Nadeem Paracha follows up on his appearance in the New York Times in which he asked why Pakistan’s middle class youth – educated and westernized as they are – are more attracted to anti-Americanism than anti-Taliban? Paracha’s latest column in Dawn picks up where he left off in his original critique of Pakistan’s pop-music stars, taking special notice of the hypocrisy of Ali Azmat and Ali Noor.
RECENTLY I was fortunate enough to be a part of an excellent ten-minute news video prepared by the New York Times’ reporter, Adam Ellick. Tastefully called ‘Tuning out the Taliban,’ the video has created the right buzz amongst young middle-class Pakistanis.
Adam treats his report as a way to understand why many educated, westernised and modern Pakistani pop/rock stars and their fans are all gung-ho about anti-Americanism in their songs and beliefs but at the same time keeping quiet about matters such as religious extremism, terrorism and the Taliban.
The funny thing is, this is happening even when there are disturbingly tangible and physical examples of the ubiquitous carnage and mayhem being caused by so-called jihadis; whereas conspiratorial notions such as the ever-present explanation of a ‘foreign hand’ — mainly the idea of an unholy alliance of America, India and Israel out to destroy Pakistan and Islam — remains to be a largely unsubstantiated and somewhat air-headed perception.
According to my own experience as a journalist covering the Pakistan music scene in the 1990s, it is never a good idea to encourage pop musicians to start making political statements. As an idea it can be exciting and relevant, but since much of the modern pop music scene in Pakistan originates from middle-class settings, one can thus expect nothing more than self-righteous droning and quasi-reactionary drawing-room demagoguery usually found in the urban bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois sections of society.
Surveys and studies of these two classes in Pakistan show them to be two of the most conservative, with a history of economically and politically backing assorted military dictators (especially Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf). Of course, there have been clear exceptions in this context, but it is also true that over the years the overall conservatism of these classes has seen certain sections from within become both supporters and financiers of the more extreme strains of Islamic thought.
There have been recorded cases against many petty-bourgeois shop-owners and traders of financing jihadi organisations; whereas many sections among the more ‘modern’ bourgeois class have largely exhibited their own version of extreme beliefs by passionately patronising (as supporters and clients), a number of Islamic televangelists and drawing-room preachers whose number has grown two-fold from 1990 onwards.
Consequently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young men and women from the middle-class now preferring to adorn beards and hijabs, and taking religious rituals a lot more seriously (compared to the situation till the late 1970s). But this class still constitutes a large number of westernised youth as well.
However, compared to their more socially conservative class contemporaries — who have been seen to follow right-wing groups from the Jamat-i-Islami, to defunct Sipah-i-Sehaba to Sunni Threek and the Tableeghi Jamaat and individuals such as Dr Israr Ahmed, Farhat Hashmi and Zakir Naik — the more ‘modern’ lot in this respect have not exactly fallen to the left as a reaction (like they did between the 1950s and the early 1970s). Instead, in spite of whole-heartedly embracing the economic, aesthetic and cultural fruits of secularism, they have retained their classes’ inherent political conservatism.
Adam Ellick’s interviews with former rock star and animated TV personality, Ali Azmat, and bubblegum-rock poster boy, Ali Noor, are the cases in point. Both hail from modern, middle-class settings and represent the more westernised sections of Pakistani bourgeoisie. In spite of mimicking the aesthetic, cultural and linguistic strains of western pop culture, both refused to see any contradiction whatsoever in conveniently attacking ‘western imperialism’ as the reason behind the terror attacks in Pakistan.
Azmat is seen in a T-Shirt and shorts, with an expensive Apple laptop by his side, sitting in a room decorated like an arty version of an American college dude’s bachelor pad, and the following is what he had to say: ‘It (suicide bombing) is the agenda of neocons to de-Islamise Pakistan…’
In his astute and recently acquired wisdom (mainly inspired by Azmat’s newfound guru, celebrated conspiracy theorist Zaid Hamid), the Taliban are not behind the bombings of girls’ schools, but ‘foreign forces (CIA, RAW and Mossad),’ are to be blamed! Where else but in Pakistan can one find a hip rock star with a lucrative history of being proudly sponsored by various western multinationals, also become a shameless apologist of men who in the name of faith not only blow themselves up in public, but are also known to have used three-to-six-year-old children for the same deed.
Then, in the same documentary, we see yet another scion of the increasingly warped Pakistani bourgeoisie, Ali Noor, the long-haired, guitar-slinging lead vocalist of Noorie. Amidst terrifying and tragic footage of blown up cars, shops and body limbs, he announces that ‘the Taliban only constitute a tiny problem.’ While spouting this profound insight, Noor gestures the ‘tiny’ part of his grand statement with his hand and you wonder, shouldn’t that gesture be explaining the size of his brain? Is this symptomatic of mere delusion, or of some unprecedented form of collective psychosis?