Opening to the world after the hell of captivity. Having the courage to talk fearlessly about what they went through and the strength to be ironic about such a harrowing life experience. Explaining what it means to be away from home for so many years, facing fear of dying every day, trying to grasp the nuances of the kidnappers’ facial expression. In fact, murderous will can hide behind a different look or a whispered word.
Shahbaz Taseer had been kidnapped and held captive by the Taliban for almost five years. He has chosen Twitter as a rather unusual means to make his story known to the world. A slap in the face those who use social networks to spread messages of violence and death – from jihadists to cyberbullies -, ignoring the informative potential, the vocation of solidarity, the extraordinary ability of these media to shorten the gap between peoples.
Light-heartedly and ironically, offering only a glimpse of the tragedy he had experienced, the young Pakistani opened to the Web, allowing users to ask him questions with the hashtag #AskST. Thus, thousands of people learned the first words he told his wife Maheen, once he was set free: “I told you I’d be back.” A Hollywood-style happy ending. A hope for many people who are still in the hands of fundamentalists.
When asked about the way he managed to “reprogram his brain not to be swallowed up by so much negativity,” the 30-year-old answered with a joke: “you simply press ‘delete’”, adding a smile to it. Besides the kidnapping, Shahbaz had to overcome also the murder of his father, Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab province, killed by the Taliban just a few months before his son was kidnapped in Lahore in August 2011. Using Twitter is actually a family habit: Salman was a prolific fan of this tool. The son followed in his father’s footsteps and, rejecting dozens of interview requests, he has preferred to use Twitter.
In 140 characters, Shahbaz described the loneliness of imprisonment, recalling his only friend, “a spider called Peter”, and how he let his mother know he was released when he was found in the province of Baluchistan: simply “Mom, I ran away”. But asked again about the thought of escape, the 30 year-old man admitted that he “only dreamed about it and that it was not bad.” In the stream of short-stories there is room for football and for his passion for Manchester United, but also for jokes about the Taliban who have not tried to recruit him because “they did not like my style.”
The hashtag went viral straightaway. Hundreds of users asked him questions to learn more about his experience as a prisoner. “Have you been tortured in prison?”, “Did you manage to become friends with another human being?”, “Have you found any difference between today’s Pakistan and that of 2011?” – These are some of the questions posted in the last few hours. Many people have questioned his wife to understand how she went through this tragic life experience.
The Choice of Shahbaz was greeted with enthusiasm by Pakistanis who are heavily struck by terrorism. The last attack happened exactly in Lahore, where 74 people died on Easter Sunday. The young man was found in early March, near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, after having ended up in the hands of several other groups in the tribal areas in the northwest. His release happened a week after his father’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, had been hanged. A death sentence that sparked violent protests. A crowd of about 100 thousand people attended the funeral of the Islamic extremist.