The subject line read “Aamir Liaquat Exposed”. To be honest, I was reluctant to click open the link my friend sent. Having just eaten dinner, I was disinclined to see the good ‘doctor’ laid bare. My mind had wandered to far darker thoughts. Instead, when I eventually clicked the link I saw a video of Aamir Liaquat swearing away. A wave of relief and sympathy washed over me. Relief that it wasn’t the exposure I had imagined it to be, and a fleeting sympathy for the TV evangelist. But the sympathy only lasted a nanosecond, mind you.
Most of us have uttered curses that we would not wish to be made public. Locker-room chat that is acceptable with the boys is not something we would want repeated in front of our wives or mothers-in-law. But then again, most of us don’t propagate an air of piety, uttering gaalis whilst talking about verses from the Holy Scriptures. That is the galling hypocrisy of this unedifying incident. What really sticks in the throat is the man’s cynical disregard for the very same people he professes to love and care about. It was particularly odious to see him sniggering as a woman caller sought advice on the sensitive subject of the legality of suicide in the scenario of protecting a woman’s honour. The very same people who gave him his success are the very people his sniggering disrespects.
It’s fine to swear like a lafunga on a motorbike at Seaview. Less so if you have made millions projecting a holiness that has made you managing director of a television channel that broadcasts religious programmes and also a former minister of religious affairs — in effect, a powerful, rich and influential man.
So what does this religious man do when he’s caught being less than godly? Does he throw his hands up, apologise and confess his sins and ask for forgiveness? Hardly. No, the man with no shame instead compounded the mistake by brazenly lying to the people of Pakistan. Yes, the not-so-good doctor had the temerity to claim that this was all a trick of editing and dubbing. It wasn’t him speaking, singing or clapping his hands. He claimed it was a dastardly plot hatched by his former employers in revenge for the popularity of his Ramazan programmes. Carefully ignoring the fact that it was those very same former employers who hastily pulled the video from YouTube soon after the footage emerged. If you believe his assertion about the dubbing and editing you’ll believe anything — or, at least, that Pakistan’s poor cricket performance was dependent upon the colour of their shoes’ soles. Ah. And there lies the problem.
For me, the good ‘doctor’ has exuded as much sincerity as the president exudes incorruptibility. But this view is clearly in the minority. People love him. And after this revelation, they will continue to love and support him. They’ll believe whatever he tells them. Already, we are seeing people calling his show, supporting his falsehoods and consoling him.
This reaction exposes a deeper malaise in Pakistani society. As a people, we seem intrinsically drawn to egotists, narcissists and demagogues. We love the masala, drama and showboating these characters provide. Whether it is a Bhutto, a Zaid Hamid or an Aamir Liaquat, we look to these people for simple answers to complex problems. Preferring their demagoguery and simplistic solutions to the heavy lifting of using our own grey matter.
So we loved it when Bhutto tore up the papers and stormed out of the Security Council at the UN. We find Zaid Hamid irresistible when he’s blaming the Jews and Hindus for all of Pakistan’s ills. We trust Aamir Liaquat’s superstitious claptrap when he blames the Pakistani cricket team’s poor performance on the green colour of the soles of the team’s shoes. Where’s the empirical evidence, ‘Dr’ Liaquat? So it wasn’t due to poor coaching or match-fixing then? But the colour painted by some poor sweatshop kid in China?
Distrustful of reasoning and logic, we mindlessly follow these characters. They enrich themselves at the expense, as well as the naivety and gullibility, of the Pakistani population. My mother and aunts-in-law — good law-abiding people — would regularly unquestioningly regurgitate the nonsense spouted by these charades. Why? It was easier than searching for the truth, or — heaven forbid — thinking for themselves.
The reaction to Aamir Liaquat’s exposure also reveals another problem within the Pakistani society. We are a nation in denial. Even when faced with the truth about these unsavoury characters we are still unable to accept their faults. Like small children, we can’t accept the truth even when it’s staring us in the face. Pakistan can only resolve its problems when it’s able to accept some uncomfortable, unpalatable truths about its society. The supporters of Dr Aamir Liaquat are a manifestation of the fact that this will not happen anytime soon.
The exposure of Aamir Liaquat exposes some of the country’s inherent contradictions and character flaws. My friend, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, often says that the problems with Pakistan aren’t economic, political or social — they’re psychological. He has a point. We have developed a Stockholm syndrome with the egomaniacs on our screens. Falling in love with them rather than contemptuously rejecting them. And when they have been revealed to be phonies, we continue to delude ourselves into believing their bold faced lies. It is time we turned the alim online, off.
There’s an African proverb that states that ‘singing Hallejullah everywhere does not prove piety’. Remember that next time you hear ‘Assalamualekum warehmatullah’ from Hardilazeez Aamir Liaquat Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.