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In defence of reason

August 11, 2009

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Last week I was interviewed for a documentary on ‘Conspiracy Theorists,’ produced by DawnNews. The format of the program required two people talking about a chosen topic – a thesis/anti-thesis arrangement. The other person on the program was Mr. Zaid Hamid – the rock star among the many conspiracy theorists that are doing the rounds on mainstream television channels these days.

Unfortunately, both of us were interviewed separately, even though I did request the producer that it should be a face-to-face set-up. The young, energetic producer of the show explained that the format of the show did not allow for such an arrangement.

Well, in that case, Mr. Hamid continues dishing out his unchallenged monologues with only an elfin brunette seated in front of him or a former rock vocalist nodding in utter agreement (on a separate Hamid-led show on another channel).

Taking the documentary to be a general discourse on the ins and outs of conspiracy theories in Pakistan, and not knowing what Hamid would say, my 10-minute spiel was simply a defence of democracy and common sense that I think should prevail more than demagogic paranoia in matters of social and political upheavals.

True to form, Hamid lashed out at all the journalists and people who are calling him a conspiracy theorist. He thought such journalists are ignorant and misguided. He then rolled out the usual stuff on sinister ‘Zionist/Hindu/Western lobbies’ working against the political interests of Pakistan and Islam and referring to democracy as a violent system, etc.

Before I use this modest space to finally answer Mr. Hamid’s claims punch by punch, I would also like to share a fraction of the tons of hate mail I started receiving the evening after the show was first aired. I have selected portions of a few such emails (out of about – and so far – 197!).

Example one: ‘Dear Mr. Paracha, there is now no doubt that you are working for the CIA. You should be ashamed of defending Zionist lobbying and America. You should be kicked out of Pakistan and sent to Israel.’

Example two: ‘Paracha, how can you be a journalist and have such a big house? The answer is simple:You are CIA funded journalist.’

Example three: ‘Paracha, Zaid Hamid slapped you left, right and centre on the show, you pseudo-intellectual. There is no shortage of people like you in Pakistan. People like you have occupied important positions in our society and are given 90-95 per cent of media coverage. We are with Zaid Hamid and inshallah we will succeed.’

Example four: ‘NFP, you are a slave to the west and working against the interests of Pakistan by attacking patriots like Zaid Hamid. It is clear you and the newspaper you write for is being funded by Israeli and Indian agencies. Better shape up or we will ship you out.’

Example five: ‘Paracha Sahib, you have been trying to propagate your Yahoodi, Hindu and Christian masters'  rotten and obsolete ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘secular liberalism’ and kafirana Socialism. But people like Zaid Hamid will never let Godless men like you succeed.’

Right. Absolutely nothing surprising here. But I write this piece in response to one email that I received yesterday, from a person who claimed to be in charge of running Hamid’s personal website: ‘I dare you to challenge any of the claims made by Zaid Hamid on the show,’ he asked. Well, there is no daring involved in what I am about to do, only simple common sense.

When Hamid says he is not anti-Hindu, he forgets that he may change the vitriol of his message for some television channels where he thinks he is more susceptible to counterargument, but the messages he has given out in the past remain in people’s minds and in cyberspace. In one of his August 14 specials he clearly labelled Hindus as a paleed nation unfit to govern. If that doesn’t make him anti-Hindu, then what does?

He says he admires the tolerance of Muslim Spain, but it doesn’t seem to have influenced him enough to follow the example. Simply go to Hamid’s website now and check out the article by Yousaf Alamgirian whose blurb says it all: ‘sheds light on the filthy Indian culture in which homosexuality is the ingredient of Hinduism.’

Hamid says that the western media discredits conspiracy theories because it implies it is the torchbearer of truth. But what Hamid fails to mention is that he has no original research of his own. All his work is derivative of the works of Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and other western dissidents who expose the hypocrisies in their own countries in a manner which on occasion stretches their argument to incredulous levels.

But where Hamid differs from them is that the principles he borrows from them are only used for opportunistic attacks without crediting the source of his arguments. He fails to use those same principles and apply them at home. For example, when the Chinese used brutal force to kill and subdue Muslims in Xinjiang recently, there was not a word out of him. Nor did he say anything about the stolen election in Iran simply because he supports ‘Muslim Power’ and challengers to the dominance of the West. In a similar fashion, in one of Osama bin Laden’s recent video tapes, even Osama sounded like a left wing environmentalist (again derivative justifications stolen from Western dissident scholarship), rather than being a man hell-bent on destruction.

Again, who exposed the abuses in Guantanamo? It wasn’t Hamid, but Western journalists concerned that their countries were doing something inhumane and illegal. But things like that are fictitiously ignored by him in his reign of hatred.

Hamid says the Pakistani people have been lied to, and claims to be an exception. Well, he is just continuing the tradition in a new paradigm. He says he is exposing the secrets, by bringing out the truth. Unless Hamid has never seen the programme we both appeared in, he would have clarified that he was not a ‘Dr.’ as he was labelled in it. The duplicity is amazing. By the same coin I am taken to task for being a semi-literate just because I conceded in the programme to having a bachelor’s degree.

Laughably, Hamid is so convinced of his own grand rhetoric that he believes his every word is followed by the CIA and FBI. He claims to have exposed a huge failing of the FBI because their most wanted description of the terrorist Osama bin Laden does not include a reference to his involvement in 9/11. Hamid then quickly added that after the airing of the programme he is sure the FBI will change it. You are welcome to visit the FBI website, because nothing of the sort happened. Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda is a suspect, but Osama has never claimed responsibility for the attacks and has only signalled his approval of the atrocity.

Hamid says that he believes in the truth and understands the importance of reading. By that statement we would believe that his standards of evidence are quite high. Yet anyone who disagrees with him, like Hamid Mir, is maligned as a CIA agent or a ‘Zionist banker’ like Fasi Zaka (who has never worked for a bank), or an ‘anti-Pakistan western slave’ like Hasaan Nisar, and now, me.

Yet he excludes himself from the category when he talks about his Afghan experience with Ahmad Shah Masood who openly received CIA money and did not toe the Pakistan line. Does it not qualify Hamid as CIA? If someone else had worked for Masood in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t be hard-pressed to believe that Hamid would have labelled him a CIA agent. It’s the hypocrisy of a fast-moving tongue that hopes people don’t follow the fine print.

Despite his hatred for the Americans, on his website he is happy to accept US$ 300 for his reports. He says he wants the gold system, but, alas, is also worshipping the altar of the almighty dollar. The FBI didn’t change the charge sheet on Osama like Hamid claimed it would, but Hamid is likely to change his web page when caught cheating.

In the show, Hamid was incensed at being called a conspiracy theorist. I wonder why, because on a number of occasions he has explained his ‘exposes’ against the many Zionist-Hindu-Western. lobbies working in the region as ‘Pakistan ke khilaf sazish’ (conspiracies against Pakistan). He often uses the word himself. But I think he has a bigger problem with the word ‘theorist.’ He wants everything that comes out of his mouth to be taken as an irrefutable ‘fact.’

He says that since Pakistan is an Islamic nuclear state, countries like India, Russia, China, Israel, Iran and America have a huge interest in the politics of Pakistan, where these counties finance political parties and armed militant groups. He says those who suggest that we should look inwards and at ourselves to solve our socio-political and economic problems are being simplistic and naïve.

Right. These countries have as much interest in Pakistan as we have in Afghanistan, Iran, China, and, of course, India. Thus, as much as it will be ‘simplistic’ to only look inwards in this respect, it is simply delusional to only look outwards for whatever goes wrong in Pakistan.

Even though Hamid agrees to be conscious of the turmoil Pakistan has been facing in its politics and economics, he suddenly short-cuts his way to largely pointing the finger on outside forces and strange-sounding lobbies. Is his position that if we are left to out own devises, we’ll be fine?

As a statement, the above sounds rather patriotic, but highly Utopian because it smacks of the kind of demagogic isolationism that countries like Albania, North Korea and Myanmar were put in, cut off from the rest of the world. Not because of any passionate display of self-reliance and independence of thought and action, but only to shield the totalitarian dictatorships that these countries have suffered from the criticism and reaction of the international community.

Why do you think elements that react the most negatively to international and journalistic criticism on human rights issues are dictators? Wouldn’t each one of them want to isolate their countries from ever being affected by international laws and rules that are clearly not in favour of military regimes and other forms of dictatorships?

Talking about ‘outside influence’ is nothing unique. Every country, big or small, has done it. And what’s the ‘expose’ aspect in dishing out the ‘crimes’ of certain intelligence agencies? What the American CIA and the Soviet KGB were up to during the Cold War was hardly ever a secret. Both the agencies explained their manoeuvres and proxy wars as a way to not only safeguard their respective countries and allies’ political and economic interests, they also explained these manoeuvres as a way to maintain a tussle without the use of nuclear warfare.

What is Hamid really suggesting, especially when he attacks concepts such as democracy and then insists that Pakistan be left alone? Is he suggesting acts of self-reliance in politics and economics, or is he talking about preparing the ground for an unconditional return to military dictatorship; the sort that will not have to explain its emergence to the international community of democratic countries, or face any political and economic pressures from nations that are only logically concerned by the awkward sight of an unstable and poor country with a nuclear bomb shining menacingly in its arsenal?

What else can be extracted from a so-called ‘security expert’ and television personality who talks about self-reliance in politics and economics, but at the same time scorns at democracy and related concepts, calling it a violent construct of the sinister ‘lobbies’ working against Islam and Pakistan?

He says that democratic countries have been at the forefront of killing millions of people through wars. That’s true, but these countries are as guilty in this respect as were the communist countries, as much as Genghis Khan was (and he most certainly wasn’t a democrat), or as much as a number of Muslim kings and generals have been in the past.

For argument’s sake, let’s say if Pakistan does become self-reliant in a way Hamid preaches it should, what sort of a system is he suggesting should prevail in this country? If not democracy, capitalism, socialism, or any other form of such dirty, violent Western constructs, then what?

His answer in this case, too, is a classic example of cringing rhetoric: ‘ Islam.’ By this - if one listens to his many spiels on Islamic history - he means the Islam conceived for this country by those who would have loved to rule unchallenged until their peaceful, natural deaths, over a nation taught through their history books that democracy has nothing to do with Islam. He also suggests that what these rulers (in the shape of military dictators) are doing in the name of governance is akin to the mythical ways of the religion’s first four Caliphs as well as soldiers and generals like Saladin and Muhammad bin Qasim.

Hamid is really a sucker for myths. He could’ve written greater ‘Islamic fiction’ than the renowned Pakistani historical fiction writer, Naseem Hijazi, who turned the lives and achievements of many historical Muslims generals into glorious literary soap operas. Well, at least he still described his books as fiction.

Funnier still is the way Hamid continues his leaps of logic in this context by suggesting that the Muslims had for hundreds of years experienced a most enlightening, tolerant and progressive civilisation. Of course, we are all well aware of the many philosophers and scientists that Islamic civilisation generated between the seventh and thirteenth centuries. But none of these developments were achieved in isolation.

Islamic thinkers and scientists were open to brand new ideas from ancient Greek and Latin thinkers on politics, history and science. In fact, much of what emerged as brilliance in philosophy and the science on part of these Muslims were influenced mainly by ancient Greek philosophers. What’s more, many Islamic philosophers and scientists had no qualms questioning religious dogma as well.

None of them saw these influences as a ‘conspiracy’ to derail Islam and Muslims. So why has it become so now?

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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.