In A La-La Land
Some of the most popular Urdu Columnists in Pakistan seem to function in a world of their own creation—it challenges rational thinking.
For the past five or six months I’ve been reading fairly regularly the web pages of three Urdu newspapers from Pakistan: Jang, Nawa-i-Waqt and the Express. I glance at the headlines cursorily then immediately turn to the columnists. Most days, each of the three carries a minimum of six columnists. Some of them are big names; they frequently appear on TV shows, get regularly invited to the President’s residence, and travel with the Prime Minister on important trips. These gentlemen never let you forget all that. One or two even give details of the food served on such occasions—there is always plenty of food served, not just a cup of tea, when they visit with any dignitary.
Some of them repeatedly tell us how uniquely they know the “history” of everything—how things actually happened, be it in Pakistan of here and now or any country in the past. They also inform us that had their advice been properly understood or taken, the disaster that followed in many cases could have been avoided. None of the sages has ever made a serious error of judgment. And if one of them ever makes a rare acknowledgment of that nature, it is always as a charge of betrayal on the part of some other party.
Conspiracy theories naturally abound in these columns, with three dependable conspirators: America, India (i.e. Bharat in Urdu; never Hindustan), and Israel. The labels may change and become CIA, RAW, and Mossad, or Nasara (the Christians), Hunud (the Hindus), and Yahud (the Jews), but their axis of evil remains unchanged. The alliteration of the last two—hunud andyahud—makes them a favourite and indivisible pair; they generate an assertion that no one questions in Urdu in Pakistan.
In these columns one discovers that M. A. Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal were never correctly understood by except the particular columnist. They also offer amazing bits of ‘history’—often with a grand flourish. You can be sure to face something remarkable soon if the paragraph begins with the words: “Tarikh gavaah hai” “History is My Witness.” Fairly often a column might appear to have been written, not to communicate some idea or information, but for the sheer joy of writing those pretty words that, for plenty of Urduwalas, make it the “sweetest” language in the world.
Urdu newspapers—or for that matter, the English language ones—do not seem to employ fact checkers or copy editors for their columnists; they seldom carry any correction except of the most minor kind. One, in fact, wonders if their editors read them. One can be quite certain that the English newspaper editors and columnists in Pakistan don’t read them, not even if these Urdu columns appear in a sister publication brought out by their own publisher. In my limited experience of reading the columns in the Daily Times and the News fairly regularly—and inDawn, infrequently—I have not come across any column in English that commented in any fashion on some Urdu column or columnist. But the Urdu columnists are certainly read by a huge number of people, who save them and treat them as gospel truth. Recently one of them published a call for people to send him their saved cuttings of his column so that he could put together a book; in no time he had more than enough.
I must now offer some illustrations. But first I must hasten to add that not all Urdu columnists in Pakistan write in that manner. Quite a few—Hameed Akhtar, Zaheda Hena, Munno Bhai, Tanwir Qaisar Shahid, Asghar Nadeem Sayyad, Abdullah Tariq Suhail, Kishwar Naheed, Rafeeq Dogar, to name my own favourites—consistently write with clarity, sober reasoning, and in a manner that is both eloquent and passionate. As for the others—the majority—meet a few below.
Hamid Mir writes a regular column in Jang; he writes with passion but is usually quite careful. I was taken aback when I read his column on April 27. He gave it the title “Children, True of Heart.” In it he described a meeting he addressed where school children were present, and where one child stood up and told him something that he had not known before. The child pointed out, Mir wrote, that America was such a sworn enemy of Pakistan that when Pakistan was born in 1947, the United States refused to recognize it for two years. The U.S. did so, according to the child, because it expected Pakistan to collapse and disappear any day. Mr. Mir was so moved by the child’s fervour and knowledge about Pakistan that he decided to write a column and acknowledge his ignorance of the truth that even a child knew. (In fact the U.S.A. recognized Pakistan on August 15, 1947, and opened an embassy the same day; the first American ambassador arrived six months later.)
Dr. A Q Khan of Kahuta fame writes regularly in both Jang and its sister English journal, The News. In his Urdu column on April 29, Dr. Khan claimed that President Obama had no authority of his own, that he was in fact totally controlled by the white men who stood to his right and left in photographs. He then asserted, without naming his sources, that President Obama had once asked that the Ka’ba should be destroyed, for that would put an end to all the conflicts the world was faced with. When I checked the English version I found it contained no mention of the Ka’ba. On inquiry, an editor at The News informed me that it had been deleted because it was based on hearsay. Apparently, hearsay was all right so long it was in Urdu.
Safir Ahmad Siddiqui, not a regular columnist, wrote a piece in Jang on May 17, denouncing any possible attempt on the part of the government to allow transit facilities to India in its trade with Afghanistan. Mr. Siddiqui reminded the readers: "what the Indians did to the Pakistanis POWs after the war of 1971-2 was of such cruel nature that historians forgot what Hitler and Mussolini had done in their prison camps." He then presented an analogy whose logic, not to mention factual accuracy, was mind-boggling. According to him Pakistan should learn something or other from Hitler and Poland. According to Mr. Siddiqui, Hitler wanted back his two lost seaports Alsace and Lorraine from Poland—no, I’m not making it up—and resorted to force only when Poland refused him even transit facilities. Therefore, Mr. Siddiqui concluded, Pakistan should also refuse India any transit facility.
The difference between the Urdu and English sister papers nurtured by the same family of publishers also stood out in stark contrast with reference to the reporting on a fatwa issued by some convention of Sunni ‘Ulema on May 17. According to Jang, the learned men of God had declared that it was haraam to commit suicide bombings, or cut the throats of Muslims. According to The News, however, the Sunni scholars had “termed the suicide attacks and beheadings as haraam.” The sages most likely meant what was said in English, but the Urdu version carried its own slant recklessly and never made it clear that the fatwa covered the necks of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Abdul Qadir Hasan is a top-slot columnist in The Express—despite the name the paper is in Urdu. On May 17, he wrote:
"In 1948, 1965, and 1971, and now again in 2009 we are fighting a fourth war with India. In this war we fight not only India but also its two patrons, USA and Israel. This triad is bent on destroying us. And this war is much more dangerous than the first three wars. In those wars, armies faced and fought armies, but this time it is a clandestine war, in which one side consists of Bharat-trained and armed guerrillas, i.e. Taliban, and facing them on the other side stands the regular soldiers of Pakistan.”
This theme, common to so many columnists, was given its most perfervid interpretation five days later (May 22) by Dr. Ajmal Niazi, who is a top-slot columnist in Nawa-i-Waqt. He entitled his column: ''Pakistan will be the battlefield of the Third World War.” He made three powerful assertions—he did not use the word mubayyana (“alleged”) anywhere. (The word is rarely, if at all, used in Urdu columns.).
Seymour Hersh, Dr. Niazi claimed, had disclosed that Benazir Bhutto was killed at the orders of Vice President Dick Cheney, and by a death squad commanded by Gen. Stanley C Crystal. He further claimed that Z.A. Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto were all killed by the Americans. Finally, Dr. Niazi claimed that Benazir Bhutto had given an interview to Al-Jazira on Nov. 2, 2007, in which she had said that Osama bin Laden was already dead, and that he had been killed at the orders of Shaikh Umar Sa'id. But the Americans ordered [whom?] to have the remark deleted, because if bin Laden were already dead they—the Americans—would have had no reason to do what they did in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Having thus established to his own and his readers’ satisfaction a chain of reasoning, Dr. Niazi concluded his column with a scary flourish.
“The Western and American media are in an uproar over Pakistan’s nuclear bombs, but they should also listen to me. I’m telling them that if the nuclear weapons of Pakistan were put in any danger the third world war will immediately start. Then both India and Israel will cease to exist. What will the United States do then? The battlefield of ‘World War III’ will be Pakistan.”
Then there are the wonderful “insider’s exclusives” about the great ones. Here is Mr. Majeed Nizami, the chief editor and owner of Nawa-i-Waqt and The Nation, in a letter to his main rival Jang (May 23), explaining a remark he reportedly had made.
“The bomb-exploder prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif had called a meeting of some 60 or 70 journalists and editors to seek their advice before deciding to have the nuclear tests. Many people of I.A. Haqqani’s ilk opposed the idea, and tried to frighten him by warning of America's wrath. He clearly seemed to waver. At that time I was indeed forced to speak to him firmly. ‘Miyan Sahib,’ I said to him, ‘explode the bomb otherwise the nation will explode you. We will explode you.' And Almighty Allah gave him the ability to explode the bomb. But before that could happen President Clinton phoned him five times, offered millions in bribe, and [finally even] threatened him [personally].”
And here is a charming vignette from one of Mr. Mahmud Sham’s columns—I regret my failure to note the date; it was sometime in May—that contained excerpts from his book of interviews.
“Dr Fahmida Mirza has vacated her seat for me and taken another chair. Now I'm seated on the chair next to the Daughter of the East, the first Muslim woman Prime Minister in the Muslim World, the Life Chairperson of P.P.P., Honourable Benazir Bhutto. Also present are other senior journalists, TV anchorpersons, newspaper proprietors, and her party's senior leaders. She wants to know if she should take part in the elections... It's a good thing that she is seeking advice from people who are outside her party. Most of us want her to take part in the elections. She is asking each person individually. The tea has come, together with Chaat. She herself enjoys Chaat. Her dupatta keeps slipping, but she never lets it fall. I'm seeing her after many years and so my feelings are intense.”
In this la-la land of column writing in Urdu in Pakistan three names stand out in my view: Irfan Siddiqui, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Husain, and Haroon-al-Rashid. All three are regular columnists forJang. The first two surpass everyone in finding ‘facts’ where facts may not exist; they also write with great verve in an Urdu that has all the flourishes and graces required in a ghazal. The third, Mr Haroon-al-Rashid, is in a class by himself. I cannot put into English his pyrotechnical Urdu and his riffs of free-association. He must be read in the original. But here is one sample each of Mr. Siddiqui’s and Dr. Husain’s insightful writings.
In a column in May—I apologize again for not noting the date—Dr Husain first defended himself against the charges of faking his doctorate degree, then wrote:
“Those who invoke the name of the Qaid-e-Azam should first show they have the samenafs [“lower self” in mystical thought]. He was educated in England, grew up surrounded by Western culture, and started his political life from the platform of a secular party. But when he became the leader of 'those who were his own' he never took removed his cap from his head or took off sherwani; he did not let his nafs rule over him for a moment; he did not use the broom of greed to sweep the yard of his desires (sic). He knew he was the leader of the Muslims, and so he always looked like them among them. He knew how to wear a suit much better than many who wear suits; he knew how to cross his legs and smoke cigars. He had seen such scenes many times in the durbar of the British, but he also understood that millions of people oppressed by the Hindus had whole-heartedly claimed him as their own. And so he gave all his wishes and desires the name of Pakistan, and never looked back to that Muhammad Ali who perhaps had some personal desires too.”
And here is Mr Irfan Siddiqui on a topic that was hot for a couple of days in May. He wrote in his column in Jang (May 23):
“President Zardari was in Washington. A schoolmistress named Hilary Clinton had him and the Clown of Kabul sit on her either side, and then lectured them. In every gathering, every meeting, and every function it was specially arranged that Hamid Karzai should be on the right hand [of the American dignitary] and President Zardari on the left. I do not recall any occasion in the past when an American Secretary of State conducted a meeting of two presidents in such a fashion.”
Finally, since I come from India, I must point out that Urdu newspapers in India are in no way better. Their columns and editorials carry similar feats of conspiratorial thinking and convoluted reasoning. And in rhetorical passion they can match any Pakistani columnist. I have written about them in the past, most recently in 2007 in a note concerning the treatment meted out to Taslima Nasreen at Hyderabad.
C. M. NAIM is Professor Emeritus of Urdu at the University of Chicago. Besides being an acclaimed columnist, he has written extensively on Urdu language and literature and has translated widely from Urdu fiction and poetry.
Source: Outlook newsmagazine, New Delhi,
URL of this page: http://www.newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamUrduSection_1.aspx?ArticleID=1665
AUG 17, 2009 07:48 PM
The problem with most of our vernacular dailies (and some Hindi news channels) is also that they speak in the same bigoted tones as do the Urdu journalists of Pakistan. Some of our Hindi TV channels never tire lambasting Pakistan as if it alone is responsible for the chaos that is happening in every nook and corner of India. As for the Pakistani journos, their favourite line is that the 'yahoodi' and 'nasara' are their arch enemy and are out to destroy Islam and Muslims. Sadly, in Pakistan, the audiences don't challenge them because whatever is being said is also spoken in the religious context and low literacy rate is also a factor as to why their views are accepted as gospel truths.
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
AUG 17, 2009 12:43 AM
Big deal. I am actually surprised if I don’t find an anti-India/Hindu tone in the U-nglish language press op-ed s about Hinduism or India. I don’t read 'Urdu' so cannot comment.
NEWCASTLE, UNITED KINGDOM
AUG 14, 2009 06:57 PM
Majority of the columnists and TV anchors globally keep parroting their government policies covertly or overtly. If you read even English papers from the western world, you couldn’t ignore the same malice inflicting the most modern language of the present time. Nevertheless, Urdu columnist should provide unbiased report since it is not in the interest of Urdu readers to read substandard columns.
ALI NAQI DESNAVI
AUG 13, 2009 09:51 PM
>>"Bharat-trained and armed guerrillas, i.e. Taliban" So, if kesab had not been caught and confessed, Shivraj-antulay raj in India would have quietly claimed that the hindutva-terror group of the saadhvi-colonel group were responsible, not only for the Mumbai attacks, but also the Taliban in Waziristan and the militancy in Baluchistan! Anwarachaarya will bless that perception, along with swami agnivesh & co. Bhagawan kesava has saved us really!
AUG 13, 2009 09:09 PM
Et tu, Hamid Mir?
AUG 13, 2009 09:00 PM
"...this time it is a clandestine war, in which one side consists of Bharat-trained and armed guerrillas, i.e. Taliban, and facing them on the other side stands the regular soldiers of Pakistan.” -Abdul Qadir Hasan- So, it's not a joke and be sure about the origin of Pak army's JOSH! Their champion sprinter may someday disclose the holy truth that he always runs imagining an Indian king cobra is after him. As it's the moronic La La Land. Understand?
AUG 13, 2009 05:09 PM
Best would be to say: whatever the headlines the Daily Mail/Express or Le Parisien carry on a speech by a BNP leader (the racist British National Party), or Le Pen, the common man on the streets here in Europe hardly gives a tosh and goes on his usual business.
NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM
AUG 13, 2009 04:29 PM
While it is not unreasonable to spotlight the discrepant among the vernacular press and media as compared to a country’s main line national newspapers and TV, in my opinion one has to evaluate carefully the weight the vernacular media exerts in formulating the public opinion and national policies. I mean whatever the headlines the Daily Mail/Express or Le Parisien carry whether on football hooligans or Al-Zawahiri appearing on Al-Jazira threatening to blow up the entire civilised world, the common man on the streets here in Europe hardly gives a tosh and goes on his usual business. Now, I believe most decent folks in Pakistan do the same, but there is a difference. If Urdu papers like Jang or Nawa-i-Waqt etc. which are read widely not just in Pakistan but by its diaspora all over the world report that 9/11 and 26/11 were works of CIA and RAW, or that Obama wanted the destruction of Kaaba, or that Americans ordered killing of Bhuttos, or that Indians treated Pakistani PoWs worse than Hitler, then it sticks. What dividends can an establishment dominated by military, bureaucrats, Mr 10% and clergies would derive from such a mislead, xenophobic and confused people is any body’s guess … a polity which is based on hatred and imagined conspiracy theory by “nasara, hunud or yahud” is suicidal for its own proliferators and people who believe them … as the Pakistan today faces head on …
AUG 13, 2009 04:49 AM
Anil, >> some irrelevant thing tells you were trying to soften the criticism fo these lala land writers. I never miss a chance to dis Fox News and Russ Limaugh. BTW, other writers have noted that there is a vast difference in the standards of journalism between India's English language and vernacular press too, with a few exceptions. I liked Naim's two articles on Urdu press, but you seem to be saying that his condemnation is much more delectable if it is allowed to stand alone!
DALLAS, UNITED STATES
AUG 13, 2009 01:29 AM
Mr Anwar very fact that you mentioned some irrelevant thing tells you were tryign to soften the criticism fo these lala land writers whose nonsense goes uncriticised unlike the stalwarts in USa who get it from left right and centre every day..
AUG 12, 2009 11:08 PM
Hum Dekhenge Although the choking and mutation of the voice of reason in Pakistan had already started when Jinnah was still alive, it took nearly 35 years before it was finally gagged and buried by Gen Zia ul-Haq in 1985, when the works of Urdu’s most celebrated poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz of modern times were banned throughout Pakistan presumably because of his Marxist leanings. But the real reasons were somewhat different as Zia’s govt was busy fanning religious fundamentalism and raising Islamic fighters Mujahideens (Talibans) in collusion with Americans to oust the Russians from Afghanistan. Following is a heart-breaking and tremulous rendering by Faiz sung by Rohtak (India) born beautiful and talented Pakistani singer Iqbal Bano (died Jan 2009) … Hum Dekhenge – English translation – We shall witness It is certain that we too, shall witness the day that has been promised of which has been written on the slate of eternity When the enormous mountains of tyranny blow away like cotton. Under our feet- the feet of the oppressed- when the earth will pulsate deafeningly and on the heads of our rulers when lightning will strike. From the abode of God When icons of falsehood will be taken out, When we- the faithful- who have been barred out of sacred places will be seated on high cushions When the crowns will be tossed, When the thrones will be brought down. Only The name will survive Who cannot be seen but is also present Who is the spectacle and the beholder, both I am the Truth- the cry will rise, Which is I, as well as you And then God’s creation will rule Which is I, as well as you We shall witness Watch on u-tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQBr7m0n0Zo
AUG 12, 2009 08:13 PM
Wonderful, scathing write-up. Vernacular media in India as well is full of conspiracy theorists. But these Pakistani columnists are unsurpassable, catering to the siege mentality of their readers, they serve the poisonous cocktail of doomsday prediction, Muslim honour or dishonour mixed with nationalistic ranting. I must a large section of Muslims in India also suffer from victim mentality and are ready preys or audience to such kind of writers. Inse Khuda bachaye!
AUG 12, 2009 07:24 PM
Anil, >> comes in defence with his usual irrelevant tu quoqe. That is stupid. I did not defend Urdu columnists. I said that we in the U.S. have commentators who are equally bad or worse. They are on 'Talk Radio' or on Fox TV News.
AUG 12, 2009 06:51 PM
ANWARmian comes in defence with hsi usual irrelevant tu quoqe.. Yes There are rush Limbaugh and then there also are the nutjobs at NBC.. But these nutjobs face daily criticism and have many websites dedicated solely for the criticism of their views.. In contrast these Urdu gospel writers keep writing nonsense and no reprieve comes from anywhere.. Sadly 99% of Muslim world reads these papers and remains stuck in lala land.. NO minority commission will be able to help these folks unless someone dares to challenge the nonsense their intelligentsia writes in Urdu papers
AUG 12, 2009 03:13 PM
It proves that point that Muslims or for that matter a chinamen should never be trusted, since they are devious, illogical and let their hearts rule their heads.
GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM