The following is a guest post by Mr. Irfan Husain. The article was originally submitted to Dawn by Mr. Husain, who is one of their regular op-ed writers. However, due to its contents, Dawn found itself unable to print it.
I don’t know if there are official rankings for the sleaziestTV personality in Pakistan, but if there were, Amir Liaquat would win hands down.
There is something about the man I find simply detestable. I can’t say if it’s his slimy, smarmy manner, or the hypocrisy that seems to ooze out of him, but this is not a man I would buy a second-hand car from. And if forced to shake hands with him, I would count my fingers after wiping them clean.
Let me hasten to add that I have never met him, and nor has he done me, or any of my friends and relatives, any personal harm. And if I find his TV programmes loathsome, I can (and do) usually skip the channel he’s on. But there are times when the nonsense that’s being spouted by the ignorant clerics he usually invites is almost hypnotic.
I recall one programme in which a young viewer called for advice from a so-called Islamic scholar: a medical student, she asked if she could fast after her final year exams which fell in the month of Ramadan. The ‘expert’ was aghast at the very thought, and thundered that of course she could not postpone her fast. However, he assured her, her piety would help her pass with flying colours. I still wonder how this advice worked out for her.
The point here is that a chat show host’s only function is not just to act as a cheerleader for all the views being expressed, but to question and challenge. However, in a 2008 programme when a guest on his Geo show said openly that Ahmadis were ‘wajib-ul-qatal’, or deserving of being murdered, Amir Liaquat only nodded solemnly in agreement. A couple of days later, three Ahmadis were shot dead in Sindh. If this isn’t hate-mongering of the worst kind, I don’t know what is.
A few days ago, another Ahmadi named Luqman Ahmad Shahzad was murdered soon after a cleric named Owaisi denounced Ahmadis as the enemies of Pakistan and Islam, again on Amir Liaquat’s show on Geo TV. This year alone, eleven Ahmadis have been murdered in cold blood in Pakistan. How many more will have to die before this kind of hate-speech is deemed too toxic even by a channel that apparently puts advertising revenues and ratings above human lives?
While the turbaned Owaisi was conducting his anti-Ahmadi diatribe, Amir Liaquat was leading the studio audience in applauding these odious comments. To be fair, the mostly young audience was far less enthusiastic than their host.
Although Geo TV has been served a notice by Pemra, the state regulator, and has issued an apology, it nevertheless permitted Amir Liaquat to threaten his critics on social media with lawsuits. No sign of contrition from him. Bizarrely, he said he would ‘revoke’ what had happened after his show. Really? How? By bringing the victim back to life?
Predictably, he denied any linkage between his programme and the murders. But the hatred and bigotry being pumped out from our TV studios is directly related to the rise of violence and intolerance in Pakistan today.
These attitudes were on display at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the immediate aftermath of the recent Peshawar massacre of school children. Abdul Aziz, the mosque’s head honcho, refused to condemn their murder, or agree that the young victims were martyrs. He then had the gall to threaten the activists who had gathered outside the mosque to demand he withdraw his words.
But then why should he not be totally confident in his defiance? After all, the mosque was handed over to him by General Zia; he was allowed to drag out the 2007 confrontation for months by General Musharraf; the media made him a hero even after he was trying to sneak out of the mosque in a burqa; and the court freed him after he had directed his students and disciples to resist, leading to a bloody shootout that caused scores of deaths. Obviously, he thinks he has the support of the state. The fact that the police still haven’t arrested him even after a warrant was issued shows he’s not wrong.
Although I have always opposed censorship, I can see how a case can be made out for stopping channels like Geo from broadcasting the kind of hate-speech Amir Liaquat encourages on his show. But if the state won’t or can’t act, consumers can by refusing to buy products from companies that advertise on such programmes.
I hate to repeat myself, but as I wrote recently, a military campaign against terrorists is not enough by itself to combat the jihadi threat. The intolerance that is being taught in our classrooms and broadcast by our TV channels is what is fuelling the terror campaign that has brought Pakistan to its knees.
So while there seems to be a clear link between Amir Liaquat’s programmes and the murder of Ahmadis, there is a similar cause-and-effect linking our school and madressa curricula to the jihadi philosophy of the Taliban.