Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

You need a beard, not a PhD, RationalistPakistan (Originally published in Viewpoint)

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You need a beard, not a PhD

November 1, 2013 at 20:07

Haider Shah:

Kamran Shahid’s programme reinforced the commonly held perception that neither a Nobel nor a PhD in physics from one of the most prestigious universities of the world is eligible for respect. A sizable beard and a few extremist clichés, then Pakistan is all yours


Discourse and actions go hand in hand. New discourse always threatens the existing social order and consequently those who profit most from the status quo respond instantly to nip the evil in the bud. This explains the evident wide gulf that exists between humanists and fundamentalists in celebrating the recognition that a young Pakistani girl has received with regards to her advocacy of human rights from the international community. Sensing that the fatally injured girl had triggered a strong anti-Taliban sentiment against extremists , the apologists and promoters of extremist ideology unleashed their conspiracy theories through social media, while the little girl was still struggling for her life. Now as the girl has risen from the bed, and her innocent charm is captivating all and sundry the world over, the proponents of militant extremism in Pakistan are smouldering with boundless jealousy. They have gone berserk in their attempts to malign the iconic anti-Taliban image of a Pakistani Pakhtoon girl.

The latest episode of schizophrenic behaviour was seen in a TV programme where the host Kamran Shahid and his two fanatic guests ganged up to pounce upon one of the most prominent scientists of Pakistan Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy (PH). One may not necessarily agree with PH all the time. For instance, despite my immense respect for Dr sahib’s invaluable services as a teacher and populist of science in Pakistan when calls were made in the social media for supporting PH’s renewal of contract at LUMS I had opined that the issue was a petty one given the stature of PH and it was advisable for him not to press upon it even though personally we would have liked him to continue with his teaching contract. Similarly when in one of her interviews Malala stated that even though she was living in the U.K she was living according to ‘Pakhtoonsaqafat’, I found the statement highly distasteful as she should not present herself as a stereotype and should rather keep her choices as entirely personal. But despite these occasional differences both Malala and PH serve as icons of our love for education, rationalism and human values.

In the TV show the host Kamran Shahid, and reporter turned analyst Ansar Abbasi and the journalist cum government servant Orya Maqbool employed same tactics that Molvi Khalid Chishti had used in his attack on poor Christian girl Rimsha Masih. The consequences of entering a coal mine and attending a talk show with hosts and guests of very questionable integrity are often not hugely different. PH has however clarified that the T.V programme was a case of criminal negligence of professional ethics, if not outright conspiracy. Upon sharing of concerns, PH confided with well-wishers that if he had been informed beforehand that Malala’s book would be discussed he would have made the book readily available to negate any concocted allegations. He also said that he was kept in dark about the two media extremists in whose presence he would not have participated. PH also complained about deliberate manipulation of his mike and picture so as to give the two extremists much stronger coverage.

The programme reinforced the commonly held perception that neither a Nobel laureate nor a PhD in physics from one of the most prestigious universities of the world is eligible for respect in Pakistan. If you have a sizable beard on your face and you can utter a few extremist clichés then you are the most honourable man and Pakistan is all yours. In addition to this worrying perception, the episode also raised the question about the basis of selection of presenters these days. Used as cash cows, various channels are making an abusive use of talk shows. I am not sure with what academic credentials Kamran Shahid interviews guests that have served in the academia and research for decades. Same is true for many other T.V talk shows. The nature and quality of discussions often reminds me of the cock-a-doodle competition of roosters in ‘Bin Tere Laadan’ movie. Many of these talk show hosts are more suited for supervising such tournaments.

With a bit of smile, the programme also rekindled my own recollection of my postcard written to Orya Maqbool Jaan [OMJ] on Eid ul Azha in 2012. At the Rationalist Society of Pakistan [RSOP] a member shared a column of OMJ in which he had severely criticized Geo’s pro-education ad campaign. OMJ felt so aggrieved that he used some references to build a case that India was teeming with education before arrival of British forces and that those who differed with his assertions were ‘Abu Jehl’. Two members of RSOP, Mr. Waqass Goraya and Nadeem Ahmad also supported the cause and with their help and persuasion I decided to write an Eid postcard in my weekly column in which I exposed how OMJ was misrepresenting contents of old books to mislead his gullible readers. When my column got published and attracted OMJ’s attention, firing a shot of ‘jahalat’, he turned his cannons towards me. As a self-appointed vice chancellor, OMJ conferred the honorary degree of ‘jahil’ on me as a mark of his appreciation and labelled me as ‘jahalat ki faseel mein qaid danishwur’ (an intellectual imprisoned by ignorance) for questioning his references.

After mildly accepting some factual inaccuracies in his earlier account, he quickly retreated to the safety of his Nasim Hijazi-style history. Interestingly, OMJ’s opening paragraph convinced me how careful he is about ascertaining facts before making them public. The ‘defender of the faith’ referred to me as a liberal hailing from Lahore. Like my friends, this was news for me as apart from my one year stay at Civil Services Academy, Walton I have never had any link with this great city of learned people. I would share briefly the blatant misuse of historical material by OMJ in a follow up article soon.

Dr. Haider Shah teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com The article was originally published on Viewpoint Online.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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