Saturday, July 14, 2007

heuristics 2

Yesterday's Guardian reports an official death toll for the Islamabad Red Mosque siege of fifty eight: eight soldiers, fifty militants. Acting mosque leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, in touch with local television via mobile phone, had earlier reported deaths in the hundreds even before the Government's final assault. Today's China Daily puts the figure at 102. Mr Ghazi was killed in Tuesday's attack having already predicted "my martyrdom is certain now". The violent end of this confrontation was probably inevitable from the first shots being fired at security forces from inside the mosque.

The Government raid that degenerated into the siege occured in response to escalating para-police activity by "hardliners" associated with the mosque. The BBC describes these militants as being involved in:

"a morality campaign which in recent weeks included the abduction of police officers and people accused of running brothels, as well as raids on music and DVD shops." which the Government initially responded in a conciliatory way. The adoption of a more confrontational approach (to what are blatantly crimes) followed complaints from the Chinese Government concerning mistreatment of its citizens.

Clearly this was a complex situation. But one is immediately struck by the senselessness of the militants' acts. Did they really believe they they could win? Wasn't their position unrealistic?

It's worth considering how these events are replayed through the media. There's always potental for ordinary bias and misinformation, but there's also the matter of journalists and editors making a complex event intelligible in a short article.

This is the first paragraph of an article from the BBC News website written at the start of the siege:

"Barely two weeks ago, Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, was battling for his political survival. The war drums being beaten by the opposition at home were reaching a crescendo. His battle with the country's chief justice had taken a serious toll on his image as a military man who loathes the pettiness of everyday politics. More importantly, perhaps, his Western allies seemed to be getting increasingly impatient with his seeming inability to deal decisively with Islamist extremists. All this seems to have changed dramatically over the last three days, after Gen Musharraf gave his administration the green light for dismantling a radical seminary located in the heart of capital, Islamabad"

...which is to present the confrontation between Musharraf and the Islamists in terms of an index that mediates between them. No information about the parties needs to be supplied, only the relative movements of the index, given the presupposition that the interests of the contending parties are strictly antithetical.

(As if there were two balloons in a box, and as one is inflated, so the other is compressed.)

This is a coherent heuristic system, useful in some ways for passing on information, because it dramatises. But in this case a supposition is introduced concerning the antithetical orientation of these two parties, and it's intoduced (I believe) methodologically, in order to help the story along; as it were "unconsciously". This supposition may be fallacious.

Mainstream opinion suggests a relationship between Pakistani secret services and these Islamists, at least tacit approval. Imran Khan, writing in The Guardian asks:

"A number of questions arise. Why was action not taken immediately? How were militants and arms able to ge in under the gaze of the police and intelligence services? And why were other measures, including shutting off electricity at the mosque, not exhausted earlier?"

al Jazeera asks a similar question:

"In Pakistan – governed by generals for more than half of its sixty-year history - just what is the relationship between mosque and the military? "

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