In Kashmir, Conspiracy Theories Find A Market
In Kashmir, Conspiracy Theories Find A Market
13 September 2012
Times of India
: Are films just glamorized prostitution? Is the best gift on Teacher's Day from a Muslim to a non-Muslim giving him the help to overcome the 'moral dirt in his natural environment'? Was 9-11 attack an excuse to restart the Crusades? Or was it an attack by Freemasons using black magic to signify the destruction of the Kaaba and prepare grounds for the return of the anti-Christ to kill Muslims? Welcome to the world of English mainstream media in Kashmir. Starting from September 3 until September 11, readers of English dailies here have been offered a feast of bigotry and conspiracy theories. In the first week of September, one of Kashmir's premier news websites published an article by one of its reporters which soon went viral. Cinema, it said, was nothing but glamorized prostitution, a 'nanga naach' where actors' roles promote adultery, nudity and worse. 'How does one define an actress who was caressed by an actor years later plays the role of a mother to the same actor? Isn't that incest?' It would be funny if it weren't very serious. When Teacher's Day came two days later on September 5, one of Kashmir's largest English newspapers listed on its edit page the various challenges before a teacher today, foremost being the anti-Islam component of the curriculum. Then came unveiled female teachers. And the gateway to all evil: co-education, 'an evil that creates a mansion of evils like dancing, immodesty and sex scandals'. The author is generous towards non-Muslim students who, he says, should be protected from secularism because 'only Islam can provide them with the spiritual protection from the moral dirt they have acquired in their own environments'. This piece of advice so impressed the Delhi-educated owner of yet another English daily in Srinagar that it was republished two days later. Not to be left behind, two other newspapers squared up accounts on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. The piece on the edit page was pretty straightforward. Titled '9-11: A Muslim Tragedy', it first laid up the normal conspiracy theory that the American establishment itself was behind the attacks. Why? To re-launch the Crusades. 'The United States of America got the mother of all excuses to wage a war against Muslims. It was, in fact, a war of terror, a war on Islam and Muslims.' Another English newspaper took to exposing the secret sect, the Illuminati (which features in Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code') based on the 'Jewish black magic Kabala'. The author then educates readers on how number 11 is the number of Satan. From the date 9-11 to the flight number of the first aircraft to hit the north tower (Flight 11) to the fact that 'New York is the 11th city added to the Union', the article works up a grand finale: 'The architect who planned the trade towers said he was deeply influenced by the architecture of the Kaaba, so 9-11 should act as a hint to all Muslims that they are planning to destruct (sic) the Muslim holy places'. These aren't the rants of anonymous bloggers nor the work of mad pamphleteers. These have been written by educated and respectable members of society, and published in the Valley's largest circulating newspapers, edited by respected journalists. And they aren't talking to deaf ears. A cross section of society in Kashmir believes a lot of these theories. From Arshad, a shopkeeper who believes that 9-11 was a CIA-Mossad joint operation, to the Kashmir University students who block music shows because they are 'haraam'; from Hina, the housewife who believes that the Mumbai attacks were a handiwork of RAW to silence police officer Hemant Karkare, to the doctor who believes that al-Qaida is a CIA front. It's a strange cocktail of defensiveness and victimhood, where any story, no matter how outlandish, finds an audience if it helps deflect any soul searching. There are many in Kashmir who reject these theories, but only in private, leaving the stage to those who espouse them. So, in a couple of schools in Srinagar, male teachers and some students staged a walkout in a dance performance by 10-year-old girls. In the same Kashmir, where everyone is addicted to films, cinema halls haven't got a hope in hell of opening. The ones who don't believe in conspiracy theories are frightened into silence. They listen quietly when someone describes Lashkar supremo Hafiz Saeed as a social worker. They read their morning paper and shake their heads, making a mental note to pull their children out of Kashmir.