Using Comics to Bring Peace

Islamabad based CFx Comics is looking to stop people from joining extremist groups through more than just candle light vigils. They’re using comic books.

Made up of Syed Mustafa Hasnain, a graduate from the London School of Economics, Gauher Aftab, of Knox College in the U.S., and Yahya Ehsan, from the National College of Arts Lahore, the trio are hoping to reach out to people to prevent them from joining these extremist groups in Pakistan. They have been working together for two years to incite change.

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Paasban, or The Guardians, is a three part comic series that revolves around three college friends in Pakistan. One of them drops out of school to join a religious group and his loved ones worry he’s become an extremist.

Originally, the series they were working on was going to raise awareness about corruption regarding Pakistan’s economy. It wasn’t until the attack on the Peshawar school on December 16 that the story changed.

They told Business Times India, “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.”

The choice between leading the life of a civilian or the life of an extremist is more common than some would think, as Aftab himself almost picked up a gun. NDTV said an affluent teacher at Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan persuaded Aftab at the age of 13 to leave his school and family behind to fight jihad. The only thing that kept Aftab from leaving was a family intervention.

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Aftab was later able to determine the method the teacher used to lure him in. He told NDTV, "De-emphasising 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 glorifying the aspect of martyrdom.”

In the end, everyone is human, no matter what side they’re on. Aftab said that instead of using superheroes to attract an audience, CFx Comics would focus on ordinary people to make them more relatable.

Making the app compatible with lower-end smartphones also helps to bring in a larger audience, since not everyone in Pakistan can afford a high-end one. "We want to promote the idea that you don't have to be secular to be non-violent... What you need to be is a Muslim who rejects the violent extremist form certain groups have given to our faith," Aftab said to NDTV.

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Starting June 1, there will be 15000 copies distributed for free to schools in Pakistan. The three cities included are Lahore, Multan, and Lodhran.  There will also be some copies available in stores, and a digital copy for free on the CFx Comics app available on Android and iOS on June 10.