Feisal Naqvi

The mummy-daddy, burger-baby revolutionaries

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2011 at 3:57 am

Pakistan’s most recent sensation is a young law student by the name of Zohair Toru, an enthusiastic, but somewhat muddled follower of Imran Khan, who had the good fortune, last Friday in Islamabad, to be interviewed by a television channel while protesting the release of Raymond Davis.

Fashionably coiffed with a semi-beehive hairdo reminiscent of the lead singers of The B-52s, the main thrust of Mr Toru’s complaintwas that as somebody trying to improve Pakistani society, he didn’t deserve to be pushed around by the police. Or as he plaintively wailed, “Police humai maray gi to inquilaab kaisey aye ga?”[1]

In the cosy little world of Pakistan’s intellectual vanguard (also known as the 50 people who talk to each other on Twitter), Mr Toru’s complaints have been much derided. His original interview has been widely circulated as has indeed his second interview in which the anchor told him, “Beta, cameray mein dekho. Achay lagtay ho; hero marka.”[2] The gist of the chatter is that Mr Toru is a vapid, empty-headed, mummy-daddy type who doesn’t realise that life is hard, that revolution is harder, that power flows from the barrel of a gun and that burger-babies like him should concentrate on their hairstyles and leave the heavy lifting to people who have read their Gramsci.

With all due respect to the beret-wearing poli-sci types, I think there is more to the story. Yes, Mr Toru is fantastically ignorant. Yes, he is deeply innocent of the realities of power. And yes, any revolution is going to be a long time a coming if it is dependent on people like him. But there are things to celebrate about this narrative as well.

First, let us first celebrate the fact that well-meaning, English-medium burger babies have been so roused from the depths of their traditional apathy that they are actually taking to the streets. Given the attention paid by Mr Toru to his personal appearance, not to mention his general unfamiliarity with the Urdu language, it does not seem as if he is part of the starving masses of Pakistan. In fact, given his age and general appearance, one could be forgiven for assuming that Mr Toru is more likely to be found sprawled on a couch with a PS3 controller in his hands than protesting on the streets. If Imran Khan has succeeded in penetrating the adamantine shell of apathy and indifference, which normally shields the wealthier individuals in this country, then more power to him. I don’t agree with much of what the PTI has to say — for example, their decision to join a great left-of-centre coalition while simultaneously spewing semi-jihadist rubbish — but, in this particular regard, the great Khan is entitled to take a bow. Bravo, sir.

Second, I think it is worth celebrating the fact that our burger-babies do not feel that it is appropriate for the police to push around non-violent protesters. This argument is so beautifully innocent, so perfectly divorced from all prior history and past experiences that one feels much like the fabled Grinch in taking a contrary view. However, the point here is not what is true, but what is believed to be true. I can argue now, and forever, that the colonial police was conceived back in 1860, as a paramilitary force tasked with thrashing the natives into submission (and that it has held true to its original conception). However, the point here is that stereotypes are self-reinforcing. If my concept of the police is of a bunch of thugs, then I will accept their thuggery with greater equanimity than if I conceive of them as public servants. Mr Toru may be historically, politically and factually wrong in his views of what the police in Pakistan can actually do. But he is historically, politically and factually right in demanding a police force which does not shove around non-violent protesters like him.

The final point in this regard is that we need more innocents in politics. I know that politics is inherently a dirty business. I also know that in Pakistan, it is a particularly dirty business. But if Pakistani politics is ever to become less of a straightforward extortion racket, it will be because idealistic people actually stick around and get involved in the mechanics of governance. Mr Toru may or may not be one of those who stick around. But, somebody like him eventually will. And we will all be the better for it.

This column first appeared in the Express Tribune on 25.3.2011.


[1] “How can we have a revolution if the police beats us?”

[2] “Look at the camera, son. You look good. Just like a hero”

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  1. m speechless, so many valid points…… but v should also enocurge the burger babies that atleast they came out of there luxuroius homes and stands with the nation!! n also IMRAN khan succeeded to bring such people out of there places 🙂 sooooo hope to have a revolution sooooon :p

    • Dear Ms. Khan,

      Revolutions tend not to be peaceful. As in, revolutions tend to produce bloodshed on a large scale. Speaking for myself, I much prefer incremental change. But I wish you well in your quest for a revolution.

      Regards,

      Feisal Naqvi

  2. Feisal bhai, this incident and your article remind me of this quote by Tolstoy:

    “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.”

  3. “If Imran Khan has succeeded in penetrating the adamantine shell of apathy and indifference, which normally shields the wealthier individuals in this country, then more power to him…it is worth celebrating the fact that our burger-babies do not feel that it is appropriate for the police to push around non-violent protesters…Mr Toru may be historically, politically and factually wrong in his views of what the police in Pakistan can actually do. But he is historically, politically and factually right in demanding a police force which does not shove around non-violent protesters like him…if Pakistani politics is ever to become less of a straightforward extortion racket, it will be because idealistic people actually stick around and get involved in the mechanics of governance.”

    It’s very odd. I’m an American and a Zionist. I read a lot of history. I have never been to Pakistan but I’ve met Pakistanis and read some Pakistani English-language newspapers. Yet, as an outside observer, I have some of the same conclusions you have. Most Pakistanis talk and whine a lot but are hesitant to step forward and actually do something to change matters for the better. It’s like they feel it isn’t their place to do so, or they’ll be clobbered by some unknown force if they do. Even the vile (to me) Imran Khan may be beneficial if he can compel people for or against what he stands for to become politically active.

  4. Dear Mr. Agha,

    Thank you for referring to my earlier article. I do think however that you misunderstood my earlier article. My points about Mr. Toru (and your generation) were as follows:

    1. Other people (not me, but “beret-wearing, poli-sci” types) are making fun of Mr.Toru on the basis of things that he said.

    2. Some of the criticism was justified in that Mr. Toru was naive (and yes, I used an unnecessarily harsh modifier there) but, and this is important, my view was that Mr. Toru’s participation in politics (and of other young people like him) needed to be celebrated. In fact, the exact words I used were “there are things to celebrate” about Mr. Toru’s story.

    3. I then gave three reasons why we Pakistanis should “celebrate” this development. The first was that we should be happy that young people like him had been roused from their normal apathy and had come onto the streets. My exact words were “in this particular regard, the great Khan is entitled to take a bow. Bravo, sir.”

    4. The second reason I gave was that it appeared as if Mr. Toru had a very advanced view of what the police in Pakistan ought to be doing. I concede I used the phrase “beautifully innocent” but the point being made was that our police (and other social institutions) would only change once public expectations of them change. To that extent, I thouigh Mr. Toru’s assumptions as to how the police should work were worth celebrating (even if not grounded in fact.)

    5. The third reason I gave for celebrating the arrival of Mr. Toru on the political scene was that “if Pakistani politics is ever to become less of a straightforward extortion racket, it will be because idealistic people actually stick around and get involved in the mechanics of governance.” I then stated that even if Mr. Toru would not prove to be one of the idealistic ones who actually stays involved, “somebody like him eventually will. And we will all be the better for it.”

    Since a large number of ET readers and commentators also concluded from my column that I was trying to disparage Mr. Toru and the youth of Pakistan, it appears as if I was not quite clear enough in my writing. However, I do urge you (and them) to re-examine that column in the light of my clarifications above.

    Regards,

    Feisal Naqvi

  5. Sir,

    First of all let me make it clear that if anything, i have respect for your work and abilities as a writer. This particular piece actually caused me to have greater admiration for you because it is the only publishing i have seen in recent times that has given the youth of the country any recognition or positive gesture for what they have done.

    I understand the purpose of your write-up was actually to encourage and appreciate the fact that the urban youth is actually needed to change politics for the better in Pakistan, but I was very disappointed, and i will not lie, angered by the way you went about it.

    Obviously to make a fair point, both sides of an argument should be presented. But the light that you presented Zohair Toru and the entire Urban Youth in, was still one of tremendous stereotypical labeling. Calling him muddled, fantastically ignorant, innocent and making remarks about his attire was unfair. When you presented the “gist of the chatter” i thought you wrote more than necessary. My point is that you could have made your point by perhaps using less harsh and direct adjectives, and maybe not pointing particularly at Zohair in order to do so. He is a citizen of a sovereign country and you have the responsibility to respect him when writing something that can be published in the press. I blame the ETribune too, but they edited out all that from my blog.

    Finally i felt that you felt the majority of the Urban Youth is politically inactive and shares the opinions and traits of Toru. If that is true, i just want to let you know that it is certainly not the case. The Urban Youth had a good laugh at the entire situation too. We know better than what perhaps Toru represented us to know. Alot of us were hurt how you used him to perhaps generalize that we are spoilt, lazy children, who belong in front of a television screen with a game controller in our hand. What the Urban Youth represents is not a bunch of innocents in politics. We have been on the streets protesting many times, going back to 7 or 8 years ago if i speak personally. I felt be it indirectly, the article still played down are potential and abilities to actually make any notable influence.

    • Dear Mr. Agha,

      I think your comments are fair. In retrospect, perhaps I should have turned down the commentary a bit. On the other hand, many people who got completely upset about the column seemed to miss the fact that I was taking a positive view. Chalo, those are the breaks.

      Regards,

      FHN

  6. Sir, if you had just been a little softer, you might have written one of the most popular pieces among the youth, but i suppose that was not what you meant to achieve. Thank you for letting us voice ourselves, and responding though.

    P.S: Sorry for the Twitter nonsense. I deleted my account.

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