The Doctor Strikes Back
The Aamir Liaquat video scandal has put the normally smug Aalim in a position of weakness and vulnerability. By Monday August 15 it was all anyone was talking about, discussing it over iftar, designing meme posters and being generally irreverent. A more serious segment of the population was promoting Dr Liaquat’s ouster from the spotlight. His credibility has been put in serious doubt, and many now label him a “hypocrite” for engaging in decidedly non-scholarly behaviour on the very set of his show.
A lot is at stake for Liaquat. His soft-speaking but authoritative Aalim persona has won him fans around the country and has led to tangible benefits from a ministerial portfolio under Musharraf to a profitable business promoting products like Meezan cooking oil. One cannot forget the spoils from his media engagements. As Liaquat’s taste for flashy, overworked kurtas and the iPhone from which he tweets, evince he rather likes the good life. A threat to the stability of this status is something he has taken very seriously indeed.
As a consequence, he has attempted to undermine the video multiple times since its release last Sunday. Three separate outlets for Liaquat’s frustration have presented the not-so-good doctor’s case for forgiveness: Liaquat’s statements on his Twitter feed the day after the video went viral, the arguments he presented on his ARY show on Wednesday and his most recent piece for the Urdu Daily Express, published on Friday. Below, Newsline traces the narrative of a man who seems acutely aware of his need for instant image control.
Liaquat evidently took at least four minutes to read up on video editing, with the result that he parroted “dub,” “dubbing” and “dubbed” on the August 16th episode of his show with the fervour of the newly informed. The idea of the video being “dubbed professionally” also featured on Liaquat’s Twitter account.
Where Liaquat’s knowledge falls short is when he speaks of an “editing machine” on air. This sinister contraption is evidently capable of “manipulat[ing]” anything in our “world of technology.” Indeed, the “editing machine” (or “computer” for those readers more acquainted with hip, young lingo) seems to have the power to place “abusive worlds [sic]” at will. Liaquat should therefore presumably be glad he got away with just some obscenities in a video and was not subjected to the threat of a violent Jupiter.
But what is consistent throughout the Aalim’s discussion of how he believes this video was made is his disdain for such “cheap tactics,” and his certainty that it was created by those who oppose him — the “they” he refers to time and again, in print, online and on air.
Liaquat has taken great pains to convince the nation that this video is the project of a massive conspiracy against him by competitors, minority groups and any other generally bad people (e.g. those who have, according to his column, ignored their namaazes to defame him).
What he would have us believe is that the video’s release was motivated by “hasad” or envy. In his televised response to the scandal, Liaquat waxed eloquent about the dangers of such jealousy, citing a quote from H. Ali (R) to back up his argument. The fact that the smile Liaquat normally wears when analyzing Islamic injunctions looked more like a grimace at that moment only slightly detracted from his just-vague-enough defence.
A rather conveniently timed phone call from Makkah gave Liaquat the opportunity to clarify what he would like his supporters to do at this juncture: “Go pray that God protects me from hasad and enemies.” And while he spoke generally then, he has been more than clear both in print and online about who he sees as his “enemies.”
Liaquat’s relationship with the television channel that originally fostered him has been stormy since his departure for ARY. Now, it seems that — at least in Liaquat’s mind — they are actively battling. The shamed scholar told his television audience that the video was the “work of a channel that is jealous of me — you know it very well.”
He bases this jealousy argument, as his Twitter feed reveals, on his assertion that “ARY ratings have eaten GEO ratings.” In this tale – which labours under the assumption that Liaquat is the crown jewel of any channel he appears on – GEO turns bitter and decides to lash out and attack its competitor by putting together the “fake video” from archival footage.
Our man is nothing if not thorough. To appeal to those skeptical about the profit-hungry, capitalist-channel theory, Liaquat has trotted out an old trick that rarely fails those on the religious right. He is now publicly questioning GEO’s loyalty to Islam. A recent tweet stated that GEO’s “ethics and morals [must be] rotten and dead,” citing the channel’s decision to “air movies in which sahaba (ra) [sic] have been shown,” e.g. The Prophet and The Message.
This strategy is a tad bizarre, though. After all, Liaquat was a GEO employee for many years. Was he not shocked by the channel’s ethical state back then? Additionally, this entire argument gets sticky when one remembers that GEO was responsible for the highly systematic initial attempts to suppress the video. As some commentators have pointed out, these clips, taken from Liaquat’s former GEO show, undermine not just the scholar but also the channel itself for hiring and publicising him. Liaquat would presumably say that GEO simply wanted to cover its tracks, and only really needed the video up for long enough to create a stir. Answers are easy to come by when one is weaving logic out of a conspiracy theory.
Liaquat is a past master at accusing Pakistan’s much-maligned Ahmadi minority community of anything and everything. Unsurprisingly, the group became the ideal secondary scapegoat for his PR failure.
Several tweets from the desperate doctor assert that “those who do not believe in [the] finality of [the] prophethood” played a key role in creating and spreading the video. Such a statement clearly implicates Ahmadis, who believe that the Prophet Muhammad was followed by another Prophet in the nineteenth-century.
In Aamir Liaquat’s world, he is “safeguard[ing] the ideology of [the] finality of [the] prophethood” against this group. His accusations thus neatly weave a rather mythological tale (cue medieval music). Liaquat is trying to present himself as the last valiant bastion of truth against the hordes who wish to distort his beloved religion. It gets scarier. One of his tweets tells us: “the join hands with [that] channel.” It’s not difficult to determine who the “they” are.
This is just one more method Liaquat is using to pander to those who think Islam is being targeted. And if he succeeds in presenting himself as a defender of the religion, he may well retain a significant following. Few bother to realise that Ahmadis are simply regular Pakistanis, not conspirators. While such distrust continues to exist, it makes it easy for people like him to present a shockingly prejudiced and yet, for many, highly persuasive defence: ‘the Ahmadis are out get to me for standing up for Islam.’
Many have questioned whether Liaquat’s career can continue after this scandal. The man himself seems fairly certain that it will, drawing out similarities between his ‘work’ and the Prophet’s struggle, explaining that both faced hurdles set up by enemies.
Herein lies the critical part of Liaquat’s narrative. Any cursory understanding of how religious loyalty works in Pakistan makes it clear that what the Aalim must do above all else is convince his audience that he plays a critical, indispensable role by “spread[ing] the true essence of Islam.” Comparisons to the most venerated human figure in the Islamic pantheon are his favoured method of doing this. If he can somehow make this seem like a home truth, he is golden — no accusations can touch one the public believes is “promot[ing] Ish-e-Rasool.”
The critical factor in guessing the fallout of the Liaquat video affair is the composition of his audience. A large proportion, many agree, will most likely buy the doctor’s excuses and accusations, simply on the assumption that he is as loyal and true a Muslim as he claims. “Dubbing” has most likely already joined the vocabulary of such viewers.
A small part of his viewers, though, will probably peter off. These are generally younger, more tech-savvy citizens, and they are very visibly using message boards, Facebook and Twitter to express their dislike for the man they now see as a hypocrite. They might come close to joining the ranks of the already converted: progressives, most of whom have condemned Liaquat for years and see this video as new evidence to back up their dismissal of his ilk.
But one element remains. Some, it seems, remain unsure about what to believe. And it’s these (if you will) swing viewers that Liaquat now seems to be concentrating his efforts on. For the doctor continues to tweet defensively, and he published a lengthy article on the video scandal just last Friday, despite his assurances that the potential damage to his reputation does not matter to him.
Perhaps realising that this demographic is unlikely to be satisfied with a blame game, he has taken on some personal responsibility. A seemingly humbled Liaquat wrote in the Daily Express that he never claimed to be the world’s most noble person (you could’ve had us fooled). Indeed, he goes on to say, the video does have some truth in it.
Such a confession is not what the vast majority of analysts expected. It shows, at the very least, some semblance of the remorse people are urging Liaquat to show.
Yet, inevitably, this admission comes with a caveat. Liaquat asserts that while the video may reflect some truth, there is no validity in its presentation of him. And out comes a new tale, one of reform and salvation. The video represents the “old” Aamir Liaquat. Post-2008, the “new” one is striving to be a better person. And so, the Liaquat logic triumphantly concludes, he deserves our sympathy in the face of what we must understand as bad memories, not evidence of inherent characteristics.
“I will continue on my path,” Liaquat wrote on Friday. That he is building more and more walls to safeguard his still-healing image is clear proof of this. The Aalim is not leaving the building any time soon.
Akbar Shahid Ahmed is a Washington-based reporter for the Huffington Post, writing on U.S. foreign policy. He has contributed to Newsline since 2008.