The phoenix flops

Published March 25, 2010

For months the Zaid Hamid brigade had been congesting cyber space and the two TV channels that the haughty ideological quack is a regular fixture on, with promises of holding a ‘massive gathering of youth’ at the Minar-e-Pakistan on this year’s Pakistan Day (23rd March).

However, the no-show by Zaid and his fans at the Minar-e-Pakistan suggests the long honeymoon Mr. Hamid had been enjoying may be as good as over.

He simply failed to reach the Minar-e-Pakistan, not because he had a massive body of passionate young men with him chanting for his caliphate, but mainly due to him chickening out in the face of an announcement made by a radical Islamist group that recently named him in a police FIR for murder.

Perturbed  the articulate (but not very accurate) TV ideologue decided to hold his ‘historic’ rally at Lahore’s spacious Alhamra amphitheatre.

A man who likes posing in (passé) revolutionary attire and who it seems is always ready to pick up a Stinger missile and boldly cross into India and take-over Delhi, decided to quietly escape being at a venue where presence of a fringe group was expected.

So, the following message was fired by the man on the 23rd March: “Alhamdulillah, for tactical reasons, the venue for Takmeel e Pakistan has now been shifted to Alhamra Open Air Theatre adjacent to Gaddafi Stadium. Insha’Allah it is going to be an emotionally charged ideological, historical, earth-shaking event. Spread the message to your friends. Each one of you please do bring along a sabz hilali parcham. Be there by 3:30 p.m. Insha’Allah. PAKISTAN ZINDABAD! ONWARDS TO TAKMEEL E PAKISTAN! See you there Insha’Allah!”

Now that we know what the ‘tactical reason’ was for the sudden change of venue, what happened next was even more ‘earth shaking.’ No-one turned up.

Reports coming in from those who did decide to go, suggest that there were hardly a hundred Hamid fans present there. Funnier still was the fact that the Alhamra Hall was booked on urgent basis (by Hamid and co.) not as a venue for a rally, but for an ‘urgent marriage ceremony’!

So what happened? A figurative divorce of sorts.

Hamid has finally arrived at that downward trajectory every cult leader reaches after experiencing a burst of following.

A simple study of cults would suggest that a cult reaches this stage when its leaders actually begin to believe in their own hype and fibs; when they get embroiled so much in the various delusions that they had been peddling that they get entirely cut-off from reality and as a consequence getting entangled in some truly awkward controversies which eventually see their carefully puffed halos burst into flames.

Zaid Hamid had nothing to do with the masses. In spite of the space that he gets on TV, his target audience remained to be large segments of today’s urban, middle-class youth that grew up under the shadow of a military dictator (Musharraf) and a Muslim polity gone crazy due to the confusion that set in after the tragic 9/11 episode.

This is the generation that became an ‘educated’ culmination of the paranoid history (taught at schools and through the media) that was enacted by the ‘establishment’ to justify constant military interventions in matters of the government, and the acts of dragging demagogic versions of Islam into the matters of the state and society.

Bulk of the current generation have failed to engage with the democratic process. Instead they have grappled in desperation to hang on to anyone who would tell them that democracy is useless (and not suited to Pakistan); or that politicians are nothing but looters; or that much of what is wrong with this country is actually due to the nefarious designs of sinister anti-Pakistan/anti-Islam forces.

This is a disastrous example of educated folks undermining the importance of what is called common wisdom. A wisdom associated to common men and women who one can see thronging polling stations during an election.

In other words, the middle-classes can become dedicated viewers of channels and the main consumers of the brands and products that are advertised on these channels; they can also join websites in huge numbers of men like Zaid Hamid, but it is common wisdom that is in majority and almost completely at odds with what is being preached in the name of patriotism and faith in the electronic media.

The silliest in this respect is the whole concept of some kind of an enlightened (Islamic) revolution that its advocates and their supposedly educated fans insist is different from the madness unleashed by those who were once our pet warriors (the Taliban).

Well, the only difference, really, between the two is that one batch can speak better English and is more media savvy.

But the latter ‘quality’ amounts to nothing, because the influence of the media pales in comparison to the role that common wisdom plays.

Take for example the many TV channels’ constant onslaught against the current PPP-led coalition government. Not only is the coalition still very much intact, the PPP has won two out of the three by-elections that it recently took part in.

One can also take the example of the United State’s FOX-News – an overtly right-wing and pro-Republican Party news channel and whose (knee-jerk reactionary) model most Pakistani news channels have followed.

FOX went into an overdrive almost a year before the 2008 US Presidential Elections, convinced that since it had the highest ratings, it might be able to persuade Americans to return yet another Republican to the White House.

As it turned out, high ratings meant Jack on Election Day. Not only was the country’s most viewed TV channel unable to stop a Democratic Party victory, but it was a victory of almost everything that FOX had stood against: i.e. classical social-democratic American liberalism, and that too led by an African-American!

I have heard many young folks talking about the ‘coming revolution.’

As a student politician in the mid and late 1980s, interacting with students at state-owned colleges and universities taught me a vital lesson: There can never be a revolution in Pakistan. Not because we are a quiet, obedient and subdued nation, but simply because we, like a majority of countries brimming with various distinct ethnicities and religions, are not the kind of a single, cohesive nation that a revolution requires.

So  common wisdom dictates that a country that has a number of diverse nationalities, multiple Islamic sects, and various religious minorities, the best way to keeping it functioning as one country is not through a single, homogenous version of nationalism and religion; but with a political respect for diversity and plurality; and this can only come about through a robust democratic system.

Bigger demagogues than Zaid Hamid have risen in this country claiming to unite its people under the pretension of a single national ideology and faith. They’ve all failed, and in their failure, they have done more harm to the state and society of Pakistan than their (largely imagined) ‘enemies.’

These single ‘united’ versions of nationhood and religion have only alienated large numbers of Pakistanis, creating dangerous ethnic and sectarian cleavages.

It is democracy, with all of its trials and tribulations that we need to be celebrating, and not loud men spouting hatred, fibs and utopian delusions in the name of patriotism and religion.

Farewell Mr. Hamid. Thank you for the memories.

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

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.



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