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memri
February 7, 2014 No.
1067

Liberal Pakistani Cartoonist Sabir Nazar Offers Satirical Insights Into Pakistani Mass Consciousness, Challenges Conspiracy Theories And Religious Orthodoxy

By: Tufail Ahmad*


Sabir Nazar's cartoon on Pakistani conspiracy theories (Courtesy: Viewpointonline.net)

Introduction

Over the past few years, Sabir Nazar has emerged as Pakistan's best known cartoonist for drawing a series of cartoons that take a sharply critical look at religious orthodoxy, conspiracy theories, and misinterpretations of current affairs that feed into the Pakistani mass consciousness. Through cartoons and comments posted on the social networking site Facebook, he offers biting insights that turn commonly-held viewpoints and beliefs about Pakistan on their heads.

Born on November 21, 1962, Sabir Nazar is a graduate of Peshawar's Edwardes College and the National College of Arts of Lahore. He is also a painter. From his comments, it emerges that during his college days, Sabir Nazar's art work faced severe opposition from religious groups such as Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.

His cartoons disturb right-wing readers in Pakistani society, while liberal groups widely endorse and distribute his cartoons and comments via social media. This paper is a review mainly of his political comments on Facebook as well as some articles written by him from 2011, when he began posting on Facebook, through 2013.[1] It also reproduces some of his cartoons which could be comprehensible to a foreign audience.

On U.S.'s Use Of Pakistan's Islamic Sharia Law To Extricate CIA Agent Raymond Davis From Murder Case In Lahore: "Shall We Expect Another Sharia-Based Solution Aka Raymond Davis-Style!"

In October 2011, Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba, which has perhaps the most effective organizational network of religious students across Pakistan, organized a convention in Lahore attended by its leaders from different towns. It was reported by an Urdu daily that soon after the convention the IJT members rushed to watch plays at various theaters of Lahore and tickets sold for 200-300 rupees. On October 23, Sabir Nazar posted the comment "connoisseurs of art," accompanying a link to the news story.

On October 29, he posted the following from an article that discussed how maulvis (clerics) have acquired a ubiquitous presence on Pakistani television channels: "Having oneself photographed was considered absolutely haram until recently, not to mention the moving image of celluloid and television screen. Now one hardly finds a TV channel not blessed by the presence of maulvis of all descriptions."

On November 2, 2011, he posted a video link with the following words attributed to Jamaat-e-Islami emir Syed Munawwar Hasan: "There is no major difference between PTI and JI." PTI stands for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, then not a ruling party, of Imran Khan. On the same day, another post from Sabir Nazar attempted to distinguish the language used by U.S. President Barack Obama and PTI leader Imran Khan: "Obama – Yes, we can; Imran Khan – Allah willing, we will."

In 2011, CIA agent Raymond Davis, who had killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, was held in a jail, as the U.S. explored every strategy to gain his release. Despite widespread anti-American anger among Pakistanis, Davis was freed after paying blood money, as permitted under Pakistan's Islamic sharia laws. On November 27, Sabir Nazar commented: "Shall we expect another sharia-based solution aka Raymond Davis-style!"

In 2011, former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani was accused by a businessman of authoring a memo seeking U.S. help to prevent a military takeover. As the Pakistani media, judiciary, and right-wing forces deemed Haqqani guilty before trial, Sabir Nazar's post of January 14, 2012 read: "In Saleem Shahzad's case, commission found no culprits after six months and have already found the culprit in memo case!" Saleem Shahzad was an investigative journalist believed to have been murdered by Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for writing a book and a series of media reports that established that Al-Qaeda had penetrated the military.

On Common Absurdities: "European Tourists Who Come To Al-Absurdistan [Pakistan]… Should Not Drink Or Kiss In Public As That Would Hurt The Sensibilities… But A Ban On The Veil In Europe Is Against Human Rights And Symbolic Of Islamophobia In The West"


A cartoon posted by Sabir Nazar on June 19, 2013 questions Barack Obama's foreign policy

On August 29, 2012, Sabir Nazar authored a satirical article for the liberal newspaper Dawn in which he described Pakistan as "Al-Absurdistan," an Arabized parody to mean the land of absurdities.[2] In the article, he took a look at some of the common conspiracy theories in Pakistani society: "We shall protest against the killings of the Rohingya Muslims of Burma and call OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] to take notice of injustices to Rohingya Muslims, Palestinians, Chechens, Kashmiris, Afghans, and Uighurs. But condemning the killing of Shias in Al-Absurdistan is projecting a negative image of Al-Absurdistan.[3]

"NGOs that receive foreign aid from Western countries (who fund human rights, child education, women's rights), bring a Western agenda into Al-Absurdistan. But NGOs [such as madrassas] that take foreign aid from Eastern countries (who fund sectarian and jihadi outfits) do not bring an Eastern agenda into Al-Absurdistan.[4]

"European tourists who come to Al-Absurdistan shall wear shalwar kameez [loose trouser and shirt worn by Pakistani men], and should not drink or kiss in public as that would hurt the sensibilities of Al-Absurdistanis [i.e. the Pakistanis]. But a ban on the veil in Europe is against human rights and symbolic of Islamophobia in the West."[5]

On September 2, 2012, Sabir Nazar posted a news link on his Facebook wall with the comments: "Jamaat-e-Islami wants hijab made compulsory in constitution of Pakistan." On September 7, he reposted a comment: "The cleric talks of the Koran time and again, but the Koran doesn't talk of clerics even once." In a September 18 post he questioned the clerics' justification of Pakistan's blasphemy laws: "Wasn't the destruction of Bamyan sculptures [by the Taliban] a blasphemy against Buddhism?"

On the issue of Malala Yousafzai, the girls' education activist shot in the head by the Taliban, Sabir Nazar came out openly in her support. On October 17, 2012, he published an article stating: "Just two weeks before the Taliban attacked her, I heard her speech in a conference in Islamabad. I had a presentation just after her and was jittery as I am not a good public speaker. One sentence struck me, when she said, 'one defiant "NO" can break the silence of fear.' I didn't realize then but now I know what she meant. Let's celebrate one girl's defiance and the courage to say 'NO.'"[6]

On October 20, his post took on the jihadis' claim that they defeated the Soviets and Americans in Afghanistan: "Taliban and mujahideen defeated the two superpowers but missed to shoot a girl at close range?"

On Common Pakistani Preferences: "We Want Our Cars And All Other Electronic Appliances At Home To Be Of The Japanese Model, But When It Comes To Laws That Govern Us, We Want Only The Taliban Model"


November 29, 2013: a cartoon showing ingredients of Pakistani consciousness

On November 28, 2012, Sabir Nazar authored an article in which he took aim at the lessons Pakistanis learn from history, especially in this quoted passage about Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who imprisoned his father Shahjahan, of the Taj Mahal fame:

"I have also learnt from history that you can kill all your siblings, imprison your father, kill and imprison your opponents, but you will only be judged for sewing the topis [caps] for your courtiers and writing the holy book [Koran] with your own handwriting. This is practiced in different forms, and we can put this topi [literally cap, but here a conspiracy theory] on the eyes of anyone…."[7]

On December 26, Sabir Nazar reposted a comment from someone else taking a satirical look at the meaning of Millat and Ummah, or the global Islamic nation: "Let's come to Millat then. East Pakistan [now Bangladesh] of the millat refused to live with you. Baluch part of Ummah is voicing separation. Punjabis, Pathans, Mohajirs, Sindhis have no love lost between them. We hate on [the] basis of language as well. We hate sects within Islam as well - Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadis, and hundreds of sects within Sunnis as well. Where the fuck is Millat, except the Millat Fan?"

On December 26, his post cast a look at a common refrain in Pakistan: "Most Pakistanis are peace-loving, but Pakistan is being defamed in the entire world by a small minority. But the most popular name in Pakistan is Osama [after Osama bin Laden]." On January 3, 2013, he posted a comment from his blog: "We want our cars and all other electronic appliances at home to be of the Japanese model, but when it comes to laws that govern us, we want only the Taliban model."

On February 9, 2013, his Facebook wall included a satirical post from someone else under the title "Suicide bombers to go on strike," which stated:

"Muslim suicide bombers in Britain are set to begin a three-day strike on Monday in a dispute over the number of virgins they are entitled to in the afterlife. Emergency talks with Al-Qaeda have so far failed to produce an agreement. The unrest began last Tuesday when Al-Qaeda announced that the number of virgins a suicide bomber would receive after his death will be cut by 25% this February, from 72 to only 60. The rationale for the cut was the increase in recent years of the number of suicide bombings and a subsequent shortage of virgins in the afterlife."

In a post dated April 14, 2013, Sabir Nazar offered a sharp comment on jingoism, extremism, and conspiracy theories that rule the public consciousness: "Pakistan's illiteracy is saving Pakistan. The day Pakistan achieves 90-100% literacy it would be completely transformed into an extremist, jingoistic nation."

On Islamists' Defense Of Veil: "In Defense Of Hijab, Usually Apologists Post A Picture Of Nun As Wearing Hijab; The Question Is Do The Western Women Also Copy That Dress Of Nun? And Do The Ordinary Folks Also Dress Like Their Christian Priests?"


June 13, 2013: Sabir Nawaz took aim at transformation of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

On June 2, 2013, Sabir Nazar reposted a comment from someone else about a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) suicide bomber found to have been uncircumcised and initially dismissed as an Indian Hindu: "A few years ago TTP was uncircumcised Hindu group planted by RAW [Research & Analysis Wing of India]. Now we find out that they are real Pakistani Muslims & we should talk to them." Later, tribal leaders from Waziristan ended the controversy by confirming that children in their area are not circumcised due to lack of doctors.

On July 3, 2013, he posted an image of a burqa-clad woman with birds in a cage on her head, while the bird says: "Cage is not compulsion, but my choice!" In a comment dated August 31, 2013, Sabir Nazar took aim at the rightwing justification of hijab, or veil: "In defense of hijab, usually apologists post a picture of nun as wearing hijab. The question is do the Western women also copy that dress of nun? And do the ordinary folks also dress like their Christian priests? In Pakistan most of the people have adopted mullah's attire. There is no difference between imam masjid [mosque prayer leader] and ordinary religious looking person and yet we say, 'in mulaaon ne Islam na naam bigar diya hai [these Islamic clerics have damaged the name of Islam]?"

On September 18, 2013, he republished someone's comment: "Pakistanis' attitude towards alcohol is like Osama [bin Laden]. You might be hiding it at home but it is customary is to deny that it is in Pakistan." On October 6, his post confronted a major Pakistani narrative against the U.S. drone attacks on militants in Pakistan: "Americans are negotiating with Taliban. We shall also negotiate with Taliban. So Americans are droning Taliban; we shall also drone Taliban."

On October 28, Sabir Nazar posted a comment: "It's time to get even with Oryas and Ansars" – referring to Islamist commentators Maqbool Orya Jan and senior editor Ansar Abbasi, who have led a media campaign to discredit youth icon Malala Yousafzai. On October 23, amid the growing media campaign by right-wing commentators against Malala Yousafzai, Sabir Nazar commented:

"The negative campaign against Malala is not a minor issue. It's a symptom of [the] imminent downfall of our society. Societies are not something that can't be understood. There are certain symptoms of downfall of a society. 1) They burn the books of brightest of their minds. 2) They kill their heroes and their brightest of minds. 3) They blindly worship their own image of superiority. 4) They bring tragedy on themselves by their own decisions. Athens killed its brightest generals or banished them from Athens; killed their own brightest mind Socrates. Germans burnt the books of their brightest of minds and killed or banished all great thinkers from Germany. Do we see any similarity in Pakistan?"

Highlights From Sabir Nazar's Cartoons On Pakistani Current Affairs

On June 29, 2012, Sabir Nazar posted a cartoon on how children are schooled in Pakistan. In the cartoon below, right to left top – alphabet 1 stands for anaar (pomegranate, which is presented as an improvised explosive device), B stands for bomb; P for purdah (veil), T for talwar (sword); right to left below – J for jihad, Ch for chaaqoo (knife); H for halwa (a sweet especially favored by Islamic clerics in Pakistan), Kh for khairat (donation):

On December 7, 2012, his cartoon took aim at how right-wing authors are being taught to Pakistani children through school textbooks with the approval of jihadis, clerics, and the security establishment of Pakistan:

On April 29, 2013, as Pakistan was heading into the next month's elections, Sabir Nazar posted a cartoon that compared "Purana (old) Pakistan" with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Imran Khan's election slogan "Naya (new) Pakistan". In the old Pakistan, a Taliban gunman shoots a secular politician of Awami National Party, while in the new Pakistan, Imran Khan surrenders at the feet of the Taliban:

On July 12, 2013, Sabir Nazar's cartoon aimed at how America bankrolls Pakistan while using funding from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China, and Saudi Arabia, Pakistanis engage in terrorism and think of freeing Muslims from Hindus:

On October 6, 2013, Sabir Nazar posted a cartoon in which Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, whose party shares power in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, advocate peace talks with the Taliban while showing a Pakistani child a light at the end of a tunnel, with the light coming from a bomb:

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC (www.memri.org/sasp)

Endnotes:

[1] Facebook.com/ sabir.nazar.5, accessed December 27, 2013. Sabir Nazar's Facebook posts are both in English and Urdu; here the original English of the posts has been mildly changed for clarity and standardization.

[2] Dawn.com (Pakistan), August 29, 2012.

[3] Dawn.com (Pakistan), August 29, 2012.

[4] Dawn.com (Pakistan), August 29, 2012.

[5] Dawn.com (Pakistan), August 29, 2012.

[6] Dawn.com (Pakistan), October 17, 2012.

[7] Dawn.com (Pakistan), November 28, 2012.