Friday, January 7, 2011

Ishtiaq Ahmed and the Lahore massacres

I have thought about it quite frequently since the attack on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, but after the Daata Darbar massacre it has taken even more concrete shape in my mind. Ishtiaq Ahmed has a role to play in the mindset that perpetuates such killings.Who is Ishtiaq Ahmed? Maybe the handful of readers of this blog who (i presume) have mostly been raised on English and American influences will never have heard of him, but I am sure some of the slightly older readership will have come across his novels some time or the other. When I was a child of about 9 and 10 they were all the rage in circles that read even a little bit of Urdu. Our chief pleasure used to be the exchange of Ishtiaq Ahmed novels that appeared with the frequency of four a month but in our meagre pocket money, my friend and I could afford only one each between us. Devouring our own first we would immediately move on to the other’s.
Ishtiaq Ahmed novels were, loosely speaking, the equivalent of Hardy Boys. Adventurous and fast-paced, they were gripping enough to keep countless young pre-teen and teens enthralled. Over time though, they started moving from being subtle indoctrinations to full-blown hate-preaching. The pleasure that was once to be had in the kicks, punches, quirks and witty repartee of the characters was employed to brainwash youth into thinking about Ahmed’s Wahabist ideologies. India was perpetually demonized of course, his novel ‘Langra Inteqaam’ fully endorsing all the text-book versions of what happened in Bangladesh, and he constantly pushed the ideal of religion before country (the kind of thinking that Musharraf later tried to overturn with his ‘Sab se Pehlay Pakistan’ campaign).

Somewhere in the early 90s, Ahmed started a campaign in his prefaces. He claimed that in an upcoming novel he would shock all his readers into running to a specific corner of their houses. This was typical Ishtiaq Ahmed marketing, the creation of suspense to sell his books. It intrigued the young me greatly, who was a perpetual lagger when it came to solving anything before the last page. This ‘marketing gimmick’ turned out to be something far more sinister as it unfolded. Ahmed wrote an out-and-out novel against people who visit Sufi shrines, replete with ahaadees to back him up. Ahmedis and Sufi followers became the constant target of his poisonous pen that had previously only indulged in nodding passes to ‘muslamaanyat’ and barely veiled antagonism towards India. Now it turned inwards and sought to destroy any semblance of tolerance within the country itself.

Ahmedis, particularly, came under great fire. The idea that every dissenter is ‘vaajib-ul-qatal’ (liable to be killed) came to me the first time through the writings of Ishtiaq Ahmed. Make no mistake about it, his circle of influence wasn’t small. True, that none of the girls in my elitist-ish school were reading him but boys from equivalent schools certainly were, and we know those are the ones whom brainwashing affects directly (though it is not any less hazardous in women). My brother, i remember, once asked me to give him my collections of Ishtiaq Ahmed novels to take to America for a homesick friend of his. His influence ranged far and wide.

Already having read cartoon series version of Muhammad Bin Qasim, Tariq Bin Ziyaad and Mahmood Ghazni’s ‘heroic’ conquests in Taleem-o-Tarbiat I was fertile grounds for hatred against Ahmedis and any kind of non-wahaabi Muslims. Today I wonder, if someone like me could be affected thus, who was on the other hand taking in copious amounts of toyroom tea parties and English boarding schools in Enid Blyton, then where is the surprise in so many brainwashed suicide bombers that keep getting thrown up by the dozen. At that tender age of 12 or 13, being physically fearless by nature and not being a particular family favourite, I could easily have become a suicide bomber I am sure. Later on in life, teaching at Aitchison, I learned the same lesson--there is an immense amount of hardliners amongst the ‘creme de la creme’ (to repeat a phrase that an odious old teacher repeated ad nauseum) of the country. Madrassaas are not the only breeding ground for terrorists in Pakistan. ‘Elite’ schools with self serving Principals and text books that preach nothing but hatred and intolerance are just as bad. It is only at the all girls LGS that I currently teach at (kudos and a totally humble bow to its Principal Nasreen Shah) that there is a concerted effort to make the girls think in the right direction, in order to nullify the effects of some of their text book education as well as the insidious influences of ‘fashion’ and partying and other forms of empty headedness.

The ‘pe dar pe hamlay’on Lahore, as Ishtiaq Ahmed himself would put it, made me think incessantly of the man and whether any of the attackers (or those who control them) could ever have read him at some point, and derived moral justification for their convictions from his evil simplification of things. It isn’t too great a stretch.


  1. First, Ishtiaq Ahmed is one hell of a writer. Secondly, what exactly is wrong with the propogation of Pakistanism and anti-India sentiment. There is a reason why my forefathers found for this homeland. The is a reson why Muslims were persecuted in india and still are. The process never ends. Pakistan is a place where we get to sleep in relative peace every night and liberals like you post mosques are places where anti-Islam activities take place. And yes muhammad bin qasim and all other are our heros. Who are you, being an athiest, to question that. And Ahmedis deserve to die. They are against Islam and against peace in the region. SO are the Jews and Hindus. Don't get me wrong. I am a fundamentalist and will be so and this is what we are all about. You pseudo-intellectuals think you are very smart. And if you don't approve this comment. Shame. You would be afraid. Just afraid. Long live Islam! Long live Muhammad bin Qasim!

    1. Right on; you should blow yourself up pronto.. preferably in the comfort of your sucky home.. when no one's around.. :D

  2. I am sorry to say but it's extremely irresponsible of anyone to discuss something he or she doesn't have adequate knowledge of. In your case, I believe, it's Islam that you don'T know much about. Had you bothered to research more on the religion that you've chosen to comment on, or had you been aware of how this whole bunch of materialistic ahmedis has emerged in the first place (and what Islam says about such people!), you'd surely have been more careful about what you're writing and your thoughts would have been different (at least if you have a speck of rationality left in you).

    Trust me, it's not just about how COOL 'some' people will think of you when they get to know about your particularly cool thoughts on the matter. Think about yourself. This is seriously not going to be of any help in the hereafter and will all be left here. Don't sacrifice that eternal life for these 40-50 years of coolness.

    1. Bilal sb. Completely agree with you. Being cool is totally overrated. These people forget that Islam was all about death and carnage from day one; look at what happened to the companions and family of the Holy Prophet. One should never worry about what people think is cool. One should worry about the afterlife and the path to a happy afterlife with 72 (?) burqa clad virgins is through being an absolute turd and a douche in this life: let us live with a restricted mindset because 'thinking', and useless inane crap like peace, love and understanding is for hell-bound liberal losers ! Let us make Allah proud through hate, and 'be careful' type threats..

  3. Zalim mut bhoolen nil akhir mazloom ki bari ayei gi
    Makkaron pur hur makr ki hur bazi ulttai jayei gi
    Pathar ki lakir hei yei taqdir mitta dekhho gur himmat hei
    Ya zulm mittey ga dharti sei, ya dharti khud mitt jayei gi

    (Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad - Khalifatul Masih IV. 'E des sei aney valey bata kis hal men hein yaran e watan.' August, 1989).

  4. shame on you. its easier to comment against someone who is nationalist to be a pakistani and muslim but goes blind when it is jews or hindus or anyone else.

  5. hey thanks for putting up this post. I was an avid Ishtiaq Ahmed fan as a kid. He certainly propagated his wahabi agenda through his novels. Anything and everything was about India, Israel, and Ahmedis. I agree, he has done the damage.

  6. Just wanted to appreciate what has been said here. I know there are so many people out there who care for humanity and do not agree with the radicalized version of islam or specifically the hatred towards ahmadies - but there are few who actually speak out. There are even more people out there who have been told what version of islam to follow, without ever having researched the logic behind it. It would be great if people of this nation would find out the truth themselve before coming to a judgment and before saying - 'Acha, esse hen ye log, acha hua aap ne mujhe pata diya'.

  7. Wow! pretty harsh comments.

    Well, I guess, most of the Pakistan's, since the time of partition, never really understand the meaning of freedom and liberty. As far as I can recall, whoever I met, all over the country; except for very few; none, was ever ready to even listen to something against their beliefs and thinking. Acceptance is a far cry. And the problem is, our beliefs aren't authentic either. You speak to someone about Islam and you will fell in a chaos. Quran stresses again and again to think/brainstorm but no one is ready to do so.

    I think, it's a fairly nice article and she has the right to write whatever she likes. I don't think it's offending, neither do I think it preaches liberalism. Some people just don't have the courage to listen to something against their beliefs.

    Note: I don't like liberalism either, but that doesn't mean I should enforce my view point on others.

  8. I yet have to read his books to know that. But his ZAVIA book was good and interesting but it was back then. may be if i read it now, I will find it different.
    What do you teach in LGS?