Author, journalist, ad man, technical writer, political activist and family man, Tarek Fatah stands as a prominent opponent of Islamofascism today. From confronting the IJT thugs of Karachi University in the late 1960s to taking on the lobbyists of the Muslim Brotherhood and Khomeini in Canada, Tarek represents one of the few voices of sanity in confronting the goons and bigots who have hijacked the Muslim narrative and employed Islam as a doctrine of Arab supremacy over non-Arab Muslims and as an ideology of hatred towards joy and modernity.
After 9/11, Tarek founded the Muslim Canadian Congress and has recently published his second book, “The Jew is not my enemy”. His first book “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” was shortlisted for the prestigious Donner Prize. Nowadays, Tarek is an evening radio host on Canada’s oldest radio station, CFRB NewsTalk 1010. His show “Friendly Fire” can also be heard on the Internet in Pakistan between 5:00AM and 8:00AM at http://www.NewsTalk1010.com.
In an extensive exclusive interview to LUBP, Tarek Fatah gives a candid and bold account of his life-long struggle against Islamic extremism, the decline of the Left and the research that went into his books.
Q. Welcome to LUBP, Tarek. Your thoughts about the state of affairs in Pakistan as the country enters 2011?
A. Well, it is an awful start to the year. The assassination of Governor Salman Taseer is sad and frightening, but it is not surprising. Salman Taseer was brave individual who I followed on Twitter and was amazed at his courage. Unlike too many public figures in Pakistan, he stood out as an unapologetic liberal and secular Muslim. For that reason alone, he had to be liquidated. The smirk on his killers face tells the entire story. Having said that, those who live by the sword, die by the sword, and I am not referring to individuals, but nations. Pakistan was born in an orgy of mass murder inspired by religious and national hatred, and will go down in its own blood. Salman Taseer is just one in a long list of leaders and political workers killed by the dark forces of Islamism and anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric. Can we forget the massacre of the ruling family of Kalat in 1948 or the murder of Akbar Bugti or the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan and Benazir Bhutto? How about the judicial murder of ZA Bhutto or the death by torture of Hassan Nasir? I can go on and on, but a nation and a people who have no regret in carrying out a genocide of its own citizens in 1971, should be prepared to count more Salman Taseers down the road. The only way to treat this cancer is to join the rest of the civilized world, including India and Bangladesh, to embrace secularism and the complete separation of the Mosque and the State. Otherwise, prepare for the funeral of the country.
Q. Growing up in Karachi and being a prominent NSF leader of Karachi University, share with us your experiences as a young activist. What happened to that optimism and where do you see the role of the Left today? Are they still standing up to the Islamists like they did in your day? What is your reaction when you see the political roles of Meraj Khalid and Mubashir Hasan today, especially in light of the latter’s affiliation with the Fatima Bhutto types?
A: In 1965 when I entered Adamjee Science College as a first year student, it was as if I had entered the real world. Until then I had been a student at St. Lawrence Boys School, a fine Catholic institution, where the boys came in white shirts, white trousers, maroon ties and black polished shoes and black socks. No exceptions were made. The school, located near Soldier Bazaar and off Britto Road, had a rather interesting mix of students that in today’s Pakistan would be totally out of place. I grew up with Zoroastrians (aka Parsis), Catholic Goans, Dawudi Bohras, Memons and the usual Urdu-speaking Delhi-walas (as we used to call them). I was a boy scout (an Asst Patrol Leader) and an avid reader starting with Enid Blyton and ending up with Charles Dickens. By the time I had ‘matriculated’, I had my first ever contribution in a newspaper with a poem on “Scouting” that appeared in the then Morning News
However, Adamjee Science College was a different ball game. For the first time I met students, better educated then me, but far poorer and less exposed to the English language. It was traumatic to see the real world. My bubble had burst, but I noticed that nearly all the college students stuck to their own ‘class’ and linguistic groups. The middle class Catholics I had grown up with had disappeared; there were no more any Parsis and the college was overwhelmingly ‘muhajir’ Urdu-speaking. And for the first time I was exposed to student wings of the national political parties.
The college year started in mid-August 1965 after the summer vacations and we had barely attended our first classes when news came of an “uprising” in Indian Kashmir. Mind you, we had just come out of a fraudulent election in March 1965 when Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his Conventional Muslim League had arranged the defeat of Fatima Jinnah who was backed by the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) that had included parties ranging from the left wing NAP to the ultra-right wing fascists, the Jamaat-e-Islami. The COP slogan was “Direct Adult Franchise” as against the “Basic Democracy” of Ayub Khan that restricted the electoral college to a mere 80,000 men and women (equally split between East and West Pakistan). Ayub Khan won, but the population knew that he had cheated massively to attain his new position as President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He had attained this position after having staged a coup in 1958 to stall an election in 1959 where it was feared the leftwing NAP would emerge victorious in both wings.
It was in this climate that when news came of an uprising in Kashmir, I remember being a bit sceptical, but as a 15-year old was nevertheless excited at the prospect of India getting a bloody nose. We had been fed the hatred of India and the Hindu (not in my school) but all around us from the cricket grounds to the hockey fields. When Pakistan toured India in 1960 under Fazal Mahmood and held the series to a five-test draw, we followed it as if it was war. When Pakistan defeated India in the Rome Olympics in 1960 Hockey finals to win Gold, it was as if we had inflicted a military defeat on India.
So, when I heard about the Kashmir uprising in mid-August, the first place for me to go to was the British Council. I had a bicycle at that time and after college, I rushed to the library about five miles away to scour the British press as well as the Times of India. The Times of India came daily to Pakistan and was only stopped after September 6, when Indian invaded Pakistan. The British and Indian press were clear; the skirmishes in Kashmir were not an uprising, but were infiltration by regular Pakistani troops dressed up as Kashmiris.
Next day I discovered that the College library also got the Times of India and carried reports of the Pakistan ‘invasion’ and how the Pakistani troops were being met with hostility by the Kashmiri Muslims. This was the first time in my life I realized that Pakistanis were being lied to, but loved to be lied to. It was a sort of an addiction. Soon the senior students of the college demanded the library not carry any Indian papers. They did not have to wait. On September 6, 1965, Indian attacked Lahore and the last time I read an Indian newspaper in Pakistan was August 29, 1965. I remember it had the maps of the Pakistan infiltration route and how a Pakistani tank column was advancing towards Chamb.
The following 17-day war with India shaped my life permanently. I saw through the deception of the Pakistan Establishment very early in life. I was a mere 15, but had already recognised that we mainstream Pakistanis, the Urdu-speaking elites and my own Punjabi nationality, were a flock of sheep, seeped in bigotry and a false sense of a fake identity. This was a falsely constructed identity that was masquerading as some sort of B-grade Persians of Arab ancestry, but certainly did not want anything to do with the rich 5,000 year old Indian identity of the Indus valley where we all lived.
It was that year that I decided on participating in politics and trying to change the world. I ran for the position of CR (class representative) and lost to one Kamil Shazbaker (last I heard he was an engineer in Phillips). When I was campaigning for the position, I was approached by the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and I confess I attended a few of their meetings, but was horrified at their attitude towards girls and women. It was shocking to learn that they felt the Beatles were part of a Jewish conspiracy to pollute Muslim youths. I remember asking them, “What about the Rolling Stones?” They looked at each other in bewilderment; obviously; they had not yet heard of Keith Richards and they could get no “Satisfaction”.
Tarek Fatah during the 1968 election campaign (under the KU library, standing second from right)
Suffice to say, the IJT in particular and Islamists in general have been my bane for the last 45 years and this is how I looked up the other political group in Adamjee Science College, the NSF. The vice president of the students union was Yawar Bukhari and he had run on an NSF ticket. That blue-eyed, blondish Marxist would also end up in Canada, but at that time he was more interested in seeking the attention of fair maidens of the nearby St. Lawrence’s Girls College then worrying about more serious matters. Great guy, but through him I got in touch with three young medical college students of Dow Medical College who made sure I was sucked into the NSF and ended up as its Secretary General by the time I was in University in 1967. Subsequently and as a result of my political activism with the NSF, I endured two prison terms under Ayub Khan and then later General Yahya Khan.
Dr. Jahangir (I believe he is an orthopaedic surgeon in Karachi), Dr. Jaseem Pasha (now in Columbia, Ohio), Dr. Mazhar (still in Karachi) and the late Dr. Qamar Abbas (who would tragically end his life in a mysterious suicide) had a huge impact in shaping my life, making me understand the nature of capitalism, human history, the nature of economic exploitation and the role of the individual in fighting for justice and equity. Through NSF I would meet some of my best friends, including two who are now in Toronto, Canada – Intizar Zaidi who was my cell mate in Mach Jail in 1970-71 and Afsar Naqvi who was my closest confidante and fellow Nazimabadi and who also ended up as my “hum-zulf“.
Tarke Fatah, 1968, sitting on the bonnet with his arms raised
In 1967-68, the NSF split into two as a direct result of the India-Pakistan war. One side that was led by Amir Haider Kazmi and Dr. Sher Afzal Malik said that the war was unjust and had been waged only to ensure Ayub Khan could secure his power, while the other group led by Meraj Mohammad Khan and many pro-China communists felt the war was just and that India was the enemy. I threw my support behind what came to be known as the NSF (Kazmi Group), though it was also me who brought these two groups together at the University of Karachi to field a joint panel, and twice we came close to beating the formidable IJT and their fascist goons.
Today, the Left is generally suffering the same sickness it confronted in 1967. In the late 1960s, Left activists were being lynched, beaten and murdered by the Islamist thugs; today significant sections of the Left have latched on to these very same Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood thugs as a way to express their irrational hatred of the West. Today when Fatima Bhutto in particular and to a lesser extent, Mubashar Hassan echo Imran Khan and the Taliban, I refer to them as Sharia-Bolsheviks who have unwittingly become the hand maidens of the Islamofascists of the world.
The problem with these Sharia-Bolsheviks is that they are millionaires mimicking misery and are either too dumb to recognise the threat to human civilization posed by Islamofascism, or they are in Lenin’s words the useful idiots of the jihadis. No matter what, the role of the Left in not just Pakistan, but in North America as well is embarrassing. When George Galloway and Tariq Ali ally with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is time to question their state of mind, if not their integrity. When Hugo Chavez praises the actions of fascist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, it is time to reflect on what went wrong with the Left. How on earth can the inheritors of social democracy and liberty fall in line with those who hang women to death, torture fellow Palestinians and throw wounded prisoners off the roofs of hospitals or shoot them as they lay injured in beds.
What was a call for human liberation is today linked to those calling for the subjugation of humanity under the tutelage of the clerics.
Q. Your debut book, “ Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” has become an international hit and a seminal work on delineating the spiritual and moral message of Islam from Islamism, an opportunistic political ideology that is a perversion from the message of tolerance taught by the Prophet. Is this a correct assessment of one of the central themes of your book and could you elaborate on the terms, Islamist and Islamism and who are its 20th century ideologues?
A. The Toronto Star aptly described Chasing a Mirage as a cri de coeur (cry from the heart) except that I would have added the word “wounded”. In the ten years that I spent researching the subject and the 45 years I have spent fighting the forces of medieval darkness that wish to drag the world’s Muslims into the past as a path to the future, it dawned on me that even those who knew the truth about the fraudulent nature of the Islamic State, were not prepared to say so, guilt-ridden in their minds, thinking this would be an act of betrayal of the Muslim community. Such a state of affairs was possible because while liberal or secular Muslims were busy caught up in the challenges of their day-to-day lives, their Islamist counterparts were having a field day, unchallenged and unopposed, where even the communists would use the phrase, “Comrade, Bismillah karo” to start their meetings.
Having lived ten years in Saudi Arabia allowed me to study the facade and the charade of the slogan “Islamic State”. Here it was, the Kingdom of Hejaz, under occupation by the Sultanate of Nejd, with the occupiers destroying the home of Prophet Muhammad to build parking lots and 5-star hotels, carefully camouflaging their lust for power as an act of piety. Across the Persian Gulf was the other head of the Polycephalic monster–Iran, also claiming to be an Islamic State. It bordered Pakistan, the mother of all Islamic States. All three countries have inflicted tremendous torment and tyranny on their populace, all in the name of Islam and with the objective of building an Islamic State, yet nothing in the governance of the three countries has anything in common. One is a kingdom, the other is run by a clan of ayatollahs and the third by a mullah-military nexus.
Then one day, Hussain Haqqani, who was then a professor at Boston University, called me and suggested I get serious and put my research and analysis in book form rather than “waste time writing op-eds and email missives” (his words). What began as a cup of coffee in a Toronto restaurant would emerge three years later as “Chasing a Mirage.”
In the book I make the distinction between three sets of comparisons:
1. Islam vs. Islamism
2. Muslim vs. Islamist, and
3. Islamic State vs. State of Islam
In brief, whereas Islam is a religion based on the five pillars of our faith, Islamism (al-Islamiyah as the Ikhwan claims) is the use of the religion of Islam as a political tool and doctrine, whose logical end is Islamofascism (or Islamoanarchism in the words of Tariq Ali).
The difference between a Muslim and an Islamist is along the same lines. Whereas a Muslim follows Islam, an Islamist sticks to the political doctrine of Islamism. This makes it possible for even non-Muslims and atheists to be Islamists. For example, George Galloway is an Islamist as is Ken Livingstone (former mayor of London) and even Noam Chomsky who I am told addressed a large gathering of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba in Punjab University.
Lastly, while the Islamic State is the political entity and state where Islamists would exercise their authoritarian and fascist rule over the population (as in Gaza and Iran) the State of Islam is the condition every Muslim must aspire to live in where he and she can embrace the ethics of Prophet Muhammad and live by the principle of the Quran as an individual.
Q. Tell us about your latest book, “The Jew is not my Enemy“. What made you choose this topic and how do you relate this to your experiences in Karachi, your birthplace? Also, how do you relate this book to the current situation in Pakistan which is under the grip of Islamist terrorism?
A. In 2006 while visiting Pakistan, I saw a banner hung across a store that said, “Bird Flu yahudi sazish hai” (Bird Flu is a Jewish conspiracy). On chatting with the store owner, I was shocked to learn that not only did he believe what he had put outside, but he also believed the Jews had committed the 9/11 attack on New York. When I raised this issue with long-time friends, I was floored when I discovered that 100% of the people I talked to in Karachi believed the 9/11 attack was the act of Jews, not Muslims. The hatred towards Jews was so stark and belligerent, I had to hold my breath and recognise that this disease of anti-Semitism was endemic and ubiquitous. I walked away convinced I had to write on the issue, but was discouraged by my wife. She asked me not to challenge the disease OF Jew-hatred as it will sully my name as a Jew-lover. Since, among Muslims no slur is worse than that, I gave up. Then came the attack by 10 Pakistani village idiots on Mumbai, where they targeted a Jewish community centre, killing the Rabbi and murdering his pregnant wife and two other Jewish hostages. Watching this horror unfold was one thing, but then to hear Zaid Hamid on TV channel claim the attack on Mumbai was done by Jews, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I decided that day that I will try to find out why Muslims hate Jews; not just Israel, but Jews in general, who they refer to as sons of apes and swine, quoting the Hadees with pride and boasting of the supposed mass slaughter of Jews at the hands of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Thus began my journey to discover the roots of this hate. The book came out in October 2010 and since then I have had an enormous feedback by both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have thanked me for calling a spade a spade. However, the book also triggered widespread resentment among the Mullahs and Islamists who feel that by denying that Prophet Muhammad had killed Jews in cold blood, I was denying the Hadees and the Seerat and thus had become an apostate. These hate mongering Islamist jihadis who get upset at Danish cartoons of our Prophet, have no problem when they themselves proudly depict Prophet Muhammad as a mass murderer and justify those unsubstantiated acts that have no record in Jewish texts.
The Islamic terrorism current being inflicted on Pakistan is the direct result of the doctrine of Islamism that portrays Prophet Muhammad as warmonger, not a peacemaker. Remember, it is not non-Muslims making this claim; it is Islamists who proudly wave the supposed “Sword of Islam” while chanting, “Islam is a religion of peace”. Those of us who wish to see Islam in the light of the 21st century nation state where religion and state are separate and consider Jew and Muslim equal to Hindu and Sikh, as common citizens of a secular state, are cast aside and labelled apostates worthy of death. Unless this death cult of Islamofascism is fought and defeated, the world will never find peace. This fight has to be a war of ideologies first, not a justification for invasions of sovereign states. Hatred of the Jew is merely a manifestation of hatred of progress, enlightenment and modernity; of gender equality, respect for the disabled and recognition of the rights of racial and religious minorities. From Plato to Voltaire; Aristotle to Rousseau, contemporary civilization finds its roots in Europe having taken as much as possible from India, Arabia, Persia and China.
The Islamists have not been able to swallow this reality and they see the Jews as the symbol of all they hate about the West; from Jazz to the Internet; from the Moon Landing to Marilyn Monroe; from communism to capitalism. Everything in the west is seen as a Jewish conspiracy and thus to be rejected.
My book “The Jew is Not My Enemy” should be required reading in Pakistan, which for some odd reason has become more loyal than the king in its collective hatred of Israel and the Jews.
Q. Recently, LUBP has published bloggers who are very critical of Pakistan’s elite chattering class/civil society/urban “intelligentsia” and as a result, has received much flack. What is your experience with this class; as a student, as an activist, as a media professional and finally as an expat?
A. I refer to these Pakistani elites as “millionaires mimicking misery” suffering from the disease of Islamo-patriotism. They pay slave wages to their ‘naukars’, yet act as if they were part of the Comintern in the 1930s. The fact is many of these twits refuse to join political parties, instead creating NGOs where they would have to avoid contact with the people they purport to represent. These members of the Pakistani ‘intelligentsia’ do not deserve this label. I have seen these elites come to the west, try their hand with their ‘business’ and ‘professional’ expertise and fail and fall like a ton of bricks and then head back to Pakistan with the coveted US or Canadian passport and continue to relish in the corruption that they decry, but refuse to abandon. Others in this so called intelligentsia get invited to the West by charlatans and are then rented out for events in basements, where they are paraded around as prized showgirls. I have seen many a prominent poet and writer from Pakistan’s intelligentsia being held hostage in local desi ghettos. And when they open their mouths, it is an embarrassment to hear what they have to say. These include a famous granddaughter milking her last name and an infamous cricketer; both needing to prove their chic, but fake western culture and their apologetic defence of the Taliban.
Q. Who are you referring to? Who is this granddaughter?
A. Who else, but Fatima Bhutto! If she didn’t carry the last name of the aunt she loves to hate and the grandfather who would be embarrassed by her shenanigans if he were alive today, she would have been just another pretty yuppie face that adorn so many kitty parties at Sind Club, affecting fake accents and faker intellect.
Q. And the cricketer?
A. Trust me I am not referring to any of the twits caught tampering. I was pointing to Imran Khan who only found his love for Islam and Pakistan once his prowess of charming young British girls fell by the wayside. This apologist of the Taliban and admirer of Islamism is as effective as Fatima Bhutto in fooling bleeding heart liberals in the UK, Canada and the USA who believe these two are the last hopes for liberalism in Pakistan.
Q. The LUBP has also highlighted the Baloch struggle and given a platform to Baloch nationalists, journalists and human rights activists like Imtiaz Baloch, who is with you at the MCC. What is your perspective on the history and current status of the Baloch struggle? We would really appreciate some historical background as there is so much misinformation in media here.
A. Balochistan was an independent country before Pakistan was created. It was only after the Pakistan Army invaded Balochistan in 1948 and overthrew the government in Kalat that the territory known for centuries as Balochistan was incorporated into Pakistan by force. Few Pakistanis are aware of this part of their history. As someone of Punjabi ancestry, I knew nothing about the Baloch until 1967 when I encountered the BSO (Baloch Students Organisation) at Karachi University where we in the NSF put up Bizen Bizenjo (Hasil Bizenjo’s older brother) to run on our ticket against the IJT.
The Baloch leaders after the 1970 election came to an understanding with the Pakistan establishment. Of the five MNAs from Balochistan, four were members of the NAP (today’s ANP). They included Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch, Khair Bux Marri and Jennifer Qazi Musa. They voted unanimously for the 1973 constitution, but soon after that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dissolved the NAP government of Ataullah Mengal and sent in the troops that triggered Pakistan’s third civil war in Balochistan (the first one was in 1948 and the second in 1959 led by Sheroo Marri, (popularly known as General Shroff). Bhutto’s betrayal of the NAP would prove catastrophic for him and led to his reliance on the Islamists and an authoritarian streak that led to his own downfall and demise.
Today, Balochistan is the only place that has seen the effects of the Islamic Bomb and the devastation it has caused simply to cater to the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking elites of Pakistan. What the military and intelligence agencies have unleashed on Balochistan today is merciless and not even the democratically elected government of the PPP, that has done everything possible to stop the killings, can stop the insatiable greed of the military-industrial complex from grabbing the land and resources of the Baloch and continue to make them a dying breed in their own land. If Pakistan’s army-led establishment does not hand over the land and resources of Balochistan to its people and stops relying on Chinese imperial interests, this time the war in Balochistan will end in the end of Pakistan.
Q. How has your experience been with LUBP and what is your recommendation towards developing a secular narrative in Pakistan and striving for secular society here? In this regard, how do you see the roles of various Pakistani leaders like Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and those who are often overlooked and/or abused by the dominant Punjabi-Immigrant class and which include Bizenjo, Marri, Attaullah Mengal, Haider Bux Jatoi, Gandhi, Hussain Suhrawardy, Mujibur Rahman, BB and ZAB?
A. I do not rate Jinnah or Liaquat as particularly bright politicians or even visionary. They were highly egotistical and didn’t realize that they were being manipulated by the British after the Second World War, who along with the US, wanted to create a buffer state that would stop the USSR and India sharing a border via Kabul.
At a time when millions were dying in Europe and the Nazi juggernaut was knocking on the doors of Moscow, the British jailed all the Congress leaders and gave Jinnah and the Muslim League a free hand, thus undermining Gandhi and Nehru. This ensured a free India would not emerge as a super power aligned with the emerging Chinese under Mao and Indonesia under Sukarno and with a left-leaning nationalist movement in Iran and Afghanistan.
Enter the beneficiaries of the British, including the Aga Khan and all the Nawabs and aristocrats of UP and lo and behold in 1946, we have a Muslim League victory in most Muslim seats, not in the areas of Pakistan, but in what is India today!
Much has been written about this tearing off of the limbs of India to render it powerless and to stamp out the possibility of an emerging giant. I shall only state here that if even today Pakistan’s elite cannot see through the con men who divided India’s Muslims into three parts as a bizarre way to unite them, then we are all collectively blind.
The LUBP has been a breath of fresh air. At times it is difficult to believe that there are still in Pakistan young men and women who have a vision. Having said that, you should shed your abbreviation form and adopt a more marketable name. For example, “Pakistan Social Forum” or “Team Pakistan” may be much better on your masthead then the slogan “Let Us Build Pakistan”
LUBP: Thank you, Mr Fatah, for taking out time for this interview.