a sharp-looking kitchen knife, towards the back obscured in shining light is the Quranic image (yet again). I read Arabic, but I (like most of my peers) cannot speak the language, however even I understand what this short phrase means. Hukm = Command, Allah = God. Whatever we're going to see next is apparently by order of the diety. And the soundtrack warns us, it's not likely to be pleasant. (But then what that has come out of the Taliban threshold is?).
The next second brings with it the curiously childlike voices screaming Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great). Another shiver runs down my spine. (And I wonder, since when did this phrase go from comforting to ominous in my mind?) I keep watching as the soundtrack shifts to a guttural reading of Arabic. They sound like verses from the Quran, but I have no idea what is being said. I can see however badly inserted graphics of flame with an American flag burning in the background. In the foreground, I see a series of dismembered heads displayed one after the other. And I think to myself, if these videos are going to be frequently released, the Taliban should really invest in a better graphic designer and potentially a new logo. The one they show me, in the next frame, is black and white with the words shariyat (Islamic law) and shahadat (martyrdom) arranged in a way that suggests that for the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan-Swat, the choice is between one or the other. The graphics fade and make way for dimly lit footage. I think to myself that the Taliban may need to invest in a filmographer (is that the word?) as well.
And then the footage clears and we can see sharp images of men's feet rushing through what looks like a busy, urban area. Something momentously disturbing is happening, judging by the number of people crowding the street moving to-and-fro in no particular order. Through various shalwar-clad legs it becomes possible to make our something white on the ground. The legs clear out and we can see that it is a man, lying prone on the ground, his wrists and ankles bound tightly behind him. He is blindfolded and forced to lie still by two men, one holding his legs in place, one standing by his face with a sharp knife.
This is about the time I stop thinking. Stop deconstructing images. Stop looking for implicit meanings to the semantics used. Stop wondering if helpful suggestions re: film crew would be appreicated. And as I watch what happened next, I don't think I have the faculty to piece together any intelligent 'thoughts'. Emotion takes over. And what I feel is still indescribable. Horror, repulsion, overwhelming sorrow and very, very real fear. I know I cry out loud, because I can hear myself. I know I put my hand over my eyes and try not to watch as they dispense with one bleeding mis-shapen headless corpse and moved on to another lying trussed up in the middle of a crowded, public place. I peek through my fingers and see that knife peircing through the second man's throat and red, red blood bubbling out. I clench my teeth together so hard my jaw hurts. I force myself to watch as an entire head is brutally sliced off.
My horror mounts as I register the ironically soothing rythm of Quranic verses playing in the background even as I see this grotesque spectacle, register the crimson hued reality of blood gushing out, first in rivulets, then streams, then rivers testifying the brutal reality of what I see. The head is completely removed, but the body continues to shudder and wreathe on the ground. White-clad Taliban with dark blue masks pick the head up, shake it a little, and then casually throw it on top of the torso as they walk away. All this while the Quran plays in the background. I feel like I am going to throw up. And I wish I would. I wish I could eject what I just saw, and erase it from my memory forever.And as the words 'jasoos ka anjaam' (the fate of a spy) flash at the bottom of the screen and bloody butchers in front of me move on to a third person, I shut the video.
My hands are shaking as I register than I have (barely) made it through two minutes of over eight minutes of footage. I'm not even curious about what comes next. And I try, and try again, to put into words what I feel. I feel scared that acts like this can take place, be filmed and then flaunted for the world-at-large as a warning. I feel disgusted that my religion, a religion named 'peace', is being massacred just like those poor men sprawled out on the road. And all I have to say is this: If you think you can scare me by showing me something like this. You can. You can scare me because unlike you I fear pain and I fear the kind of brutal, animalistic death you show me. But if you think you can show me this and expect me to appreciate your power. You're mistaken. You are not powerful, you are nothing more than a group of deranged men who use brute force and scare-tactics to get what you want. If you think, you can show me this and expect me to change my beliefs and to appreciate your cause. You are deranged. Now, more than ever, I'm convinced that you use the rhetoric of the religion for nothing but evil. I will be damned if I ever give you any control over public perceptions of 'my' religion. I denounce you, and everything you stand for. And when this farce is over, and you and I are both dead, you will watch those you killed denounce you too even as you are forever relegated to the depths of hell. You are monsters and you deserve no mercy, because you show none, and if there is any justice within this universe you shall be shown none either.