It is well known that the term 'Pakistan', an acronym, was originally thought up in England by a group of Muslim intellectuals. P for the Punjabis, A for the Afghans, K for the Kashmiris, S for Sind and the 'tan', they say, for Baluchistan... So it was a word born in exile which then went East, was borne-across or trans-lated, and imposed itself on history; a returning migrant, settling down on partitioned land, forming a palimpsest on the past. A palimpsest obscures what lies beneath. To build Pakistan it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface of Pakistani Standard Time. The past was rewritten; there was nothing else to be done.
Salman Rushdie, in Shame, his "modern fairytale" of Pakistan. (1983)
Pervez Hoodbhoy is among the eminent cosmopolitan Pakistanis who press two urgent points about today: (1) that the clear and present danger at home is truly scary; that nuclear-tipped Pakistan (not Stone-Age Afghanistan, nor youthful, half-modern Iran) is the epicenter of Islamic extremism; that as Salman Rushdie said in closing a talk at Brown last Spring, "if Pakistan goes down, we're all f**ked." And (2) that it might help if Americans and their government understood what most Pakistanis observe: that it was a "CIA jihad" in the late '70s and '80s that implanted the virus of killer-force fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the last battle of the Cold War.
Listen to my conversation with Pervez Hoodbhoy:
You had the CIA bringing in the strongest and most ideologically charged of fighters from across the globe. It was billions and billions of dollars that got pumped into the creation of the mujahedeen, celebrated by Ronald Reagan and Charlie Wilson. You had the CIA distributing millions of Korans in the madrasas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was this monster that grew so big that it was out of control. It ate up its master, the United States and now Pakistan... Osama bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri and all these people who are being sought after so eagerly by the United States -- these were creations of the CIA.
And now the whirlwind:
PH: I'm tremendously worried about how Pakistani culture is being morphed into something that looks suspiciously like Saudi culture. We used to be taught about the world; we used to be taught about history, geography. Now ... everything is regarded through the prism of religion--and a particular variant of the religion. And that is the Saudi, Wahhabi way of looking at things. It's infiltrated our language. We used to say while parting, Khuda Hafiz, that is, God be with you. Now we say Allah Hafiz. Now there is a subtle difference over here. The Persian God, Khoda, has been replaced by the Arabic God, Allah... There are now burkas everywhere. So, when I teach my class in the University, physics classes, I cannot see half the faces of my women students.
CL: You have seen this face of Islamism that most Americans haven't. What makes it so powerful, so threatening?
PH: I'm threatened because Islamism threatens to drag us back to the 7th century... After the 2005 earthquake, which affected many areas of Pakistan, there were the mullahs who came out and said: this happened because you were watching television. And so there were thousands of televisions that were broken. After I returned from those areas and went back to my class -- I was teaching Atomic Physics and Statistical Mechanics -- I said to my students: "You know I have been over there, seen this terrible devastation and we have two duties. One, as Pakistani citizens, is to help our brethren. The other is, as students of science, we have got to tell these people that is was not the wrath of god. It wasn't that people were sinful that the earthquake happened. It happened because tectonic plates were moving on a fluid surface of the earth and this is how mountains grow... And there was outrage in the class, against me. They said: but Professor, don't you know that it is written in the Koran that this is how God punishes doers of bad. At the next class, I got exactly the same response. A few students later on came to me and said to me: Professor, we are really sorry; we thought you were right, but we couldn't speak up.
Pervez Hoodbhoy with Chris Lydon in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 2010