Crackpots, ahoy!

Posted on May 17, 2009 by


by Nadeem F. Paracha

Nadeem F. Paracha explains what happens when the urban middle-class chooses to live in blissful ignorance.
The Chief Crackpot

The Chief Crackpot

It was quite a sight watching Ali Azmat sitting with Zaid Hamid on TV, both passionately discussing ‘Hindu & Western Zionist aims to destabilize Pakistan.’

For those who might not know who Zaid Hamid is, let’s just say yours is a positive case of blissful ignorance.

Some of his critics have called him ‘a dangerous man,’ or worse, a rather ‘paranoid and delusional’ fellow feeding off the paranoia and delusions of the more well-to-do urban middle-class Pakistanis.

Ali Azmat, former vocalist of the seminal Pakistani rock band Junoon, and now a well-known solo performer, archetypically represents and reflects Hamid’s following amongst the young and thirty-somethings belonging to this class.

More so, Azmat also (and as archetypically) reflects what can be called the Musharraf constituency – i.e. urban young men and women to whom General Pervez Musharraf was the best thing that ever happened to Pakistan and who was unjustly and selfishly toppled by ‘corrupt’ politicians like Benazir Bhutto, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari.

The Musharraf constituency is not all that impressed by ‘chaotic’ things like democracy, which, Zaid Hamid is sure explain away as a system imposed by Hindu & Western Zionists to strike at the foundations of Pakistan.

The truth is, of whatever we can derive from Musharraf’s nine years of power and his attempt to loosen up the society through his (somewhat vague) ‘enlightened moderation’ doctrine, one can safely suggest that Musharraf most certainly wasn’t expecting to be remembered, mourned and eulogized by hip conspiratorial idiots!

But unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened. And this is how: Broadly speaking – shortly before the announcement of last year’s general elections, as most anti-Musharraf Pakistanis followed either the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League –N and Awami National Party to the polls, and on the other hand, the Muhataihida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) and assorted Baloch nationalist parties – most Musharraf fans in the well-to-do urban middle-classes stayed at home.

There they spent their day brooding and sulking, or worse, SMSing bad Benazir, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif jokes and creating sophomoric pro-Mush and anti-Bhutto groups on facebook, rather than going out to vote for the pro-Musharraf PML-Q.

So when yet another regenerated bout of Pakistani democracy kicked in after February 18, 2008, things started to turn terribly disturbing for the Musharraf constituency. A sense of helplessness and a pal of gloom hung over their heads as they saw the return of populist politics with all of its colorful humdrum, noise and mass appeal – things that jar, nay, offend the ‘polite society.’
Musharraf was sincere in his attempt to be remembered as the figurative benevolent dictator, who undid the suffocating cobwebs clinging stubbornly in the many social and cultural corners of Pakistan ever since General Zia’s disastrous ‘Islamic regime.’

However, in a striking case of black comedy, what he got as his admirers instead were a wholly apolitical Pakistani show-biz crowd (pop stars, models, actors, etc.), who had absolutely no clue about the intricacies of the political problems the General was embattling, especially in the last two years of his rule. All they knew was how to entertain, and this is what their response was as well – dancing, singing and posing for the General while his world burned around him.

But not any more. The Musharraf constituency has finally awoken. But ironically ‘enlightened moderation’ has absolutely nothing to do with this great awakening.

Because most hip urban middle-class Musharrafites have decided to follow into battle conspiratorial crack-pots who are giving their well-to-do but politically illiterate followers a thrilling 101 in local and global politics.

This 101 has thrown out conventional wisdom and academically sound political theories and insights, replacing them with the most hackneyed, worn-out and clichéd set of conspiracy theories that are mindlessly lapped up by the listeners as ‘expert analysis’ of politics, economics and religion.

Voila! So this is what politics, economics and religion are all about? How simple.

Well, this is how followers of, say, Zaid Hamid are actually thinking. They believe they are now in the deep know, when all they are getting really is an intellect crushing crash course in stale conspiracy theories beaming with buzzwords like Zionism, Elders of Zion, the Illuminati, Hindu, Jew, blah!

Ali Azmat is the latest casualty, falling in the hole while chasing a white rabbit that is no more real than a warped hallucination. But mind you, he is not the only Pakistani pop star who stumbled into that hole. Juniad Jamshed is a prime example, and so was Najam Shiraz and a numerous other celebrities. But their holes led to a different world. Those were worlds created by self-righteous televangelists who filled upper-middle and middle-class drawing rooms in the 1990s to tell their drooling, dud audiences the ‘true meaning of Islam,’ that included hefty payments, lots of make-up, the now ubiquitous ‘Sunnah daari,’ the hijab and even a jet black burqau or two.

Then there were those show-biz men and women who dodged the 90s televangelists but got caught up in the delusional mental realms of political cranks, such as Imran Khan.

Imran Khan has zero roots in the proverbial masses. He is a wholesale construct of the electronic media; a man with a remarkable history as a cricketer and a philanthropist, but a ‘politician’ who rather embarrassingly lacks the tact, the guile, the persuasive power and more so, the knowledge and insight required to conduct oneself as a leader of the people.
In fact, his political insight is as good as that of a cheap TV talk show anchor or worse, as astute as that of his constituency’s that almost entirely resides in cosy living rooms with flat-screen TV sets!

There has been talk these days as to once the government and the Army is done wiping out violent shaggy mountain men called the Taliban, how do we plan to tackle the (albeit watered down, but equally paranoid and self-righteous) mind-set that seems to be rearing its ugly head in the streets of urban Pakistan.

Well, we shouldn’t just be looking towards urban Pakistan’s ‘illiterate sections,’ some of whom might have fallen pray to Taliban demagoguery. We should, I think, begin our social battle against social extremism right in the heart of the drawing-rooms where supposedly educated and cosmopolitan men and women are nodding in utter approval to loud hate speeches and animatedly concocted conspiracy theories being delivered as ‘expert insights,’ ‘facts’ and ‘knowledge’ by rabble-rousing crack-pots who are to our drawing-rooms, what the Taliban are to the mountains.