January issue 2010
The Dumb Decade
How Maudoodi Revived Pakistani Cinema
In a decade when the world fussed over slumdogs and swine flu, Pakistan’s proudest cultural achievement was a film called Khuda Ke Liye. The man who gave us Fifty Fifty, cute soldiers doing cute things in Alpha Bravo Charlie and Junaid Jamshed made us believe for a while that there was such a thing as Pakistani cinema. Here was a state-of-the-nation film, complete with slick remixes, pop singers in bandanas preaching tolerance and mullahs in cheap beards preaching tolerance. It was a film begging the world to look at us; we are not who you think we are. But at its heart the movie tried to make a slightly more old-fashioned political statement. What the audience cheered the most in the film is a line that is spoken towards the end of the film where Naseeruddin Shah says: ‘Darhi Islam main hai,Islam darhi main nahin’ (The beard is in Islam, but Islam is not in the beard). I didn’t know for what people really cheered, Islam or the beard, or that we are so clever that we got Naseeruddin Shah to say those lines. But the fact is that this celebrated line is a direct quote from Jamaat-i-Islami founder Maulana Maudoodi, whose dodgy witticism now forms a part of our textbooks, media commentary, our urban graffiti and, above all, our constitution. Now remember that even the life-long Jamaat followers only pretend to have read all of Maudoodi. What does it say about the time and age that we live in when Hazrat Maulana Maudoodi becomes a very popular dialogue writer in a populist medium. As a society we have moved so far towards the right that Maudoodi has become the very soul of common sense.
But it didn’t happen overnight. It happened slowly and I think it happened because we finally discovered what was wrong with our ketchup.
The Great Tomato Ketchup Conspiracy
If you are reading this, or even if you have bought this magazine for its fashion pages only, I can bet you know what tomato ketchup is. I can bet you like it with your fries. Or maybe you don’t like it but, unlike mustard or marmite, ketchup is easy to like. But did you ever wonder if your ketchup was halal? The thing is made of tomatoes. That is why it’s called tomato ketchup. Maybe you did grow up feeling secretly guilty that you have had no way of knowing if your ketchup was halal. You can put that guilt to rest. Now your ketchup bottle and even your little sachet with the airline food comes with a halal label.
During this decade halal certification has been one of the biggest ideology-driven business booms in Pakistan. It was pioneered by international fast food giants like McDonalds and KFC, who brought in busloads of mullahs from Binoria Town, gave them double cheese burger meals, happy meals and got them to sign a certificate. Maulanas have never looked back since.
The list of things that didn’t need to be halal in the last millennium but are now required to be halal is very very long. You can have halal porridge for breakfast, then get into a car which has halal insurance and drive to the stock exchange to buy halal bonds and when you return home you can use your halal make-up remover or, if you are a man, you can put on some alcohol-free halal perfume.
There are no halal certifications required for minimum wages and how you make your money. Getting a maid to clean your thousand square yard house and paying her five thousand rupees is obviously very halal and requires no certification.
In Maudoodi’s Pakistan, God and greed have embraced each other with the zeal of long-lost brothers.
If we have perfected halal ideology, then surely the science based on this ideology cannot be far behind. No sir, it’s already here.
The Greatest Invention of the Decade: the Plastic Miswak Holder
Karachi has had a very successful international book fair for the last four years. Unlike Fashion Pakistan Week this year, which, as every senior fashion journalist has noted diligently, was great for our image but wasn’t really a trade fair (or only an R&R opportunity for international war correspondents based in the region), the International Book Fair was really a trade fair where people bought and sold books. Only this year Saudi publishers sold us Islamic books, Iranian publishers sold us some Iranian Islamic books and we also sold our Islamic books to ourselves. There were some Indian publishers selling medical textbooks, but then what do you expect from baniyas? A walk in Hall 2 of Karachi Expo Centre would have made you forget all the alarmist talk about madrassas. There were thousands of titles for little children produced in bright child-friendly covers with titles like My Wudu, My Pardah, My Salat. If you have a taste for history you can buy a fancy atlas of all the past Islamic empires. If you are a woman with health problems we have got a whole book dedicated to your ailments and how you must behave when you are not well.
But the most fascinating thing at the fair wasn’t a book or even a comprehensive software guaranteed to give your child a complete Islamic education. Rather, it was a miswak holder, a plastic container that you can put your miswak in. It was billed as the greatest invention in the Islamic world and described using the kind of adjectives normally reserved for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. As I imagined our youth conquering the world with a miswak holder in one hand and a nuclear device in the other, I heard an elderly customer suggest to the young salesman, “If you start manufacturing that in a green colour, wouldn’t you sell many more.” At which point the salesman said respectfully, “When you are doing Allah’s work, you don’t worry about profits. Allah himself takes care of the business.”
And if you are killed in Allah’s name then obviously that’s better than being killed by someone who is not doing Allah’s work. Hence…
They are Killing Us but They are Our Boys After All…
This conspiracy began its life when this scribe noticed a smirk on Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman’s face as he urged Pakistan’s armed forces to take action against those deviant maulanas in Peshawar’s Qasim Bagh mosque, who were trying to spoil his moon-sighting party. “Take strict action against them, like you did against those evil-doers in Swat.”
The conspiracy was further confirmed by comments posted by serving army officers under a video of an interview with a suicide bomber. (Has anyone noticed that these boys who get arrested and then confess always look like kids on drugs? And I always thought no true druggie would ever carry ammo on his body, let alone use it… “all those noises, man…”) The most insightful answer that the suicide bomber gave was to a question about whether he has thought of getting married. “Why should I marry one when there are 72 of them waiting for me on the other side?” Then the interviewer raised the question about innocent children becoming victims of suicide attacks. “What makes you think children are innocent?” The bomber definitely was well trained to question our lazy truisms.
But the comments under the video were more revealing.
“Amazing,” someone has written.
“These guys have such strong resolve, I wish they would show their resolve to India and liberate Kashmir.”
There is a lot of well-funded academic research that is trying to prove that there is no link between the ulema karaam who fight over moon sightings and suicide bombers, that there possibly can’t be a connection between the rants of a wannabe martyr and their online admirers, that our middle-class begums who have recently discovered hijab and Bukhari Sharif don’t really have a secret crush on our boys in the mountain. It’s all about discovering your identity and showing the world the true face of Islam (by hiding your own face that is). But since this is more of a theory than conspiracy, we’ll let the academics decide this one.
Meanwhile faced with such existential riddles you obviously turn to Slovenian philosophers for answers. That’s why…
General Kayani Has Been Reading Zizek
This old joke comes from philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who nicked it from Freud, who probably stole it from one of his hapless patients. But this perfectly sums up General Kayani and his security establishment’s attitude towards the country they are supposed to serve:
(1) I never borrowed a kettle from you,
(2) I returned it to you unbroken,
(3) The kettle was already broken when I got it from you.
“Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments, of course, confirms exactly what it endeavours to deny — that I returned a broken kettle to you…” Zizek.
Caught between Zizek and Maudoodi, sometimes they tend to do things which have tragic consequences.
The Year of the Soldier
The only thing that changed for the soldiers in this year was that more of them died. I mean, many more soldiers died in The Year of the Soldier than those who died in years which were not The Year of the Soldier.
Media is Free Conspiracy
The founding editor of Newsline, Razia Bhatti, once told this scribe: “The press is never free, only journalists can be free.” This was in the days of the old media and this scribe, being as lazy back then as he is now, was trying to get a quote from his own editor for a story for her own magazine. The quote didn’t make it to that story then, but see it has come handy here. Ms Bhatti’s words were prophetic. This decade has given rise to a breed of journalists who are not only free to speak what they think, they are free to speak in a language that is neither English, nor Urdu, neither Persian nor Pashto; it’s not even the language that they spoke in Mars Attacks! Some of these anchorpersons have not only bought their doctorates on the internet for a couple of hundred dollars, their rants are also generated by some computer software where programmers forgot to write the code for grammar, common sense and journalism 101.
But even badly programmed artificial life is capable of miracles, hence we got…
Zaid Hamid and Iqbal’s Pakistan
The last time I saw Zaid Hamid on TV he was wearing a red beret and a very expensive fighter pilot’s jacket. My first thought was has he joined the NATO forces? You can’t really buy that jacket at Zamzama. The man looks like a cross between an effeminate Che Guevara and Hafiz Saeed on acid. If he didn’t exist we would have to invent him. After all, despite their collection of charming caps and pagris and come-hither smiles, Maulana Munawar Hassan and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman wouldn’t fit in with the look of a youth channel.
As far as his message about Iqbal ka Pakistan is concerned, we all know that we already live in His Pakistan. For those of you who don’t remember Iqbal, he is that dude in the textbooks who is always shown scratching his head and dreaming. He was obviously dreaming of Pakistan. We do live in Pakistan. Don’t we teach every child in our schools: tu shaheen hai, basera kar paharon ki chatanon mein. (You are an eagle and you must stay up in the mountains). Some of our brave boys are doing exactly that, living up in the mountains, only descending to the plains when they want to kidnap someone or blow up a bazaar or a mosque. Because when they were children we also taught them: shahadat hai matloob-o-maqsood momin.
These attacks, though, are always condemned by civil society but…
The Civil Society Conspiracy
Any society that allows Roedad Khan to be its member has to be a conspiracy, right?
The Conspiracy Against the Jamaat
Here is a political party that rewrote our history, then rewrote our history books, then taught teachers how to teach our history, then rewrote our constitution and taught our journalists that quoting an ayat and hadith always clinches the argument. It also defeated communism, liberated Central Asia, almost liberated Kashmir, liberated Afghanistan many times over and what do they get in return? Indifference. Just when they thought their project was complete — and Pakistan has been nothing but a project for the Jamaat — they get sidelined. An upstart Saudi businessman and those tribals from the mountains and these Punjabi boys all decide that the Jamaat and its ilk are just not glam enough for them. From its past glory, the Jamaat has been reduced to the kind of wall chalking which may or may not reflect its inner turmoil but does confuse increasing number of football fans in this country. ‘Go America Go’ might work at a baseball fixture in Baltimore, but here young boys only shake their heads and say: But Americans don’t even know how to play soccer.
In this hour of their crisis we should hold their hands and remind them of something that Maulana Maudoodi might have said: The tomato ketchup is in Islam but Islam is not in the tomato ketchup.
Muhammad Ziauddin is one of the senior most journalists in Pakistan. His career in journalism spans over 50 years. He has been associated to Dawn, The News and Express Tribune. He regularly contributes to Newsline.