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TIME drew red X for Osama. But Western press humanised Riyaz Naikoo with pre-gun stories

Be it the TIME Magazine or The New York Times, the choice between a ‘terrorist’ and a ‘rebel’ is very clear for the Western media.

File photo of Hizbul operational commander Riyaz Naikoo | @PawanDurani/Twitter

On a cold February evening last year, a dead body of a young girl was found lying out in the snow, in orchards of village Dragad, Shopian. Her name was Ishrat Muneer. She was shot in the face by terrorists on orders of Riaz Naikoo, who was killed in an encounter Wednesday.

Ishrat was labelled as an informer and killed in cold blood. A video emerged on social media later that night in which terrorists could be seen shooting her in the face with their AK 47s.

Huzaif Ashraf was 19 when he was abducted by militants in November 2018. Next day, his dead body was recovered from orchards in a Shopian village. A video on social media showed a terrorist slitting his throat. A young boy who deserved to live was labelled an informer and executed on camera in signature ISIS style.

Also read: Riyaz Naikoo — dreaded militant who ‘looted farmers and brought new ruthlessness to Hizbul’

The untold stories

They say dead men tell no tales. But the deaths of these two young people tell the tales of brutalities unleashed by terrorists operating in the Valley. I was district superintendent of police, Shopian during the extremely violent years of 2018 and 2019. I witnessed numerous dead bodies of innocent men and women killed in arbitrary manner by these terrorists, who later emerged as ‘humble’ maths teachers or sometimes a teacher’s son, as soon as they died.

I am compelled to write this piece because the stories that emerge from this place after these terrorists die remain silent on those who become the victims of the former’s terror. The eulogies written by some after the death of such terrorists take this chain of selective reporting further.

Most of these stories of murders by terrorists are brushed under the carpet because they don’t suit the prevalent narrative about Kashmir. I have seen a sinister silence on part of the class which writes eulogies for terrorists when they are killed. The writing is done so cleverly that a terrorist is painted as a school teacher.

Also read: Kashmir’s most wanted terrorist Riyaz Naikoo killed in encounter in his Pulwama village

Twisting the narrative

These attempts at normalisation of terrorism and humanisation of cold-blooded killers originates from the personal position of safety from such actions. The intimate connection between a killer’s thought and his defender’s ideology has made terrorism in this place as routine as going for a walk in your neighbourhood park.

The eulogy written for a terrorist mentions his life before he picked the gun. Which is absolutely right as far as story-telling about a man’s journey goes. But this eulogy, like biography, has to be written backwards. These ‘writers’ tell the story of a terrorist out of chronological order and add passages of comfortable details.

The packaging is done in such a manner that a man who killed people for a living suddenly emerges as a normal person going about his life. This sort of reporting is a classic case of either/or where one chooses between two aspects of a journey and goes for what suits him.

The eulogies written mostly for foreign press fulfil two barely inextricable purposes: to argue for a killer and to satisfy a writer’s urge for self-expression. This form of writing goes beyond the story; it’s more like an unveiling of the impulses of the writer and its first casualty is truth and stories of people who were killed.

The most striking feature of this phenomenon is the hypocrisy exercised by Western media through the decades. I was preparing for UPSC exams when Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011. I clearly remember the ‘red X’ cover of TIME Magazine for the month of May that year. With that cover, TIME went with the concept of the ‘red X’ which was used three other times by the magazine.

The first was for Adolf Hitler, second for Saddam Hussein and the third for Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi. For the magazine, the X symbolised the end of a long struggle against a formidable enemy. TIME’s ‘red X’ on Osama was the culmination of a decade of hunting for the man behind the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Two years prior to the ‘red X’ in 2011 TIME Magazine did a story on the death of LTTE chief Prabhakaran titled Prabhakaran: The Life and Death of a Tiger. The choice between our terrorist and their rebel is very clear for Western media. The New York Times carried the title ‘Justice has been done’ on its front page when Osama bin Laden was killed.

Also read: Pakistan using Covid window for cross-border militancy in Kashmir, weaponising social media

The western prism

When it comes to East, the West is guilty of failure to reconcile two truths: first, the use of terror upon unarmed civilians to further political ends of all forms is pure terrorism and second, clever writing cannot wash away blood stains.

This reconciliation can be done if West accepts that all civilisations share the same value for human lives. The terror declinists have absorbed this fascination with portraying terrorists as teachers, if mostly in unconscious ways.

First, there’s insistence on seeing only what one wants to see. This is a self-evident phenomenon in these eulogies. The simpler, saner idea that every man who shoots a young girl in her face is a terrorist gets dismissed as intellectually disreputable. The imprint of eulogy writer is left in such a manner that everyone else is forced to question their own learning. A big wheel must be turning in the night sky of history, and only the author of that piece managed to notice it.

Sandeep Chaudhary is SSP Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. Views are personal.