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After an attack on a Peshawar school on December 16th, a trio of friends decided to create a special kind of comic book for a noble cause.
‘Paasban‘, or ‘Guardians‘ as its sometimes called, is a unique series of comic books created by Syed Mustafa Hasnain, a graduate from the London School of Economics, Gauher Aftab from Knox College, USA, and Yahya Ehsan from the National College of Arts Lahore to keep children, or anyone impressionable, away from the extremism that has claimed many innocent lives in the country.
Paasban is a three-part comic series based on the life of college friends in Pakistan. One of the characters drops out from college to join a religious group and his friends worry if he is embracing extremism.
“Through the Paasban series, we wish to help further a narrative that can swing the tide of public opinion against anti-state groups who use religion as a tool, and move society towards reclaiming Islam from those who would pervert its teachings into violence,” says the trio.
The three had been working on the project for two years, with Hasnain and Ehsan founding the Creative Frontiers company in 2013 in Lahore, but the Peshawar attack made them realize that “if ever there was a time to tell this story, this was it”.
“Through this project, we wish to create Guardians, or Paasban, in every home in Pakistan to protect society from narratives of hatred and bigotry, and resist against the divisions that threaten to tear us apart,” says Aftab.
For Aftab, the story relays a part of his own life, when he himself almost picked up the gun and joined the fight.
“As a 13-year-old boy who had little exposure to matters of global politics, power, empire and history, I came across a charismatic teacher who was able to instill within me a worldview that inspired hatred and violence against anyone deemed to be ‘enemies’ of Islam. His words had little influence on others, but he was able to get through to me,” recalls Aftab.
“Noticing a marked change in my behavior and overt religiosity at home, my family was able to intervene and stop me from going further,” says Aftab as he recalls the timely intervention by his family that stopped him from joining jihad.
His experience, Aftab says, led him to understand of how Takfiri ideology is often used to mislead poor and marginalised people, especially children.
“In this, a Pakistani child is no less vulnerable than a child in France,the UK, US, or even India. Any person who feels helpless and lost can be exploited by an ideology of hate; it should come as no surprise when ISIS fighters are recruited from among poor and marginalised Muslim communities in Western countries, nor that a large portion of them are new converts,”says Aftab.
Through the Paasban ‘Guardian’ series, the trio aim to create awareness among children about such forces so that they are not misled into jihad or extremism.
“The only way to prevent our children from being seduced by violent dogma is to provide them with an awareness of social and religious values that reject extremism and hatred in every form. We are using characters and situations they can relate to, and learn from, so that they will recognise when someone is trying to use religion to mislead them or others,” says Aftab.
The Paasban series is not just being released in print, but is also now freely available digitally via the CFx Comics app on Android and IoS platforms.
“This is coming right at a time when smartphone and 3G penetration among Pakistan’s lower-income groups is increasing exponentially, so we finally have the means to reach a mass audience and really inspire a change in beliefs at the grassroots level,” the team says.
Hasnain, Ehsan, and Aftab plan to also take their story to television, movies, games, and other forms of media to reach out an even wider audience.