In Karachi, you can only hear the distant thunder of the war on terror: the new Taliban bombing our brothers in faith, and the retaliations of America’s Taliban-hunting-toys, bombing more of our brothers in faith. There are frequent warnings that the Taliban are headed toward Karachi; absurdly so, since they are more than a 1000 miles away. But the preachers are already here: the ones wagging their fingers on TV always tend to precede the ones waving their guns, smashing those TVs and bombing poor barbers.
I do worry about the preachers.
A large part of Pakistan is enthralled by this new generation of evangelists. They are there on prime time TV, they thunder on FM radios between adverts for Pepsi and hair removing cream. In the past few years they have established fancy websites with embedded videos; today the mobile phone companies offer their sermons for download right to your telephone. They come suited, they come dressed like characters out of the Thousand and One Nights, they are men and they are women. Some of them even dress like bankers and talk like property agents offering bargain deals in heaven.
I grew up during the time of General Zia, the first evangelist to occupy the Presidency in Pakistan. But even he had the good sense to keep the beards away from prime time television. But the ruthless media barons of today have no such qualms. They have turned religion into a major money-spinner. Pakistan’s economy remains in its endless downwards spiral, but it certainly seems there is a lot of money still to be made in televised preaching.
Mohammed Hanif’s first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was on the longlist for this year’s Man Booker prize and is longlisted for the Guardian First Book award. [HT, JS]