Fake Quotes and the Rise of Idiocracy

Question Everything

Imran Khan is no stranger to controversial statements, but his most recent controversial statement isn’t even his own. In a speech and posting on Twitter, the PTI chief quoted an 1835 address by Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament about Western cultural hegemony and subjugation. Only, Lord Macaulay never gave this quote – it is the invention of Hindu nationalists in India.

Imran wasn’t the only person to fall for a fake quote recently. Following the announcement that Malala Yousafzai had won the Nobel Peace Prize, a quote attributed to her denouncing Islam began circulating all over social media. Like Imran Khan’s Lord Macaulay quote, this quote was also fake.

Though these two quotes seem entirely unrelated, there is an important thread that connects them: A willingness to believe anything without question if it supports one’s political beliefs. I see this every day. If you say something with confidence, no matter how ridiculous, people are ready and willing to accept it and repeat it without the slightest bit of verification.

Think about the utter nonsense that has been passed around as facts lately. From Agha Waqar Ahmad’s infamous ‘water kit‘ to America’s miraculous ability to control the weather, it seems that there is no con too obvious that we won’t swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

Worst, those who dare to point out the obvious reality are forced to live as virtual outcasts (if they are even permitted to live at all). We are a nation that has produced a Nobel Laureate in Physics, but we have all but erased him from the history books because he was the wrong religion. Highly educated people are called ‘jahil‘ on national television by uneducated media men for trying to inject a minimum of reason into a discussion.

This trend has deeper ramifications than merely making us look foolish on social media. It is the reason why Federal Ministers can get away with blaming ‘hidden hands‘ for national problems instead of taking responsibility. It is the reason why jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid are given airtime to spin fanciful tales of ‘hindu-zionist conspiracies’.

We do not enjoy the luxury to wallow in idle fantasies. We are facing existential crises from preventable diseases spinning out of control, jihadi militancy, sectarian extremism, economic decline, and increasing international isolation. To counter these threats, the need of the hour is reason and critical thinking. Sadly, our education system too lies in tatters.

In his political speeches, Imran Khan has promised to not only change the Prime Minister, but to change the system. But what Imran Khan thinks is a wave of populist democracy is better termed as populist idiocracy. And until we change that, there can be no progress under any government.

We don’t need no education

Last night, I got a phone call from a friend who wanted to know if I was watching Capital Talk and told me to turn it on immediately. Why? I asked. What’s happening? I thought it was going to be something shocking. I guess it should have been, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Agha Waqar was back on the air peddling his science fiction water kit, this time facing Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Dr Shaukat Hameed Khan. Obviously, the water kit is old news, and why Hamid Mir gave this charlatan guy more publicity, I don’t understand. But it wasn’t just the water kit that sent my friend over the edge, it was the way Agha Waqar arrogantly dismissed the other guests as they questioned the scientific validity of his methods.

At one point in the programme, Waqar says:

“Inko mei aaj ye prove karkay dikhaonga ye nonsensy nahi hai, jo khood keh rahay hain ya tou unki aqal kaam nahi kar rahee, humary pooray muashray ko inhon nay aik circle hole mei band kiya hua hia ye ke hadood hain aur insay bahir apnay nahi jana.” (I will prove to them that this isn’t nonsense. What hes saying he doesnt have knowledge. He has put our entire society in a closed circle and said these are the boundaries you can not cross them.)

The ‘boundaries’ that he’s describing are the principles of science – something he claims is being imposed on our society by people like Dr Hoodbhoy.

The rise of the anti-science mindset such as Agha Waqar’s is often blamed on the poor state of education, particularly in science. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not just uneducated people who have adopted this way of thinking. Consider Imran Khan, who accuses his critics of being ‘Westoxified Pakistanis’ and urges people to read his book to learn his true beliefs. Well, I did read his book, and what I found sounded a lot like Agha Waqar.

Page 51 of Imran Khan’s book says:

Our Western education also laid emphasis on science, which based everything on the premise that what could not be proved, did not exist.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. I was not privileged to attend Aitchison and Oxford, so I can’t speak to the quality of education provided by those institutions, but science does not hold that ‘what could not be proved, does not exist’. To the contrary, while there science includes laws, which have been proven, it also included theories and hypothoses which have not been definitively proven. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is worth noting that Imran Khan rejects Darwin’s theory of evolution, terming it a ‘half-baked’ philosophy. What evidence does the cricketer base his conclusion? Well, none, really. Apparently unable to reconcile both religion and science, Imran Khan rejects science. He explains this on page 111 of his book, where he says:

For someone who believes in reason and logic, it is difficult to blindly believe that the Quran is the word of God.

This is utter nonsense, but it has become more and more mainstream way of thinking. There are even people who claim to believe in both science and religion, but seem to believe that this means they have to twist science to make it fit their religious beliefs instead of looking for how the two actually compliment each other. Anyone who has ever listened to the nonsensical ramblings of Zakir Naik should watch the following clip in which a group of young Muslims who, unlike Imran Khan, do not have a problem believing in both science and religion.

All of this is particularly sad considering that the golden period of Islam is filled with major scientific discoveries – often while Europe was stuck in its own ‘dark ages’. Here is Dr Hoodbhoy explaining for the website Islamopedia Online:

Science, logic, and reason are not a Western conspiracy. They are not even Western. Historically, they are woven into the intricate fabric of our own culture and religion. Abandoning them has opened the door to all types of charlatans and con men. Treating science, logic, and reason as foreign concepts is not strengthening our society, it is tearing it apart.