Nadeem Paracha is not a household name in the West, but he should be. Born in Karachi in 1967, Paracha is a journalist, cultural critic, and political satirist in Pakistan. Arrested twice by General Zia’s right-wing dictatorship for “anti-state activities,” Paracha knows a thing or two about what it's like to speak truth to power.
Something of a Cassandra in Pakistan, Nadeem Paracha is a voice of reason in a deafening cacophony of wild conspiracy theories and anti-Western propaganda.
Paracha is an interesting case, too, because he very readily admits that he spent his early career parroting many of the same anti-Western tropes that he debunks today. Oh, and Paracha is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.
In a recent post on the website of English language daily Dawn, Paracha describes the reaction to a terrorist bombing at Islamabad's Islamic University that took the lives of eight innocent students:
Here we have a university that was attacked by a psychotic suicide bomber who slaughtered and injured dozens of students so he could get his share of hooris in Paradise. The attack was then proudly owned by the Tekrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. And in its wake, we saw enraged students protesting against the Kerry-Lugar act? What a response!
What did the Kerry-Lugar act have to do with the suicide attack? Wasn’t this remarkably idiotic ‘protest rally’ by the students actually an insult to those who were so mercilessly slaughtered by holy barbarians?
Paracha takes on misdirected attitudes wherever he sees them, including in a recent article about a near traffic accident that serves as a clever allegory for Pakistan's political woes. He sees people acting foolishly, but he doesn't condemn them - he tries to set them on the right path, to make them think. For Paracha, the end goal is to goad his countrymen into fulfilling their potential.
But Paracha has no patience for fellow journalists who spin ridiculous fantasies and attempt to pass them off as legitimate news. And he's not afraid to name names, either.
What I am getting at is that in Pakistan where democracy has always been a struggle, we have to keep a concerned eye on the lunatic fringe that (mainly through the mainstream electronic media) is having a ball with the whole democratic notion of freedom of speech and expression.
Obviously, this fringe, largely made up of certain TV personalities, conspiracy theorists, politicians and televangelists, may have been able to find applause from within some of the country’s urban middle and upper-middle-class drawing rooms, but they remain largely demagogic and focused on attacking democracy — either as a ‘destructive Western/ Zionist construct’ or worse, an ‘unacceptable Hindu offering.’
What is offered as an alternative are high-flying Utopian arrangements weaved together from a largely mythical understanding of Islamic and Pakistani history in which certain prominent Muslim and Pakistani figureheads are spun into becoming glorified hate-mongers. This is then explained away as a ‘proof’ that Islam (and Pakistan) are historically not compatible with liberal democracy and its principles.
Men like Munawar Hussain, Imran Khan, Zaid Hamid, Shahid Masood, Aamir Liaquat, Mubashar Lucman (and growing) will stir and shake passionately on the mini-screen, like doing a modern-day impersonation of the great Aziz Mian Qawal; they will sweat, they will shout, wring their hands and clench their fists, pleading at the top of their voices the meaning of ‘true patriotism,’ and ‘Islam’ and how both Pakistan and Islam are in danger of being infiltrated, adulterated and eventually obliterated by strange sounding ‘lobbies’, whose existence may make fictional sense in Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings; they smell of cynical, demagogic paranoia.
In a recent segment on Dawn News TV, Paracha gives a fascinating insight into Pakistan's conspiracy-theory journalists, as well as his own journey from young radical to voice of reason.
While Paracha has shifted his work to primarily debunking conspiracy theories in political discourse, he's not done with popular music. In a recent video produced by The New York Times, Paracha takes to task popular Pakistani rock bands for their willingness to propagate anti-Western themes while remaining completely silent about the Taliban extremists that are bombing their own neighborhoods.
In a post-colonial country that (understandably) views the West with suspicion, that's besieged by fundamentalist religious terrorists, and with a media more apt to broadcast conspiracy fantasies than actual news, Paracha is not just a breath of fresh air - he may be the hope of a nation.