Mon, Jun 01, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani comic aims to fight youth extremism

SUSTAINABLE MEDIUM:Creative Frontiers plans to generate income from their app, which they say is the best of its kind for bringing graphic novels to life on mobiles

AFP, ISLAMABAD

A Pakistani comic book artist works at the Creative Frontiers office in Lahore, India, on May 20.

Photo: AFP

When Taliban militants stormed a school in Pakistan’s northwest in December last year, killing 150 people, mainly children, in the country’s deadliest terror attack, comic book creators Mustafa Hasnain and Gauhar Aftab decided it was time to act.

The pair had already been working on a series to raise awareness about the corruption that plagues the economically underperforming Muslim giant of 200 million people.

However, they quickly decided to shift their focus to violent extremism — and felt holding candlelight vigils was not the best way to effect change.

Hasnain, a British-educated computer graphics specialist, founded his own company, Creative Frontiers, in 2013, today employing 20 people, including young male and female artists, programmers and writers, in a hip Silicon Valley-style office in the city of Lahore.

He explained: “It was a huge watershed moment for us. I got together with Gauhar and I said, ‘We really have to do something about this.’ We used to stand over there [at vigils] with a candle ... but we wanted to do something more.”

The result was Paasban — or “Guardian” — a three-part series featuring a group of close friends at college who begin to worry when one of them drops out to join a religious student group that is ostensibly working for charitable causes. However, some in the group suspect it might have darker aims.

Fifteen thousand of the books are set to be distributed for free from today at schools in the cities of Lahore, Multan and Lodhran, while some copies are to be made available in book stores. The comic is also to be distributed on a tailor-made app the group have developed for Apple and Android smartphones.

For English-language script writer Aftab, the pathway from disillusionment to signing up to carry a gun and fight the so-called enemies of Islam was not just something he had read about in the news — it was a choice he had almost made as a child.

A product of Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan’s elite equivalent to Britain’s Eton, Aftab came under the influence of a charismatic teacher who convinced him at the age of 13 to leave behind his school and family to fight against the Indian army in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Eventually pulled back by a last-minute family intervention, he came to identify the methods that radicals use to attract young people to violent extremism.

“De-emphasizing the virtues and values of your traditional faith, moving you towards the more minimalistic standpoint when it comes to religion, demonizing various factors or forces that you feel to be threatening Islam, then [finally] glorifying the aspect of martyrdom,” he said.

By creating a storyline that features a protagonist going through these experiences, Aftab said, young people who see the same thing going on in their lives or those of their friends will be better equipped to identify and avoid the same fate.

The Urdu translation was written by renowned script-writer Amjad Islam Amjad, responsible for some of Pakistan’s most popular TV shows, in an effort to ensure an audience that is as wide as possible in a country where English is mainly used by the educated elite.

While comic books in the US tradition often feature heroes with superpowers such as Superman, Paasban’s creators decided to concentrate on creating ordinary heroes, or “guardians,” they felt the Pakistani audience would relate better to.

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