Source: The News, September 18, 2008
This August 14 I was bored out of my mind late at night, and started scanning TV channels for fodder to feed my idleness. I came across a programme where a man was seated in an open air forum delivering a talk with many eager devotees listening. It seemed tame enough, until it started digressing dangerously into hate speech. The man doing the talking started talking about the Hindu nation, their inferiority and how they were unfit to govern. Amongst his pearls of wisdom was the nugget that many Sikhs in Punjab are secretly Muslims whose allegiance is across the border. He teared up when he said that, and it sounded sincere.
The man in question is Zaid Hamid who does Brass Tacks for TV One. As I saw some of his subsequent programmes, obvious errors in facts came to light. For example, in his series on economic terrorism he mentioned the abandonment of the gold standard as a Zionist plot to destroy, who else, Muslims. Fact of the matter is that while the gold standard definitely has its merits in maintaining balanced budgets and containing inflation, it also causes recessions and prevents governments from pumping in programmes for poverty alleviation. If the world was to switch to the gold standard, the price of this metal itself would become untenable. The abandonment of the standard may have created its own mess (like widely fluctuating currencies), but the gold standard was not without demerits like the programme that Zaid Hamid did suggest. A strict submission to the gold standard can cause deflationary tendencies, and if we had it today we may have curbed inflation but we would not have enough to spend on our already depleted developmental expenditures.
But that Zaid Hamid chooses to support one economic mechanism is his right, and it’s not to say that no one else has ever asked for a return to the gold standard. The issue is how un-nuanced and absolute his argument is, and also his insistence that it is at the behest of the Jews, Christians and Zionists, all evil. Zionism is a deplorable creed, the last real vestige of disguised racism and imperialism in the world that has imprisoned an entire nation, but a look at the facts will show there are many left-leaning Jews in Israel who oppose their government’s actions in the occupied areas. Blanket condemnation is for demagogues, not TV anchors.
In his arguments on the imposition of economic terrorism Zaid Hamid goes on to explain just how thorough the hold of the Jews is on America by claiming the US Federal Reserve is actually a private institution. This is simply not true, the chairman of the Fed is appointed by the president of the US. Yes, the Fed does have some banks subscribing to it with something called ‘shares’, but unlike real shares it does not accord them voting rights, authorization to sell at value above the par on which it was bought. If we are to believe Zaid Hamid, then Lehman Brothers (started out as a Jewish-owned company) would never have been allowed to fail by the Fed as it was just recently.
The whole body of work that Zaid Hamid has on television is derived from opportunistic amalgamation of facts to create conspiracy theories. One look at him on screen, and one can easily believe he is sincere, which I am sure he is. A handsome man in the vein of Che, he professes to bring out the truth that the mainstream media ignores, and says himself that he brings it out at some personal risk by battling the powers that be. Whenever a question is posed at him he goes into an erudite, but factually questionable, explanation of the answer without pausing, giving an air authenticity by not harbouring doubts. But the gist of most of it is a belief that what has happened to us collectively in our underdevelopment is at the hands of evil non-Muslims, traitors in Pakistan and the trio of the CIA, RAW and Mossad. But despite how powerful he claims the outside world is at keeping Muslims at bay by charting out conspiracies that determine the future of history now, he never explains why he is allowed to get away with ‘exposing’ them if their hands are as long as he claims.
The main issue regarding Zaid Hamid is not that he is insincere or even duplicitous, but that the focus of his conclusions always come to the altar of defeating conspiracies. Very little is made of process and why certain things happen. We know if capitalism is unfettered, for example, there is a tendency for anti-competitiveness accrued by economies of scale to create monopoly situations. This will occur if the owner of a business unit is Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Klingon. But in Zaid’s hands, this process will become a situation where the greedy Jew wants to suck the lifeblood out of everyone who doesn’t share his faith. Second, and this is key, most of the anti-globalization, anti-capitalism and anti-imperialist critiques that Muslim naysayers own are actually based on secular, leftwing scholarship. They appropriate it without realizing if ever there was the downfall of the west’s greedy economic engine then the same discourse would be applied to the new dominant culture and economic powerhouse, even if it was Muslims. But these principles of egalitarianism are not owned by the Muslim commentators, they are just used as talking points against the west. But crucially, what people like Zaid Hamid do is hurt the process of self-reflection which is needed. Why look inwards for self-improvement if it is someone else’s fault?
Zaid Hamid has a natural charisma and believability, the only thing he needs is the channel to begin snipping his output responsibly. TV needs self-regulation, and they better do it before there is a move to justify it being done by the government. While programmes may bring in the ratings, they may do damage that is unforeseen and deep. Just think Aamir Liaquat and Aalim Online, another repository of the hate speech phenomena.
Source: The News, March 13, 2010
My previous article focused on the free reign of hate speech in some Pakistani media outlets that made liberal use of a mix of unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, faulty facts, racial hatred and religious intolerance, and my perspective was formed particularly by watching Zaid Hamid who does the show “Brass Tacks.”
In the week since, I have found the rhetorical violence present in the ‘lectures’ of Zaid Hamid followed up by a close dose of how it informs the reality of Brass Tacks and Zaid Hamid. Since the article he has circulated to the members of his mail group that I have attacked him at the behest of the Zionist Banking System, the Kufr Dajjal and that their ‘war’ has entered a new stage. He encouraged members to write to me, and they have in force. From veiled threats, to how my picture in this column looked like the dajjal (I am content with how God made me), or my membership to the ‘Illuminati’ amongst a number of others have all come my way, including links to documentaries on YouTube from where they have done their ‘scholarly research…’ Brass Tacks has a huge Islamic component, I wonder if Zaid Hamid has forgotten the lessons of ‘tohmat’, or allegations, and how Islam views it.
While at first I thought Zaid Hamid to be well-intended but misguided, what I have now seen firsthand demonstrates delusion. In this postmodern world where people have surrendered a good deal of their intimate freedoms to impersonal institutions, where the interlinked nexus of governments and corporations creates ripples that people find difficult to understand, the conspiracy theorist takes the easy way out by assuming that all events are at the hands of a secret few. Despite the invalidity of these theses, they have staying power because they offer no proof, and hence they cannot be disproved, especially if they are the product of a paranoid imagination. Common to most of these conspiracy theories is ‘de-individualization’, which is lumping people into impersonal groups and taking their humanity away from them. That’s what Zaid Hamid does when he rants about the inferiority of Hindus, the inherent evil nature of Jews or Pakistani leaders he disagrees with. He neglects to realize that his method is what also drove the neoconservatives in creating a world in their own ethnocentric image and in the killing fields of Iraq. This method also drove the perpetrator of the Marriott attack, who was so convinced of his mission that he didn’t mind killing scores of the poorest for a few choice targets.
As far as me being a Zionist Banker goes, I have never worked for a bank, or own shares in any. I did work briefly once for the World Bank, a development organization (one that I also believe has done some harm to the people it is mandated to help), but that was a short-term consultancy to research the value chain of apples for export and it had nothing to do with lending money. I do have two bank accounts, and the public is welcome to verify that in neither is there an exemption from paying the government Zakat, nor are there any withdrawals before it is imposed.
Let’s hold Zaid Hamid to his own standards by looking at his record. On the website of his security consulting firm, also called Brass Tacks, he proudly mentions testimonials from employees of both Deutsche Bank and Bank of America (amongst ten other banks), and from Shell. Wait a second! Isn’t this the same Zaid Hamid who does a TV programme that claims banks are in the hands of the Zionist Jews hungry to kill all Muslims? What is he doing profiting from protecting them after creating public animosity towards them? Is this the same Zaid Hamid who believes the world is being overrun by multinationals that are out to secure resources that will eventually harm Muslims? What is he doing profiting from protecting Shell, which has just signed an agreement to sell natural gas in the Governorate of Basra in Iraq under the US occupation? He is not living what he is preaching. He devours banks and multinationals on television but profits from them when the cameras stop rolling.
One of the major world conspiracies happens to be that the invasions of the US were conducted at the behest of Halliburton, an energy company with known ties to individuals of the US administration. Well, the Bank of America (BOA) has just recommended the stock of Halliburton after the CFO of the energy company met with BOA officials. So by one degree of separation, isn’t Brass Tacks, the company of Zaid Hamid, linked to Halliburton because of the BOA connection?
Now I want to clarify that all the above facts are true, but I do not believe in the yarn I wind around them to make them connect. I do not believe for a second that Zaid Hamid intends to create fear and profit from it. He just happened to be a security expert who landed on TV with a pre-existing business and started preaching his prejudices derived from random conspiracy theories. I wrote the scenario above to illustrate how the coincidental can be woven together to make a compelling narrative that has no real truth, nor is it causal or correlated. It is thinking like this that I wish Zaid Hamid would question himself on, because as demonstrated above even he could fall prey to the world where nothing is substantiated and the dicey is used as truth to fan hatred.
As far as profiting from concerns he preaches against, well that’s for him to resolve. But the absolutism that Zaid Hamid holds others to, he does not hold himself to apparently.
This absolutism is not just moral in his case, it is intellectual as well. In his recent programme, he described how income taxes were one of the greatest conspiracies of the US. Had he just bothered to look into the system of income taxes and public finance, he would have realized that a progressive taxation system is one of the greatest tools to redistribute wealth and to help the poor. Accidents of birth, talent and intelligence can be mitigated into a more just society when there is a documented tax base, and societies can pay for services to the economically disadvantaged. A progressive taxation system can make sure that there are good hospitals, schools, pensions and other benefits that can help them overturn an unequal society by redistributing from the rich to the poor. The welfare state that all populist Islamic leaders promise will be based on the progressive income tax system, not government sales tax (GST). If we had no income taxes, and only GST then we would be taxing consumption, and for the poor food is a large part of that, which means relative to income no income taxes and only GST; it would penalize the poor more than the rich and they would eat less. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
For example, Zaid Hamid has been insinuating for the longest time that most of Pakistan’s leaders are in the pockets of the CIA. I am sure some are. However, Zaid Hamid makes one exclusion to his thesis, General Musharraf, someone who overtly cooperated more with the US than anyone else in Pakistan’s history. Now exactly how Zaid Hamid has the knowledge to make this distinction, no one knows. By continuously insisting on television the he is the only one who knows these things, he is creating the cult of personality, not that of objectivity. After all, this is a man who decries the state of representative politics, of democracy, but that does not mean he has the right to do away with it, because the only alternative in his eyes would be someone he approves of (himself?), not who the people choose.
In the end, I would like to add a few cautionary notes. Brass Tacks is not a programme entirely without merit, and neither is Zaid Hamid. For example, he is right when he discusses the rancid imperialism of the US and its misadventures abroad, he is right when he believes that unfettered capitalism is bad, or that Muslims need to awaken from their slumber. He is right when he mentions there are flaws in an economic system that allows for hot money, that sells credit irresponsibly for mindless consumption. These are legitimate themes, and the fact that Zaid Hamid is non-sectarian is applause worthy.
But where Zaid Hamid should draw the line is upholding the facts that withstand query, abstaining from hate speech even if he opposes large swathes of humanity and verifying tracts that may not fit into his presuppositions. There is a place for both the right and left on television, after all that is what creates consensus through dialectic. What should be common is remembering Islam is a religion of peace.
Source: The News, 25 March 2010
Zaid Hamid, the self-proclaimed ‘defence analyst’ and a ‘scholar’ with innumerable other self-bestowed platitudes, has suffered from a number of humiliating setbacks recently. I wrote about this purveyor of hate speech, militarism and spontaneous fiction (conspiracy theories) nearly a year and a half ago, criticising him for hate-mongering and half-truths.
In retaliation, he sent out a mass email claiming that I was critiquing him at the behest of international Zionists and bankers, getting me threats from his acolytes and followers. No longer the darling of TV evangelism, today he has been put down several pegs, rendering him temporarily ineffective.
He was run out of Islamia College in Peshawar by a peace group, his conventions in Islamabad were disrupted by angry students, he’s been named in an FIR for murder and his most ambitious project, creating a new Pakistan resolution at Minar-e-Pakistan in front of millions of his followers, as he had boasted, fizzled in front of far less than a hundred people at a hastily concluded event at Alhamra in Lahore on the 23rd of this month.
So, was it people like me, and many other columnists who did a far better job of addressing this demagogue, who won out with arguments of rationalism, trying to reclaim public discourse from charlatans? No. Factual argument had very little to do with it. And that is problematic as I shall explain further on.
What happened? Two things: first the overconfidence of his relentless ego that believed its own hype, and second a past that caught up with him. Let’s look at each in turn, eventually coming to the point I mentioned before, that his misfortunes are not a cause for celebration.
First, ego. In his speeches, he rails for the reintroduction of the Khilafat system but is short on all specifics. Simultaneously, he will present himself as the saviour, using the royal “we”. He is not one for modesty, quickly one sees through the ruse. He launches into huge spiels of how the CIA, RAW and Mossad are afraid of him. In one TV programme he claimed that the FBI was watching him and he had found a loophole on its website, that it didn’t mention Osama bin Laden’s wanted status in reference to 9/11. Zaid was sure that after the programme had been aired the FBI would change it.
Well, as usual with Zaid, the facts were wrong. Osama never claimed involvement with 9/11, only his appreciation for it, and the reason for it is tactical. If Osama was caught, any admission would bring a quick close to the trial, he would like to prolong it to give him an opportunity to critique the US for as long as possible within earshot of the US media. As it is, the website has not changed to this day, more than a year after Zaid claimed it would after his revelation. So much for being an “analyst”. It’s been more than a year since he definitely “proved” that Israel would attack Pakistan in March of 2009.
Regarding his total failure in getting a hundred, let alone lakhs of, people to hear him pass a new ‘Pakistan Resolution’, he has a new excuse that he has sent out to his followers. Apparently, he thinks it’s just like the situation of the Prophet (PBUH) at Hudaiybia! Talk about narcissism.
A charismatic and well-spoken man, he got too used to followers who lapped all his “prophetic” words about politics without counterargument, and the summersaults and changing of position he regularly did were ignored by them on account of the force of his personality. Unfortunately, for him the problem with the media is that it creates repositories online, so in one programme where he tries and puts up a peaceful façade by saying he isn’t against Hindus, it’s easily contradicted by another programme where he calls them a “paleed” nation.
He says he hates the US, but will happily accept dollars for small reports he authors. It was almost as if he believed he was immune to the rules of logic, and that others wouldn’t notice. Anyone who did was a CIA/Mossad/RAW agent, like Hamid Mir who he once accused of being just that.
He has been railing against democracy for the longest time because of Pakistan’s cooperation with the US and his desire for his caliphate, but will never criticise Musharraf who set the current relationship in place. If it suited Zaid the rules were flexible. And hence the backlash.
Falling in love with celebrity circles was another problem. While pushing a hardliner Islamic agenda, he would also hobnob with rock stars and fashion designers who treated him with a cult-like awe. Increasing the personal realm of influence was more important than ideological consistency. Others saw through that.
And now to the past. Islamic groups turned against Zaid Hamid when an old case against Yousuf Ali (better known since as Yousuf Kazzab) gained prominence. Yousuf believed he had the soul of the Prophet (PBUH) within him, and was eventually sentenced to death for blaspheming. Documentary evidence has since surfaced that alleges close links between Zaid Hamid and Yousuf. Zaid denied any association for the longest time, but now admits to a link and has not outright distanced himself from the beliefs of Yousuf. This has galvanised the ulema against him. The FIR against Zaid Hamid for murder is for the gunning down of Maluana Jalalpuri who authored a fatwa against Zaid and was killed soon after. His family claim Zaid Hamid had threatened him before his murder.
Whenever Yousaf Kazzab is brought up before Zaid, he insists that the Quranic rules of evidence should be used and false allegations shall take accusers to hellfire. Funny, it never occurs to him to use the same Quranic principles when he randomly labels anyone who inconveniences him in his thirst for followers as a traitor and an agent.
Now, why do I say the downfall of Zaid should not be celebrated? Well, because the very issues of hate speech, militarism and false conspiracy theories remain unaddressed. If Zaid’s past was clean, if his ego had not got the better of him, would he have been kosher for Pakistan? In their charge against Zaid, why are the ulema not also talking about how our religion is being misused to fan hate and not tolerance? Even if Zaid magically became irrelevant, what about the persistence of these arguments by others? What is to be done about the erosion of rational discourse in our country?
Is it no less a blasphemy that the ulema who are happy to put their attention to Zaid remain quiet when innocent Christian villages are razed by angry mobs? Or that the Prophet’s (PBUH) instructions on education are routinely ignored in a nation that suffers from unforgivable illiteracy? What about the boy murdered in the UET for listening to music by the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba, why are the ulema silent? The ulema have said nothing about Zaid’s other pronouncements and beliefs; their love affair with him is only over because of his alleged past, not his dubious present.
The truth of the matter is that Pakistan is in no danger of not believing in the finality of the Prophet (PBUH), with the exception of some small groups. The ulema have a role to play that they have woefully neglected, rather becoming instruments in reactionary behaviour, being anti-progress and sidelining education. Of course, there are some who are an exception to this, but the large majority has failed to provide for the people, preferring instead power over the illiterate.
There is a section celebrating Zaid’s setbacks. That’s myopic. One man is not responsible for the madness in a country where some, for example, in the middle class, cannot bring themselves to condemn the Taliban. A victory would have been if the triumph was for reclaiming sense, rationality and Islam in our national dialogue from those who subdue it for self-aggrandisement.
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: email@example.com