Ahmed Quraishi and Hamid Mir and the Imaginary ‘Extremist Liberal’

Jan 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Jang, The News

Ahmed QuraishiI must admit that I was surprised to see Ahmed Quraishi eulogizing Salmaan Taseer this morning. He eloquently praises the late Governor for his principled stand and laments his killing. But I also found his column somewhat crass – a political operative exploiting a national tragedy to promote his political agenda. Ahmed Quraishi’s eulogy for Salmaan Taseer is peculiar not for his sympathy with the slain PPP leader, but for the enemy that he invents to take the blame.

Ahmed Quraishi’s column pushes the idea that the nation is under threat from ‘liberal extremists’, a group that we heard about last week from Hamid Mir also. Quraishi describes this new right-wing bogey man as a threat as serious as religious militants:

The real problem over the law is between an extremist westernised minority of Pakistanis, who ridicule religion, and between another extremist religious minority, that takes religion to extreme. The extremist westernised minority wants no religion at all and keeps talking about European secularism, which is misplaced in Pakistan. This provokes the religious extremist minority into paranoia and pushes them to extremes, as in the case of the 26-year-old bodyguard who murdered Governor Taseer. Caught between the two extremes are the majority of moderate, peaceful Pakistanis.

We know the religious militants pose a real threat to Pakistan, and we know this because they announce their threats themselves on loudspeakers and with the unmistakable message of bomb blasts and other acts of murder. But who are these extremist westernised liberals that are threatening Pakistan?

Hamid MirI kept reading to find out the answer, but Ahmed Quraishi couldn’t tell me. The only person Hamid Mir could come up with was Aatish Taseer who he terms ‘a liberal extremist’ for “wrongly [accusing] his father for having a religious hatred against the Jews and Hindus”.

But even if Aatish Taseer wrote some unkind things about this father, who has Aatish killed? Who has he threatened? Where is his band of ‘extremist liberal’ thugs toting AK-47s into mosques ordering that religion be removed from the country? Does Hamid Mir really want to equate an inter-family disagreement with the jihadi killers that are slaughtering people in the streets as part of an effort to bring back some sort of caliphate?

Consider one of the final paragraphs in Quraishi’s column:

Our overriding concern in this debate is to unite Pakistanis and stop a situation where Pakistanis go to war with each other because of two extremist minorities. We must stop anyone fanning this divide and try to bridge it with reason. Incitement to kill or to ridicule religion from either side must be sternly dealt with.

Again I ask: Who are these ‘extremist liberals’ that are inciting to kill or ridiculing religion? The truth is that they are merely figments of Ahmed Quraishi’s and Hamid Mir’s overactive and slightly paranoid imaginations. They don’t exist. If they do, prove it.

Partly this is paranoid delusion, partly this is probably political gamesmanship. The right-wing has created a convenient ‘straw man’ of ‘extremist liberals’ to convince moderates that they have a choice between extremists and the right-wing. This is a false choice. Ahmed Quraishi and Hamid Mir think they’re quite clever, but like all straw men theirs falls apart quite easily.

It should be noted that both Hamid Mir and Ahmed Quraishi’s attempts to blame ‘extremist liberals’ for the death of Salmaan Taseer appear in a newspaper that continually publishes political propaganda. Just today, the newspaper featured a column by Ansar Abbasi that accuses “The Zardari-Gilani duo has wasted the first three years of its rule, marred by corruption, inefficiency and bad governance” and then praises that PML-N “would seek an early implementation of institutional and structural reforms to check corruption and bad governance, and to improve economic and social conditions of the state as well as the masses.” The political gamesmanship is so haphazardly obvious that it is almost laughable.

What isn’t laughable is that both Ahmed Quraishi and Hamid Mir, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are making excuses for the jihadi mindset and further dividing the people against each other. Salmaan Taseer was murdered, as they both admit, not for blasphemy but for simply speaking his mind. But then Ahmed Quraishi and Hamid Mir go on to warn these imaginary ‘extremist liberals’ against speaking their minds also. Like the jihadis who cannot tolerate anyone whose religion is different from theirs, right-wing apologists like Ahmed Quraishi and Hamid Mir cannot tolerate anyone whose politics is different from theirs.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer should have taught us that media created bogey men are a dangerous thing. Mosharraf Zaidi recently told Al Jazeera that partly to blame for Salmaan Taseer’s murder was the “24/7 media in Pakistan…and the build up to the assassination: the criticism of the law and the resulting overreaction – gross overreaction – by the radical right in Pakistan.”

Rather than inventing new bogey men for people to fear and blame for all of society’s ills, the media should be providing the people with sober analysis and facts so that we can make sense of the world around us and develop real solutions for real problems. We don’t need any fake enemies, we have enough real ones to deal with at the moment.

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