Noor Mukaddam: Fighting Desensitization & Media Portraiture

“The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong – and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right”, states American Sufi imam, author, and activist Feisal Abdul Rauf.

In a gut-wrenching turn of events, twenty-seven-year-old Noor Mukaddam, daughter of respected former Ambassador Mr. Shaukat Mukaddam was found dead on the 20th of July, 2021. The deceased was declared brutally ‘raped and beheaded’ in Pakistan’s capital territory, Islamabad following an investigation by local authorities that led to a confessional by the cold-blooded murderer and son of an influential business tycoon, Zahir Jaffer.

The vibrant and promising young individual’s life was cut short when Jaffer who pitifully played the role of a ‘scorned lover’ not only killed her but, also took to tarnishing Mukaddam’s reputation post-humously by means of digital, print, and electronic media. Yet what was most disturbing about the horrible ordeal was not the fact that an influential perpetrator would most likely roam free after a prolonged trial. No, rather it was the fact that the society wholly partook in the social media campaign to put down the victims’ family and rip her character to shreds.

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Mukaddam who is succeeded by her parents and siblings was used as a symbol to divert attention to the negative narrative against Pakistan’s female community but also, and most importantly, to further desensitize the already emotionless, inhumane community. And that brings me to my next point.

The vibrant and promising young individual’s life was cut short when Jaffer who pitifully played the role of a ‘scorned lover’ not only killed her but, also took to tarnishing Mukaddam’s reputation post-humously by means of digital, print, and electronic media.

What is Desensitization, and why should we understand it?

In the literal sense, desensitization is a process through which a person becomes “emotionally insensitive or callous”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. This means that the desensitized person is one who lacks an “emotional response” (Merriam-Webster).

On the one hand, this development (or lack thereof), in a person rendered callous seems sudden. However, it is a gradual shift in one’s person – conditioning of sorts through repeated exposure and effort. According to psychologists, there are two ways to define the umbrella term of desensitization:

  1. Systematic Desensitization
  2. Classical Conditioning

The first of two as the name suggests is a systematic effort to desensitize a person. According to Joanne Carter, in the Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications, 2003:

It is a process through “which a response is repeatedly elicited in situations where the action tendency that arises out of the emotion proves to be irrelevant.”

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This process as Carter suggests is employed in cases where a person seeks out treatment against phobia(s), during which the individual is repeatedly brought into contact with the “frightening stimulus” under conditions otherwise considered to be “non-threatening”.

The idea being, to habituate the affected person into overcoming his/her fear through repeated exposure to the “stimulus”.

Based on the views of Davis and Ollendick (2005) desensitization has three steps:

  • Training to relax muscles
  • Formation of a fear-producing hierarchy
  • The structured pairing of hierarchy items without the individual experiencing the fear

Moreover, according to Steven Taylor, the process is generally “combined with some form of relaxation training”. Taylor adds that the idea is to ask a patient to sit in a comfortable chair so as to relax before he/she is exposed to an “imaginable” threat for a few minutes. This Taylor adds, is accompanied by relaxation exercise to a point when the patient becomes comfortable and the response to the stimulus decreases or becomes non-existent.

According to Steven Taylor, however, there is a downside to systematic desensitization which is delayed progression.

This brings us to the next argument.

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Crime, Violence & Desensitization: What is the connection?

Based on the research of Rafael Di Tella et al., there is a poignant association between the three. For one, when confronted by a threatening stimulus, victims of past exposure to violence and/or crime showed a remarkably calmer reaction in comparison to those exposed for the first time. They argue that this proves the existence of desensitization also known as habituation or adaptation is the brain’s tool to overcome a distressing experience.

By not taking appropriate and timely action, we are inculcating in them a culture of “silence”. We are telling them to turn a blind eye all in the name of maintaining the fiber of the societal fabric.

Using the reference of video games that introduce players to violence, they argued that repeated exposure to violence, bloodshed, and/or aggression, leads to a lesser response.

Let’s say for instance that games like PubG, Grand Theft Auto, Doom, Mortal Kombat, World of Warcraft, and others that inculcate the element of violence in young minds, can reduce response simultaneously, heightening aggression in the player.

Why is this important? Because it reminds us that by neglecting the rise in crime rate across Pakistan, specifically gendered violence, we are conditioning our youth. By not taking appropriate and timely action, we are inculcating in them a culture of “silence”. We are telling them to turn a blind eye all in the name of maintaining the fiber of the societal fabric.

Consequently, we are spreading fear and most significantly, conditioning them to accept fear. We are providing a sense of unmitigated and total control to the perpetrator. We are telling them that they can do whatever they want because there is no system of justice to ensure law and punishment where needed.

This is exactly what has happened in the Noor Mukaddam murder case.

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An entitled brat who could not understand the concept of consent, who could not digest that he had been told ‘No’ and decided to control the situation dealt with Noor Mukaddam as if she were a pawn in chess – a material thing with no other value than being a plaything for the player – in this case, Zahir Jaffer.

Desensitization – Do we learn from past experiences?

Another issue of global importance being highlighted in the media is that of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly two decades of occupation post the 9/11 attack. This is one such incident that has led to mass deaths and yet the global community has adapted the side they believe to be politically correct instead of understanding that loss of life is unacceptable no matter whose is lost.

According to John Donnelly, a former US veteran from the Vietnam War, mankind on principle and the United States in general, refuses to learn from their past mistakes. Donnelly believes, “Acceptable levels of violence and killing have become ‘standard operating procedure,’ as long as such destruction appears to be occurring at a safe distance.”

He argues that “selective coverage” of events diminishes the “collective consciousness” of the global community. Referencing former US presidencies, Donnelly claims that they “refuse to dirty their hands” with the weight of the leadership and the responsibility it requires. He argues that because we have become desensitized to the murders of innocent US children, we have also become conditioned to accepting the gruesome deaths of children from other nations for example Syria, Kashmir, Palestine, and others.

The question implied by Donnelly is clear. Is it that a cultural decline has led to the devaluation of human life? Is it that as we move closer to a life of luxury and entitlement, we move away from an understanding of basic human morals and standards of pain?

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What will it take to awaken us from this Emotionless “Potatoe” State?

If we do not question the atrocities, the injustice, if we do not question the wrongdoings and stand up against the “fundamental cruelty” ailing our world we will only lead it to further disarray. According to Dr. Diana Concannon, licensed psychologist and crisis response expert at the California School of Forensic Studies, history is full of examples of “desensitization to disaster”. She terms it a common human response explaining that with time, people become “less affected and more accustomed”.

Is it that as we move closer to a life of luxury and entitlement, we move away from an understanding of basic human morals and standards of pain?

Is this what we want? To become habituated to rape, murder, and abuse?

Let’s not forget that Noor Mukaddam was a living, breathing soul. She was someone with big dreams, aspirations of her own which she will never get to achieve because the monster – Zahir Jaffer, decided to take away her right to live.

Let’s not forget that Noor was “an artistic, soft-hearted girl who ‘loved animals and making her family laugh” according to CNN’s account of Mukaddam as a daughter.

The question this raises then is this; shouldn’t we shift our narrative from trivial, baseless, and completely disrespectful conversations surrounding Noor Mukaddam’s character, the so-called ‘true’ relationship with Zahir Jaffer, and her supposedly bleak ties with her family to something of actual significane? Like seeking Justice for the innocent!

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Shouldn’t we then focus our energies on questioning why such a vibrant girl, so evidently full of life, hope, and passion was ripped apart from her loved ones and forced towards such a gut-wrenching death?

Let’s remember Noor Mukaddam as the “beautiful” person that she was, the person who wanted to change the world. But most importantly, raise your voice against injustice. Continue to demand justice for Noor Mukaddam so that no other Noor (or any daughter/sister) is snatched away from us with such brute force.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, express and emulate the demand for Noor Mukaddam so that the Government of Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, and Human Rights Organizations work as a collective body to ensure that Zahir Jaffer meets the rightful end he deserves – to rot in this world and in the life hereafter.

Above all else remember that “Whoever kills an innocent life it is as if he has killed all of humanity.” |surat al-ma’idah 5:32| and that while justice may be delayed in the material world, God’s justice on the Day of Judgment would be unshakeable and absolute!

We hope the Honorable President Dr. Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and the influential would take a stand for Noor Mukaddam as if she were their own child and set an example by ensuring justice like never before – punishing Zahir Jaffer with the highest sentence possible.

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References: 

  • https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desensitize
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/desensitization
  • https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/07/asia/pakistan-noor-mukadam-murder-intl-hnk-dst/index.html
  • https://www.alliant.edu/blog/are-we-becoming-desensitized-mass-death
  • https://childrensinnovationcenter.org/societys-desensitization-to-violence/#:~:text=For%20example%2C%20constant%20exposure%20to,aggression%2C%20and%20objectification%20of%20women.
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/systematic-desensitization
  • https://www.nber.org/papers/w23697
  • https://www.flkeysnews.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article144987544.html
  • https://www.alliant.edu/blog/are-we-becoming-desensitized-mass-death

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