Edited Excerpts from an Interview
What do you make of the situation in Bangladesh? The government has arrested a few bloggers. At one point, people thought the Awami League was pro-Shahbag.
You have to understand that these are very exciting as well as scary times for the entire Muslim world. Because if the bloggers and the secular Muslims succeed in Dhaka, then we have the first counter-revolution after 1979 staged against Islamo-fascism anywhere. If Islamo- fascism is defeated there, it would trickle down to India. The [Bangladeshi] constitution has secularism as its binding principle; citizenship in Bangladesh cannot be based on inheritance, race or religion. It’s the only Muslim country, other than Indonesia that moved in this direction. So it’s very significant that Prime Minister Hasina Wajed has taken action against the bloggers because she believes they are wrong. I think she is making the same tactical mistake that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made in 1977 when he decided to outdo the Islamists and banned drinking in Pakistan. Then he said, “Let’s take Sunday out and make Friday a holiday.” She’s making a huge strategic error. The Awami League can still correct this, though, and win the next election.
Irrespective of how the Awami League deals with the situation, has the Shahbag Movement already made its mark among the Muslims of South Asia?
Not really. Shahbag bloggers, who are secular, liberal Muslims, made the mistake of saying, “We are not associated with the political movement.” This is the NGO-isation of political movements around the world. In my generation, people who joined political parties had to pay money. Today’s enlightened, progressive youth join political movements to get paid. They look to NGOs for jobs, whereas we paid fees of chaar anna for party membership to the National Students Federation or the National Awami Party. NGO politics is safe, rich and for upper-middle class people. It doesn’t affect change. It just makes you feel good. Bloggers are wrong to say they are not politically involved. You’re doing politics, not gardening in Shahbag Square. And their main demand, one for the death penalty, is also wrong; they should be against capital punishment.
That’s been one of the criticisms. If you already want the death penalty, then why bother with a trial?
It’s the pot calling the kettle black. Jihadis also love beheadings and executions.
Pakistan is going to the polls and there’s a lot of hype, especially in India, around two people — Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan. The Indian elite loves them.
Well, one of them turns a lot of upper-middle class Indian women on. The other guy puts on a Punjabi accent, when he’s actually a Dilliwala. So you’ve got two fake people, one very dangerous because he is an idiot fascist, the other because he is a complete crook, who should be tried under the Army Act and put before a firing squad. Not because that’s what I want, that’s what the court says. He staged a coup, he has amassed an enormous fortune, but he won’t win a seat. But Imran Khan typifies everything that is wrong about the Pakistani Punjabi.
But he’s not a Punjabi.
What else is he?