The dangers of Amir Liaquat
There is a tendency to treat the purveyors of bombastic outrage with patronising contempt; only an utter fool, the argument goes, would actually believe that a massive wall could end illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States, or that the recent US elections were characterised by widespread voter fraud. Therefore, when Donald Trump says these things, the anger that erupts over his comments if often tempered by the notion that his rhetoric is that of the ignorant and the uninformed, unlikely to survive or gain traction once exposed to the light of logic and reason.
The same can be said of the odious Amir Liaquat, whose show on Bol News was banned by PEMRA earlier this week after he engaged in a long and frightening campaign against Salman Haider and the other bloggers who went missing at the start of the year. Repeating unverified accusations of blasphemy and irresponsible allegations of treason, Amir Liaquat felt no compunction in calling for the death of the bloggers and their supporters in civil society and the media, inciting his audience to talk matters into their own hands if necessary.
PEMRA’s decision to force his show off the air was the responsible thing to do; after all, it was Amir Liaquat’s hate speech against Ahmadis that was linked to fatal attacks on members of that community in 2008 and again in 2014. While the trolls on social media have been quick to attack so-called “liberal fascists” for their alleged double standards, arguing that Amir Liaquat’s right to free speech is being curtailed, the fact is that there is a big difference between airing an opinion and urging people to visit death and violence upon members of a particular sect or religion; no society tolerates incitement to violence, and there is no moral equivalence between criticising dogma or state policy and calling for such critics to be murdered in cold blood. That this distinction is so difficult for many people to understand is troubling in its own right.
As Amir Liaquat’s career on television has repeatedly shown, whether it is hosting panel discussions with religious scholars or game shows with members of the public, this is a man who is driven by an unceasing desire for ever greater ratings and popularity. No stunt is too inane to enact and no statement is too outrageous to utter in the pursuit of this agenda. When necessarily, Amir Liaquat has been more than willing to shed one persona for another, blithely reinventing and contradicting himself in his attempts to adapt to changed circumstances. Whether it is after inciting hatred against minorities or questioning the military establishment, Amir LIaquat is flexible enough to put on a smile, retract his statements, and do whatever else it is his paymasters require as penance.
These are not the words or actions of an ideologue; Amir Liaquat may or may not genuinely believe what he says, but he certainly understands the value of exploiting opportunities as and when they arise. Hosting a brand new show on a brand new channel, and fresh from a humiliating and chastening stay with the Rangers in Karachi, Amir Liaquat knew that a guaranteed way to raise his own profile and that of his channel would be to confirm the worst prejudices of his audience. Much as he might like to portray himself as a champion of the oppressed and marginalised, Amir Liaquat has simply picked the shortest route to success by punching down and attacking ‘liberals’, a category of people in Pakistan who enjoy a position in the public imagination somewhere between child molesters and politicians. That his assertions are false and unverified, his allegations dangerous, and his speech inflammatory, is beside the point; Amir Liaquat knows how to rile up an audience, and really does not care what the effects are as long as his ratings are as high as his remuneration.
That Amir Liaquat is a fraud and a charlatan is a matter of public record. While he continues to insist on the use of the prefix ‘Dr.’ before his name, reflecting the small-minded and petty obsession with such purely symbolic matters of form that often betrays the presence of deep-rooted insecurities, his academic ‘degrees’ are nothing more than worthless scraps of paper sent to him by a diploma mill in Spain. As a viral leaked video from 2011 demonstrates, Amir Liaquat is a very different person when the cameras are not rolling, interspersing discussions of religion with lewd jokes and innuendo, laughing at the misfortunes of the people calling into his shows, and swearing like a sailor.
These indiscretions and others are not, in and of themselves, a problem. Amir Liaquat is free to call himself whatever he likes and act however he wants. It only becomes an issue when he, like so many other hypocrites like him, takes it upon himself to become the arbiter of public morality, and uses his fame and his privilege to enrich and promote himself at the deadly expense of those he targets with hatred and bile. To dismiss him as a fatuous fool would be a mistake; he knows exactly what he is doing and should be constantly called out for it.