Did Aamir Liaquat accidentally defend secular democracy?

Published: March 21, 2016
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Controversial scholar, entertainer and televangelist, Aamir Liaquat, offers a liberal feminist virtually no reason to smile and nod politely. On March 16, 2016, Mr Liaquat may have finally broken that tradition.

On an episode of NewsEye, Mehr Abbasi raised the subject of the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act and the controversy surrounding it. Senator Hafiz Abdullah, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), rebuked the act as any viewer acquainted with Pakistani political dynamics may have anticipated.

It was the identity of the act’s defender, which came as a pleasant surprise.

Mr Aamir Liaquat was visibly bitter, missing one burning cigarette clamped casually between two fingers, from becoming a perfect picture of a man too disgusted to even feign attentiveness on camera. When Mehr Abbasi prompted Liaquat to express his opinion on the controversy surrounding the Women Protection Act, he spoke simply and sardonically:

“We say that there’s democracy in Pakistan. Then a bill is presented in the Assembly, which is passed in a democratic manner. And then they (the coalition of religious parties) threaten the institution with a deadline (for amendment), saying we’ll do this and that if you don’t listen to us. Okay, fine! Hand everything over to them! Make Pakistan a theocratic state! Let’s end this debate once and for all!”

Mehr Abassi jokingly suggested if we ought to surrender the state entirely to “mullah and military”, then laughingly adding that they “already own it”.

The exchange was exceptional in numerous ways. Aamir Liaquat is not the kind of person expected to criticise excess religious supervision or intervention in national affairs. He has been accused of provoking intolerance, even violence, against Pakistani Ahmadis. And he has demonstrated an inability to distinguish secularism from ‘atheism’, while blasting PK as an ‘anti-religious’ movie.

It turns out, that when Mr Liaquat isn’t handing out babies in a TV show like boxes of gulab jamun, or watching the film Ghalib, he is saying stuff that makes tremendous amount of sense. He is taking a firm stand for the rights and safety of women; and in a political atmosphere where the new laws are under siege by the right-wing, this stance is both important and courageous. He risks alienating the religious-right demographic that he depends on, in the clear interest of a greater good.

Aamir Liaquat did not directly defend ‘secular democracy’ and I’m certain that if made to clarify his stance, would likely reiterate his opposition to secularism. He took a stand for democratic values, which may not be overturned by opposition on religious grounds. And let’s not be mistaken; the religious resistance to the Protection of Women act is massive, as demonstrated by the conference in Mansoora, among others.

That is, however, the way the system is built.

A ‘democracy’ comes in many colours. It could be a meritocratic democracy, a secular democracy, or a theocratic democracy, to name a few kinds. And each adjectivised democracy, essentially limits the range to which the people may exercise their democratic freedoms, in its own unique way.

A law repugnant to Islamic injunctions may not be put into place, according to Article 227 of the constitution. What sort of non-theocracy comes with a Shariah Court and a Council of Islamic Ideology, with the latter threatening to charge the Punjab Assembly for treason under Article 6 for approving the bill without its consent?

This is far from a Priest-King system of governance conceived as classic theocracy, but there is an obvious theocratic element existing within our democratic set-up.

“Secularism” is a toxic word, like “liberal” and “feminist”. But as it happens, many of us casually air secular, liberal and feminist opinions, while unequivocally rejecting those labels. We bemoan ‘mullahism’ and the regressionist politics of the religious right, but are infuriated about the proposal of ‘secularism’: a tried-and-tested method of ending this obstructionism, while allowing us to retain our individual religious freedoms.

That said, Mr Aamir Liaquat’s stand for the Women Protection Act on NewsEye, and earlier on Tonight with Fereeha, hasn’t gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

Recall that Pakistan was not too long ago labelled the third most dangerous country for women. And there’s enough statistical evidence to back this claim. The Women Protection Act is a desperate attempt to secure our national honour – ironically speaking.

In this regard, where popular religious parties are almost completely aligned against a set of laws intended to achieve this goal, we direly need religious scholars like Aamir Liaquat lending their voices to the progressive forces of this country.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    This liaquat character acts like a typical opportunist.

    The channel owners want him because he brings in viewership – lots of money from brands – which can be credited to his oratory skills in the urdu language.Recommend

  • abcd

    Plz get your facts right. The JUIF senator is Hafiz Hamdullah, not Abdullah.Recommend

  • vinsin

    This article should be read by everyone in the subcontinent just because it just treats secularism different from liberalism. The author mentioned both the world. This article is a must for Indians who thinks that liberalism is same as secularism or define Muslims appeasement as secularism.Recommend

  • talha usmani

    The guy from JUI-F had nothing to say, and went crazy. Aamir Liaquat was absolutely spot on.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    Never take Amir seriously especially if you think he actually agrees with your point of view.Recommend

  • BlackHat

    No. No. No! No one can “accidentally” defend secular democracy. It needs to be thought out. Only a rational person can do it in an ocean of irrationality.Recommend

  • BlackHat

    Obviously, appeasement can not mean secularism. Liberalism and secularism are not that far apart. They both connote respect for another person. Somebody famous said “religion has nothing to do with the business of state” and so should it be!Recommend

  • Parvez

    You are very right……..I did watch the show and Aamir Liaquat did surprise me. He spoke well and he spoke sense…..possibly he realizes that as a TV ‘ religious scholar ‘ with a following, if he starts telling it like it correctly should be told, he’ll stand out from the other so called ‘ religious scholars ‘ who tell it incorrectly with an agenda attached…..classic Aamir Liaquat……..but this time I’m not complaining.Recommend

  • Babbarsher Khan

    This guy has been inciting violence against defenseless (and voiceless) people in Pakistan; suddenly, he finds himself at the receiving end. So, he has decided to make a 180 degree turn. By the way, what happened to his fake degrees, all forgotten and forgiven?Recommend

  • Gamer

    For heavens sake stop calling him “Scholar” HE IS NOT and NEVER will be. These cheap talk shows ruining ethics and all layers of common senseRecommend

  • Syed A. Zafar

    Wow, what a planned circus staged by this arrogant women activist cum anchor. In every aspect of this TV drama, the majority of liberals/secular panelists have not only successfully achieved their agenda but also killed many birds with one stone. The arrogant and partial anchor has cunningly manged a fight between two religious clowns. The new role of actor Dr. Amir Liaqat is amazing but not unexpected. He has always been a flip flopper like some other religious/political thugs and sudden leaders of Pakistan. When he was doing mazhabi nautunki (religious dramas) on tv shows with his religious clowns, he always went too far in promoting hate mongering and exploiting his listeners/followers against non Muslim minorities, and they wasted no time in killing them.

    When it comes to my honest opinion on this topic, first of all, there was no proper ratio of panelists and lacked the representation of learned religious leaders to listen to their side, and this show was dominated and influenced by the majority of liberal women activists including newly find women appeaser (Dr. Amir) and the arrogant anchor who has no knowledge on the issue but played as a women activist. An anchor, journalist or reporter must be knowledgeable, neutral, impartial and honest.

    I find both wings (right and left wing extremists of Pakistan) not only wrong but also dishonest. Both are the cause of major problems of Pakistan and both are cashing the burning issues of Pakistan for the sake of their dirty politics and serving the agenda of their local and foreign masters. I do not see any constructive debate, connect or middle ground between them which can always play a great role, not only in understanding each other, educating the public, defending the rights of women but also not disgracing and discarding the beautiful teachings of Islam. Islam is not only a peaceful religion but also presents solution to all the problems the world is facing today. The religion of Islam is being misused, misinterpreted, misrepresented and maligned not only by its opponents but also the faction of religious extremist within Islam. The agenda of the extremists, be it religious or liberal extremists is not only destructive and recipe of promoting hatred and widening gap between nations and societies but also a conspiracy against whole humanity. No religion encourages or teaches violence or not giving equal rights to women and children. It depends how we want to interpret and analyze the teachings of a religion. The conflict starts when societies, nations or factions start dictating and imposing their culture and beliefs on others on the basis of their power, extreme views and agendas. There is no doubt that In Pakistan and some other countries, religious extremists are the major cause of problem, but it is also true that liberal extremists of Pakistan, especially elites who are hardly 1% of entire population have full control and monopoly over country’s resources and institutions are causing religious extremism and terrorism to grow more, because their life style and promotion of imported punk/vulgar culture and their anti Islam activism which not only annoys the majority of poor and unfortunate masses of Pakistan but also provides chances to religious extremists to convince their followers that their religion and culture is in danger because of these anti Islam and vulgar forces in Pakistan. If the liberals in Pakistan stay in their limit, do not offend the feelings of others, provide equal opportunity to those who are unfortunate and deprived, use their education and wealth in building a moderate and just society, stay away from promoting imported punk and vulgar culture and bashing Islam and their cultural values, I bet there would be a birth of a new moderate, progressive and just Pakistan. Islam teaches to acquire knowledge from any where and there are tons of good things to learn from Western world too. But adopting bad things from any where, mixing liberal extremism and punk and vulgar culture in the name of democracy, equal rights, freedom of speech and expression is nothing but complexes and new form of slavery and colonialism. I wonder, those who do not take pride in their own religious and cultural values, how can they be loyal to others values? Please: [email protected]Recommend

  • Akhwandk

    I am guessing you didn’t read the bill
    Its on the Punjab Assembly website, download the PDF and read.Recommend

  • Syed A. Zafar

    very well said. ThnaksRecommend

  • SH

    I’m pretty sure you and the people in the comments section don’t follow him and only base your opinions on the videos that go viral about him and I will not blame you. In Pakistan, only the bad goes viral and is heavily sensationalised. If you watch his show, he has several times said he is not a scholar. Babies were not distributed like boxes of gulab jamun, that is a very harsh thing to say. Please get involved with the foundation and learn about the logistics involved before passing such comments.
    His morning show is the only sane one airing currently. He is an entertainer who often expresses his opinions on society just like everyone of us does. Working in the media doesn’t take away your right of expressing your sentiments towards religion and societal issues. Like I see people attack Hamza Ali Abbasi all the time I don’t know why.Recommend