13.10.12

Our Guns, Children’s Shoulders

Activists and Malala. Pic: Dawn


Did anyone say “We are Omar Khadr”? How many pray for those kids who are kidnapped to join jihad factories? Had that happened, a teenage girl seeking amity would not have the role of insurrectionist foisted on her to suit urban sensibilities.

It is disturbing to watch adults exploit children for their own opportunistic stances. There may be a huge ethical divide between those who stand for harmony and those who profess terror, but the moral paradigm is similar. Both pump up the young with ideological steroids and, in some cases, drugs to fight for contrived principles. Such manipulation has become routine. 


Flashback: A decade ago. 15-year-old Omar, a Canadian citizen, was imprisoned at Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan. Would the Western media carry a regular blog by a young person who does not fit into their blueprint, but is a victim nevertheless? Why did the BBC exploit a child’s vulnerability only to cater to voyeuristic readers? Why are Pakistanis so chuffed that Malala Yousafzai being shot at by the Taliban made it to the front pages and primetime in the international media, with pictures of her on a stretcher? This is wounding her again.

At a concert in Los Angeles, Madonna turned her back to the audience to reveal the name ‘Malala’ stenciled across it.

There is the larger question about children made to propagate religious or political points. It is appalling to see them attend rallies of which they have no understanding. Comprehension of certain aspects of life and mores comes with exposure and experience. Peace activism or dreams of shahadat are not learned in the womb.

After the Mumbai attacks of 2008, there were billboards with faces of kids from every faith superimposed on the Indian flag. Not only does it go against the notion of demarcation of state and religion, it gives the young passersby a prototype identity even before they have had an opportunity to explore any other.

An 11-year-old girl who was hurt in the blasts at the railway station was a key witness. She limped to the court, holding on to crutches that helped retain her physical balance. What propped her, though, were the ventriloquist words she was mouthing: “Kasab should be hanged. When I identified him and narrated the incident to the court, Kasab didn’t dare look at me. I do not fear anything and will stand with the prosecution till Kasab is punished. You can click my photo and show my face in the paper. I don’t fear anyone.”

Is this courage or just canny marketing by consumerist consciences? Do we even pause to think about the consequences of creating or supporting such vulnerable ‘revolutionaries’? Parents bring their children for protest marches – ranging from a voice raised against terrorism to wearing Anna caps to fight corruption. How many of them take to the streets against child labour, paedophilia, incest? I would not support this, too, for it amounts to manoeuvring even if it is purportedly for their benefit.

Youngsters indoctrinated by militants is despicable. What about the armies employing them, from Sierra Leone to Somalia, Iraq to Ireland? The Brookings Institution’s statistics of 2003 reveal that “child soldiers participate in about three quarters of all the ongoing conflicts in the world…Some 300,000 children under the age of 18 (both boys and girls) are now combatants, fighting in approximately 75 percent of the world’s conflicts”.

In mid-2007, Human Rights Watch made a startling disclosure: “In over twenty countries around the world, children are direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in current armed conflicts.”

Just think of the kids the US forces fought in Iraq and then took them captive to Abu Ghraib. Think about them in the Maoist Army in Nepal, as human shields in India’s Naxal groups, of them in Israel, of stone-pelting Palestinians now holding guns. These are representatives of their countries, not fringe groups. Who is praying for them?

Conscription at 16 is an accepted norm in many armies. These children may act as couriers or helpers, but there are instances of them ending up in combat zones. It psychologically affects them as much as belonging to militant groups. The ghosts of destruction and death unify.

Guess which countries have opposed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Somalia and America. The latter’s reasoning is that it does not believe in a treaty that bans the death penalty for anyone under 18. The US State Department’s Michael Southwick had said: “Some countries try to give it the status of a secular religion and say this is the only standard in the world; to me this is an absolutely silly position. How people treat children in the world is a product of culture, it's a product of religious traditions, and so forth, and to say that one treaty negotiated at one particular time is the be-all and end-all on children is a little bit absurd.”

In fact, the absurdity is when these cultural differences are not taken into account for children from other countries who are arrested by the US. What about the shootouts at universities and streets in the west, sometimes by immigrants – can they be justified as claustrophobia experienced due to selective freedom?

Britain has a kid spy network to keep an eye on neighbourhoods, even permitting them to shoot videos and paying them upto £500. According to the Harlow Council in Essex: “They are all aged between 11 to 14. They are encouraged to report the aftermath of enviro-crimes such as vandalism to bus shelters, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, fly-tipping etc.” Is this not dangerous vigilantism? What if one of them thinks a guy wearing a hoodie looks suspicious and needs to be killed, as happened with Trayvon Martin in Florida? We won’t even go near the rucksack-carrying bearded one.

Surveillance masked as awareness by fledgling minds traps them in stereotypes, instead of freeing them. Why must the young be made to pay for and feed hungry adult paranoia? 

© Farzana Versey

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Also published in ET 

8 comments:

FV said...

Malala has been shifted to UK for further treatment. But the media won't leave her alone.

Ridiculously, Madonna stripped for her cause.

I have updated the piece a bit in the first few paras.

mstaab said...

Farzana,

Certainly one take -- viz Madonna's strip-tease -- might be to convey Malala as similarly laid bare as you observed:

>>. . . Why are Pakistanis so chuffed that Malala Yousafzai being shot at by the Taliban made it to the front pages and primetime in the international media, with pictures of her on a stretcher? This is wounding her again.<<

And certainly Madonna's graphic, in-your-face portrayal (however teasingly delivered) might be argued as imperative to get the message across to the textually or auditorially challenged (or those who rely solely on Madonna and/or the entertainment-industrial complex to be educated as to socio-political issues). However, such an association made in performance -- between a strip-tease and evident socio-political exploitation of the youth Malala -- strikes me as a bit too complex or rich a fare for the larger multitudes of her audience. Indeed such an associative performance strikes me, rather, as sexualizing or *further* sexualizing Malala's exploitation -- at least for the larger multitudes of Madonna's audience chuffed for ever more intimate glimpses of their idol. One then presumes Madonna's own socio-politically loaded message -- if a message, and not her own cynical exploitation of the girl -- to be directed at a much, much narrower audience.

>>Is this courage or just canny marketing by consumerist consciences? Do we even pause to think about the consequences of creating or supporting such vulnerable ‘revolutionaries’? Parents bring their children for protest marches – ranging from a voice raised against terrorism to wearing Anna caps to fight corruption. How many of them take to the streets against child labour, paedophilia, incest? I would not support this, too, for it amounts to manoeuvring even if it is purportedly for their benefit.<<

Can we likewise see Madonna's larger audience as virtually 'child-like' in their naivete? How then might *they* be similarly exploited so that the performer can get her message out to a more 'mature', comparative few? Can it be reasonably argued that her audience nevertheless got what they paid for?

Mark

Free and Footloose said...

FV,

QUOTE: "Pakistanis have lived with their Islamic laws, so they cannot ignore the mullahs."

In Indian context, this can translate as: Indians have lived with sekulaar laws so they better bow to rabid p-sekulaars who get angry at anything Hindu and grovel before anything Islamic.
----------
Omar - Malala is a comparison only a p-sekulaar could have done. Bravo!
----------
The point about USA opposing Child Rights Convention is well argued and well taken. USA is the country with the highest number of death row convicts, even as it bays from rooftops about human rights, civil liberties et al. Only Indian p-sekulaars can compete with it as far as such blatant hypocrisy goes.
--------
Madonna performed a striptease in support of Malala. I am waiting to see what Hina Rabbani Khar plans to do!

I know that was below the belt. But ain't it delicious!

Sai Kumar Reddy said...

This is a thought provoking article, I must admit some of it went over my head. It seems to me that you are arguing that exploitation of children happens in a variety of forms but only some instances of this exploitation is condemned. In most cases people don't even seem to notice that the little ones are being exploited for their own benefit, whether it is idealogical or commercial. Even if they notice they will cover it up but cry foul when some other group is exploiting kids for their own cause or benefit. If this is the point you are making I am afraid that most people would not even get this since they are too deeply sunk in their faulty actions and wilful ignorance. I must applaud you for trying to highlight it.

FV said...

Sai:

How could this possibily have gone over your head if you have encapsulated the crux so well? I am aware that for quite a few this sort of ‘comparison’, as they choose to see it, is not palatable. They do not see it holistically as exploitation of innocents.

Thank you for reading this with an open mind.

FV said...

F&F:

1.Whining again? (Read the next piece that I shall upload)

2. Omar - Malala is a comparison only a p-sekulaar could have done. Bravo!

As a matter of fact, the p-secs not liking it at all. They are ‘praying’.

3. USA also has p-secs, or do you see them everywhere? You must pray.

4. Madonna performed a striptease in support of Malala. I am waiting to see what Hina Rabbani Khar plans to do!
I know that was below the belt. But ain't it delicious!


I don’t find such acts edible, but then I am not obsessed with Pakistanis. Or p-secs.

Note: I have not mentioned sexism.

FV said...

Mark:

You needed a Madonna to get you started! Interesting thoughts.

There is the issue of Madonna as artiste recreating a situation. Innocence of Malala exposed is transposition, for innocence is self-evident. Stencilling on the back could possibly convey on hindsight. Or a ‘look back in anger’ scenario.

The socio-political message here tends to gravitate towards exploitation of a situation; it also legitimises her beyond performer to ‘educator’. She alluded to “education”.

>>Is this courage or just canny marketing by consumerist consciences?<<
Can we likewise see Madonna's larger audience as virtually 'child-like' in their naiveté? How then might *they* be similarly exploited so that the performer can get her message out to a more 'mature', comparative few? Can it be reasonably argued that her audience nevertheless got what they paid for?


The naiveté of the audience depends on how they receive it. If it is individually, it might depend on their consciences. If it is as a group, then they will depend on reactions to the message and for the message.

They probably got more than what they paid for because this particular striptease might not have been a part of the act. It means she bared, Malala was bared and they too were bared.

mstaab said...

Words are insufficient to express my disgust for the multiplicity of ways children are used to hold emotions hostage, Farzana. A Madonna -- one, the other or both -- is more than welcome to the credit for my comparatively mild response to your post.

>>There is the issue of Madonna as artiste recreating a situation. Innocence of Malala exposed is transposition, for innocence is self-evident.<<

Perhaps. Though "innocence," like naiveté, it seems to me, is a relative term. Innocent in terms of what; naive in terms of what? Ignorance? Experience? Something else? I've recently seen Malala characterized as a "teen idol" -- so then there is also the matter of identification. Does Malala see herself this way? *Will* Malala come to see herself this way, given enough 'grooming' by pundits characterizing her thus? Will it make any difference whether she does or does not see herself this way, in that, irrespective of what she may herself project, her identity is nevertheless thus subject this kind of licentious appropriation? Does Madonna herself thus identify with Malala -- in these terms?

>>Stencilling on the back could possibly convey on hindsight. Or a ‘look back in anger’ scenario.<<

It very well could. Personally -- *if* the artiste was indeed expressing as much in her performance -- I would rather she'd spoke out rather than acted out (for reasons articulated in my previous); but then perhaps she didn't have the words or, from experience, knew what would happen to her words, much as what happened to the youth on the school bus ought likewise have been anticipated by adults . . .

>>The socio-political message here tends to gravitate towards exploitation of a situation; it also legitimises her beyond performer to ‘educator’. She alluded to “education”.<<

What have we -- they -- learned?

>>The naiveté of the audience depends on how they receive it.<<

If you insist. As may have been evident in my previous, I see it the other way round -- their response to her Malala segment would be dependent upon their naiveté.

>>If it is individually, it might depend on their consciences. If it is as a group, then they will depend on reactions to the message and for the message.<<

Either way, I think it would have to be individually, as it is difficult (though not impossible) for me to ascribe naiveté to an entire group -- i.e. a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, etc.

>>They probably got more than what they paid for because this particular striptease might not have been a part of the act. It means she bared, Malala was bared and they too were bared.<<

Malala's father, too, in my eyes . . .