Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Do We Know Enough About The Pakistani Liberals? [Part 6]

Posted on March 5, 2013 in Society

By Karmanye Thadani:

While a reference has been made to the martyrdom of Salman Taseer in the previous article in this series, it must be noted that there is a strong lobby of human rights activists and other liberal Muslim intellectuals in the Pakistani media who are indeed quite popular (for example: Mohammad Hanif, Najam Sethi, Hasan Nisar, Nadeem Paracha and Marvi Sarmad – to name only a few, and those interested can also watch videos of the Pakistani Punjabi music band ‘Beygairat Brigade’ that is strongly wedded to liberal ideas, such as of their popular song ‘Aalu Anday’ ) who are ever-ready to take up the cause of the religious minorities whenever they are wronged or condemn acts of terrorism by their countrymen (have a look at this article written by liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectual Irfan Husain shortly after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, published in the Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’ known for its liberal leanings  – unfortunately, the article isn’t opening on the Dawn website but for those doubting the authenticity, you can see it in the archives here ,also the book ‘Pakistan on the Brink‘ by Ahmed Rashid) and even advocate friendship with India, and some of these liberals are making a grass-root difference in transforming radicals (have a look at this article, which was published in the Washington Post and the author of which seems to be a non-Muslim Westerner). Pakistani human rights activists have also come out in the open to strongly condemn the torture of Indian soldiers [for reference, please see this video
(kindly watch it 6:46 onwards)].


Their history textbooks indeed have had a lot of bias and distortion since the Zia-ul-Haq regime but not prior to that (even in India, the BJP saffronized the NCERT history textbooks, but that nowhere came close to what was done in Pakistan, and was, in any case, undone by UPA-I — however, I must clarify that I am not an uncritical admirer or ardent basher of any political party), but liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectuals have very strongly condemned the same, emphasizing that they should take pride in their pre-Islamic past as also Indian freedom fighters from what is today Pakistan, like Bhagat Singh), and they have also rebutted the idea that India should be seen as a threat by Pakistan (please see this video of former air force chief of Pakistan— it’s a must-watch!) and even emphasized that they are ethnically and culturally Indians and not Arabs and should accept this fact and still others have even ventured to argue that Muslim leaders who were Indian nationalists like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were better than the likes of Liyaqat Ali Khan, criticize Iqbal or even go to the extent of bashing Jinnah in no uncertain terms (though even some of the previously cited articles/videos sometimes carry soft criticism of that man, here is one that bashes him in no uncertain terms , though many liberal Pakistani Muslims love Jinnah and argue that he wanted Pakistan to be a secular state) and here are two more remarkable articles - 1 and 2 – by a liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectual bashing the Muslim rulers of India and the Muslim League, and hailing the Muslims in the Congress and other such Muslims who opposed the partition of India on the basis of religion.

The attack on the schoolgirl Malala provoked tremendous outrage even among relatively conservative elements in Pakistan (interestingly, even the Lashkar-e-Taiba condemned the Taliban for this attack!), leading some Pakistani commentators to slam the Pakistani regime’s having sponsored terrorism in the first place for it to have boomeranged with such consequences.

Pakistani cinema has also been bold enough to address the issue of religious extremism, as the fairly recent movies ‘Khuda ke Liye‘ and ‘Bol‘ demonstrate (the former is a must-watch), and the movie ‘Ramchand Pakistani‘ showcases how the loyalty of Pakistani Hindus to their country is rather unjustifiably doubted. In fact, I recently saw the 2003 Pakistani movie ‘Shararat’ on an Emirates flight from London to New Delhi (I had the option to watch Bollywood movies too, but decided to try something different), which closely resembled a Bollywood movie of the 1980s or 1990s era, except the use of western slang like ‘cool‘ that perhaps became relatively more popular later. None of the female characters were burqa-clad, one wore a saree (though she was a Muslim in the story, and indeed, there are Pakistani Muslim women who do so, like their prominent public intellectual Marvi Sarmad mentioned earlier in this very article), the heroine was a brave and adventurous girl, women are shown as equals wielding considerable power in the family and being highly respected, religion was of no relevance to the story-line  except the casual references to the Almighty as ‘Allah‘ in the course of conversation as there would be to ‘Bhagwaan‘ in Indian movies, there’s that assertion of loving your own country and not migrating to the West (but no, not the faintest trace of India-bashing), there’s the upholding of forgiveness as the greatest virtue and a whole lot of song and dance.

In fact, Pakistan has an affluent section of its society which is fairly westernized and fairly indifferent to religion in its ways. Pakistanis of this category visited my school for an exchange programme and my college for a competition. Some may argue that these people are not “true Muslims” but one has to take them into cognizance before making sweeping generalizations about Pakistanis or those who identify themselves as Muslims or carry Muslim names.

Having said all this, I would again like to point out to the readers that I am the very same person who has started a Facebook group against the army, intelligence, terrorists and propagandists of Pakistan and who wrote a piece on the hypocrisy in Pakistani propaganda but the focus in this article has been different. In fact, by creating a flawed self-imagined picture of Pakistani Muslims only comprising religious fanatics, we alienate their liberals who need to be strengthened.

The next article in this series on anti-Muslim prejudices will not be Pakistan-specific and will explore in some depth whether it’s fair to associate Muslims with terrorism and vice versa.