So, I guess it’s official then. Pakistan’s charismatic cricket star turned firebrand politician Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi is the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan. Born in Lahore in 1952, the 65 year old took the official oath on Saturday 18th August 2018, a day after being elected by a majority of lawmakers in the national assembly. At a simple ceremony held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President’s House) in Islamabad, Khan, as luck would have it, in front of all those people and cameras managed to fumble some of the words, all spoken in Urdu. Urdu is one of the officially recognised languages of Pakistan (English is the other one), and it is a language that Khan should really be fluent in. Even Trump was not similarly stumped when giving his oath to office in his native English tongue.
Despite this slightly embarrassing hiccup, Khan’s first wife Jemima Goldsmith, the British heiress daughter of a Jewish billionaire, the mother of his two sons, and to whom he was married for nearly a decade, publicly congratulated him on his victory.
Being prime minister of Pakistan has been described by Time magazine as one of the world’s toughest jobs, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, but even before then it was rather treacherous. The country’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated, and a number of subsequent leaders have shared the same fate, variously being executed by order of the state, blown up on planes, and at political rallies. Therefore being cavalier about death seems to be a prerequisite in Pakistani politics. When Khan, who has spent more than two decades seeking the highest office in the land, was asked about such matters he casually replied that “You’ve got to go sometime. You might as well go for something you believe in.”
Khan’s first decision as PM was to scrub the nine-course meal traditionally served after the oath-taking ceremony, also held at the President’s House. It was a sign of the “austerity drive” he had promised while on the campaign trail. Instead, refreshments were served in the grand hall of the official residence. Khan had also campaigned on promises to combat Pakistan’s endemic corruption and to break the landowners’ monopoly on political power.
By any given standard Khan has led a full and colourful life. He served as the chancellor of Bradford University between 2005-2014, in the British city which has one of the highest concentrations of citizens of Pakistani ancestry. Described by Bradford’s vice chancellor as “a wonderful role model for our students”, Khan has been a hero for diaspora Pakistanis since his cricketing heyday in the 1980’s.
And it was during the 1980’s that he became known as a glamorous playboy cricketer. At the time he was friends with the likes of Mick Jagger, and he was known to wear leopard skin satin trousers whilst boogying at Annabel’s nightclub in Mayfair. In the defence of his playboy past Khan has said “I have never claimed to be an angel,” although it is somewhat doubtful that an angel could ever make it in Pakistani politics.
He also had a famous public spat with Salman Rushdie, author of the very controversial The Satanic Verses. Rushdie suggested that Khan was a “dictator in waiting” and compared his looks with those of Libya’s former dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Khan’s elaborate response to this? “What is he talking about? What is he talking about? I always hated his writing. He always sees the ugly side of things. He is — what is the word Jews use? — a ‘self-hating’ Muslim.”
Khan has gone on to say “Why can’t the West understand? When I first went to England, I was shocked to see the depiction of Christianity in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’ This is their way. But for us Muslims, the holy Koran and the Prophet, peace be upon him, are sacred. Why can’t the West accept that we have different ways of looking at our religions? Anyway, I am called an Islamic fundamentalist by Rushdie. My critics in Pakistan say I am a Zionist agent. I must be doing something right.”
An 18 year old Imran Khan is introduced to the Queen by Intikhab Alam at Lord’s cricket ground in London, 1971.
And then there is the cricket. Khan is not only Pakistan’s most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, but he is also Pakistan’s greatest ever sportsman. He captained Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, against none other than the former colonialists England. The final of the 1992 ICC Cricket World Cup was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, on the 25th of March 1992. A capacity crowd of nearly 90,000 spectators saw Pakistan win by 22 runs to lift their first and so far only World Cup trophy. Ian Botham, Khan’s then arch nemesis, was bowled out for a duck (by Wasim Akram). Such heroics have earned Khan the titles of ‘Lion of Pakistan’ and ‘Lion of Lahore.’
As recognised by Khan himself, his colourful life makes him many things to many people. Some see him see him as power-hungry, operating at the behest of the military and out to undermine Pakistan’s democratic progress. Some see him as being so close to the army that he been called the armies “blue-eyed-boy.”
Others see him as a principled leader who has stuck to his guns and defied all his critics. Others still see him as somewhat hypocritical. His cynical wooing of various hard line religious parties has earned him the nickname “Taliban Khan”. His anti-American rants and his election stance as an anti-corruption, populist champion of change, notwithstanding his privileged Oxbridge upbringing, have left some voters unsure whether he can be trusted. Likewise, in the small world of the Pakistani elite, many are equally convinced of Khan’s dubious allegiances, with stories circulating about how he has on several occasions met the CIA and MI6 in London.
Khan himself proclaims to be Pakistan’s only political leader to make their money outside Pakistan, while keeping it all in Pakistan. He sold his London flat to buy a jungle on the outskirts of Islamabad, with cows for milk and yoghurt, a vegetable patch and even his own wheat – a picture of idyllic self-sufficiency. Now he just has to recreate at least something of that vision for the country which he has been elected to govern. And the stakes are high in a youthful nation of more than 200 million people, where many still live in grinding poverty. Although the economy expanded by nearly 6% in the year to June 2018, the current account deficit is rising fast, partly due to currency devaluations. Economists say another IMF bailout may be unavoidable.
Khan is no longer the playboy he once was. He has since been at great pains to affirm his Islamic identity. His avowals of Islam, his identification with the suffering masses, and his attacks on his affluent English-speaking peers have long been mocked in the living rooms of Lahore and Karachi as the hypocritical ravings of “Im the Dim”, another moniker allotted to him by his critics. Khan, however, now considers himself a practicing Muslim with leanings towards Sufism, a mystical path very different from the Taliban’s Islamic literalism. Khan has said that “My tradition is of a more Sufi style of Islam.”
Perhaps the strangest criticism I have come across of Khan emanated from an unexpected source. I am a huge fan of Trevor Noah, a South African born stand-up comedian who is also the host of the American TV news satire program The Daily Show. Over the years Noah has been very Muslim-friendly in his outlook. Hasan Minhaj was a regular contributor to The Daily Show, until recently retiring from it to work on his own show.
However, in a recent episode Noah decided to compare Trump with other politicians around the world, in particular to Khan. The comparison was interesting to say the least. He talked about how both Khan and Trump have similar pasts: both are from privileged families, both went to the best universities, and both had playboy pasts because of their heartthrob status.
I realise the segment, no longer than 5 minutes, is meant to be purely satirical, and perhaps we should just watch it, laugh, and then move on with our lives. Noah does clearly say “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Imran Khan is the brown Trump…I’m saying that Imran Khan is one of many leaders around the world who is following the successful format of the hit show called ‘The Trump Presidency.’” To compare Khan to Trump is a little disingenuous as Khan has been a long-time critic of the American government, and he sees Trump as someone who is presiding over “absolute civilisational decay.”
A more detailed critique has been written by Pakistani journalist Mohammad Nazar Syed, and the clip itself is presented below.
Because he is now the prime minister of Pakistan, many things from his past have resurfaced online. Among the usual crop of historical or embarrassing photos and YouTube clips, there is an article written by Khan nearly 17 years ago that has started trending again. In early 2002 Khan wrote a lengthy article for the Arab News where he described in detail his views on Islam, science, materialism, the east, and the west. It is well a read and is presented below in full. Enjoy!
Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion
Imran Khan, 14 Jan 2002, Arab News
My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.
I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal — the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.
Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.
Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.
Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.
Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.
To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.
However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.
I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.
Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.
However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.
All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?
Well it did not just happen overnight.
Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.
In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.
While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions — two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?
It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines — and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.
Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well-being and needs something more.
Since all morality has its roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.
Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.
There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to develop.
People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.
I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.
The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.
Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.
By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.
I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.
Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.
Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.
What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.
One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.
What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.
Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.
The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.
Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.
If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.