Who is facilitating fascism in Pakistan?

Source: Pakistan Media Watch

Reading Nadeem Paracha’s column yesterday, I was immediately reminded of a video clip from Shahid Masood’s TV programme that was recently posted on the blog Let Us Build Pakistan. The clip features a conversation between Shahid Masood and Zakir Naik, and purports, in Zakir’s way, to “prove scientifically” that non-Muslims should not be allowed to openly practise their religions in Islamic countries but the Muslims should be going into non-Muslim countries to promote Islam. What was most interesting about this clip was Shahid Masood’s reaction to Zakir Naik’s statements: nothing.

Here is the clip from Shahid Masood’s conversation with Zakir Naik:

Of course, this is not the first time that Shahid Masood has invited controversial figures to his show. Not long ago he got “both sides” from Hamid Gul and Bharat Verma on his show, Merey Mutabiq.

But does an argument between Hamid Gul and Bharat Verma really represent “both sides” of anything? These are both quite extreme voices in their respective countries. Neither represents a large segment of the population, so what Shahid Masood has done, really, is create a Circus of Extremism. This might make for entertaining TV, but what does it mean for the country?

With this question in mind, let’s read an excerpt from Nadeem Paracha:

Many Pakistanis routinely continue to deny the fact that the monsters behind all ‘faithful’ barbarism cutting this country into bits are the mutant products of what our own state and society have been up to in the past 30 years or so. For years a convoluted narrative has been circulated by the state, the clerics, schools and now the electronic media: Pakistan was made in the name of Islam (read, a theocratic state).

Thus, only Muslims (mainly orthodox Sunnis, shall we say?) have the right to rule, run and benefit from this country. ‘Minority’ religions and ‘heretical’ sects living as Pakistani citizens are not to be trusted. They need to be constitutionally, socially and culturally isolated. Parliamentary democracy can’t be trusted either. It unleashes ethnic forces, ‘corruption’ and undermines the role of the military and that of Islam in the state’s make-up. It threatens the ‘unity’ of the country — a unity based on an unrealistically homogeneous understanding of Islam (mainly concocted by the state and its right-wing allies). Most of our political, economic and social ills are due to the diabolical conspiracies hatched by our many enemies (especially India, Israel and the West).

The bad news is that such beliefs are symptomatic of a society that has started to respond enthusiastically to the major symptoms of fascist thought. Symptoms such as a xenophobic exhibition of nationalism; disdain for recognition of human rights; identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause; supremacy of the military (might); obsession with national security; intertwining of religion and government; disdain for intellectual thought and the arts, and an obsession with crime and punishment.

Have not many Pakistanis willingly allowed themselves to be captured in all the macho and paranoid trappings of the mentioned symptoms? Does this not point at a country ripening and readying itself for an all-round fascist scenario?

Certainly there will  be some who say that Shahid Masood does the right thing by not injecting himself into the discussions as much and being combative. But the question must be asked what the influence is when Shahid Masood chooses to give airtime to guests who represent extremist ideologies.

Nadeem Paracha makes an excellent point:

We call ourselves ‘moderate Muslims’, and yet applaud or quietly tolerate the hate-spewing claptrap that pours out from our mosques and TV screens. We cheer about the fact that Pakistan is one of the very few democratic Muslim countries with a constitution, and yet we will not speak a word about clauses and sections in the same constitution that have triggered violence and repression against women and sanctioned a religious apartheid that only allows an orthodox, pious Muslim democratic rights to rule the country or run in an election.

Does it matter whether or not Shahid Masood himself says that non-Muslims should be forced to practise their religion in hiding? Or is it enough that he provides a platform for these views to be spoken? Are we really going to find a path to peace from a discussion between Hamid Gul and Bharat Verma? Or is that discussion set up for failure?

One does not have to be an extremist to be a facilitator of extremism. Our media is free to choose what guests will appear and what messages will be aired to the mass audience. With this freedom comes some responsibility, though. As Nadeem Paracha correctly says,

We do not debate. We react and then huddle up behind our flimsy and lopsided historical and national narratives about what being a Pakistani and Muslim is all about, cursing the world for our ills, looking out for infidels and heretics among us, or for scapegoats in the shape of media-constructed punching bags.

It’s time for the media to end this Circus of Extremism, and to use its incredible ability to promote a message of rational discussion. That doesn’t mean it has to take one side or another, but it needs to be factual and it needs to be fair. Right now, its failing at both.

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