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.