Calling Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy ‘jahil’ can only happen in Pakistan

Published: October 30, 2013
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After reading the correct phrases from the book myself, it was easy to see that the thesis prepared by Orya and Abbasi against Malala, for allegedly ‘supporting’ Rushdie and Ahmadis, was all based on fabrications.

A few days ago, a fierce verbal battle took place between the guests on a talk show called “On The Front” hosted by Kamran Shahid. The bone of contention was the book called ‘I am Malala’ authored by the 16-year-old herself. The guest speakers included, Orya MaqboolAnsar Abbasi, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zafar Hilaly.

With regards to the topic at hand, the conversation began with Orya Maqbool and Ansar Abbasi giving their view on the book. Highly sensationalised words were used by the two, and common ground was reached with Malala being framed as offensive towards Islam.

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy interjected stating that he had also read the book but did not find anything against Islam in her book as claimed by the other guests. He suspected either they had not read the book attentively or were deliberately trying to malign her.

The past animosity between Dr Hoodbhoy and Ansar Abbasi fueled a debate that turned into an ugly verbal brawl on national television, with insensitive comments being exchanged by both parties. Meanwhile, Orya yelled out, rather loudly I might add, appealing to the audience to open the book in question and confirm from page 30 that Malala had written these words,

“He (Salman Rushdie) has [sic] all the right under freedom of expression, but my father said that we should write a book against him.”

Visibly astonished, Dr Hoodbhoy asked, in a calm tone, if Orya Maqbool had the book in front of him from where he had read that particular excerpt. He further asserted that there was no statement in her that was in support of Rushdie.

At that, Orya insisted that these were, in fact, the exact words taken from her book and continued to incite religious sentiments through his sermon against Malala.

During the program, Malala was also accused of favouring Ahmadis in her book. Dr Hoodbhoy, once again, denied the allegation leveled against Malala stating that this was a lie and not written anywhere in the book.

After watching the show, I opened Malala’s book myself and found no statements which Orya alleged were in there. Contrary to the text quoted by Orya, Malala has written,

“My father also saw the book as offensive to Islam but believes strongly in freedom of speech. ‘First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book,’ he suggested.”

Similarly, Malala has mentioned Ahmadis in these words,

“Now we are a country of 180 million and more than 96 per cent are Muslim. We also have around two million Christians and more than two million Ahmadis, who say they are Muslims though our government says they are not. Sadly those minority communities are often attacked. [2]”

After reading the correct phrases from the book myself, it was easy to see that the thesis prepared by Orya and Abbasi against Malala, for allegedly ‘supporting’ Rushdie and Ahmadis, was all based on fabrication.

The text quoted by Orya Maqbool happened to be a blatant lie and the exposition of this dishonesty, in effect, justifies Dr Hoodbhoy’s position along with proving his stance as correct.

Ansar Abbasi repeatedly referred to Dr Hoodbhoy as a ‘jahil’ for advocating Malala while Zafar Hilaly, the diplomat, gracefully avoided saying a word in the already hostile environment.

Ansar Abbasi posed to highly sensitive questions towards Dr Hoodbhoy and then went on to tarnish his reputation as a professor by stating,

“Aik aisay jaahil ko, jis ko parhaanay kay ooper lagaya huva hai hamaray aik prime institution main. Mujhay nahi samajh aati ye jaahil waha’n kiya parhaata hoga.”

(“An ignoramus who has been chosen to teach at one of our prime institutions, I don’t understand what this ignoramus teaches there.”)

Not only was this brouhaha terribly ugly for the audience, it was incredibly unprofessional for the news channel to let it stay on-air when the arguments had become personal and out-of-control. Kamran Shahid should have exhibited better control over his own show and should have prevented it from happening.

I was in possession of the book and was able to verify the facts for myself, however, those among the audience who have not read the book will be inclined to believe the misleading statements made on this show. This debacle served as a bitter reminder of how Salman Taseer was deliberately framed by an irresponsible talk show such as this, as a blasphemer.

What was even more unsettling was the way the host, Kamran Shahid, seem to have taken a backseat during the entire conversation and started giggling when the guest speakers started exchanging insults. He allowed the open use of abuse and hate speech on his show and merely laughed when Dr Hoodbhoy walked off the show.

On Monday, the students of the department of Physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad called in a meeting to discuss what had transpired on the show. They maintained a position of neutrality, as most of them had not read the book yet themselves, however, everyone unanimously condemned the personal attacks on Dr Hoodbhoy. They further condemned the way Ansar Abbasi ridiculed Dr Hoodbhoys’ teaching credentials.

Dr Hoodbhoy has served as a professor at the Quaid-i-Azam University for more than 35 years and has widely been respected in the academic circle. Ansar Abbasi’s remarks not only revealed how unscrupulous our media can be but also how such individuals show no respect towards a noble profession like teaching.

To show solidarity with Dr Hoodbhoy, students stood in front of the department with placards condemning the disrespect suffered by the professor.

Let sanity prevail.

Nayyar Afaq

Nayyar Afaq

He is pursuing a doctorate in Physics from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and his objective in life is to become a better human being. Nayyar tweets @Nay_Af (twitter.com/Nay_Af)

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