The supporters of former PM Imran Khan have taken his constitutional removal from office very personally. It doesn’t matter if the alleged conspiracy of regime change is based on a journalist’s hypothetical question about bases, or an Othello-like letter is claimed as ‘occular proof.’ Khan’s bluster simply trounces the 2001 phone call that bullied a willing Pakistan into the war on terror. However, Khan and his Musharrafian party members are no counter-revolutionaries, they’re just false radicals.
The PTI’s reactionary rallies are an undeniable testament to Khan’s populism. The anti-state slogans chanted by young, outraged, weeping PTI supporters are similar to those that got Khadim Rizvi indicted by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in 2019, and which earn Baloch students ‘tours’ of the northern areas. Emotional diasporic communities – who do not vote or pay taxes – have threatened to sacrificially burn their Pakistani passports (not their imperialist UK/USA ones).
All this confirms a generational and gendered shift in Pakistan’s political consciousness, but why do the young and women adulate a conservative, incompetent leader who contradicts their own interests?
We evade the analogy of religious-nationalism as fascism but in 1932, Mussolini clearly defined its spiritual connection; “Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law[…] that raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society.”
The first node in the fascist ecosystem is victimhood – a defensive resistance against purported attacks by the West, secularism, imperialism, feminism, and minorities. Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ was considered a defensive act of liberation from an encroaching Jewry. Israeli settlers claim to defend their divinely ordained real-estate from Muslim squatters.
Propaganda from the old playbook of fascism is now replaced by social media algorithms that push fake news, troll and demonise political opponents. Just like artists who underwrote the Nazi regime, Pakistan’s patriotic celebrities have demurred to PTI’s misogyny, bigotry, and censorship of films or journalism. They wave the flag for Khan, underestimating how soon the bull will turn on them
Secondly, religious-nationalists see themselves as incorruptible and superior to their foes. Volunteerism, benevolent acts, cricket, dawa and tableegh have been intersectional recruiting grounds for the PTI. Moral rhetoric is valued over material results, which is why PTI supporters mock governments that build bridges and roads, and cherish dharna performances and grand rhetoric instead.
Third, despite its patriarchal structure, fascism does not deny but mines women’s agency for brutal ends. Participation and complicity of women in war crimes is well-documented from former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and by Da’esh. But the genocidal acts of nearly half a million revolutionary German women of the Third Reich were bone-chilling. Subverting the notion of maternal instinct and innate nurturers, many of ‘Hitler’s furies’ were nurses, child-welfare officers and kindergarten teachers who executed Jews, administered lethal injections and even tortured toddlers.
In 2002, Hindu women participated in the Gujarat pogrom directly, burning down the Muslim-owned tailor shops from where they would get wedding saris and children’s school uniforms stitched, with gas cylinders from their kitchen. And, just like with Islamic feminism, a gendered paradox implicates the politics of Zionist feminists.
Anecdotes connecting sacred geographies and femininity allow patriots to offer themselves as defenders of women, faith and nation. This explains the appeal of revisionist calls for a Riyasat-e-Madinah, defending purdah and the need to end Islamophobia. Borrowing from the template of organised religion, fascism is disseminated from a political pulpit.
Many upper-class Pakistani women report that they “just feel” corruption dissipated under the PTI and offer social audits, like a complimentary upgrade on a PIA flight, as solid evidence of a meritocratic governance. Many clearly deify Khan in prophetic terms.
Propaganda from the old playbook of fascism is now replaced by social media algorithms that push fake news, troll and demonise political opponents. Just like artists who underwrote the Nazi regime, Pakistan’s patriotic celebrities have demurred to PTI’s misogyny, bigotry, and censorship of films or journalism. They wave the flag for Khan, underestimating how soon the bull will turn on them.
Critics of the PTI mock its anti-imperialist claims but not long ago, many shared Khan’s dismissal of “khooni liberals” and his (rightful) protest against drone-warfare and operations at the peak of the War on Terror but just like him, they offered no alternative beyond slogans and platitudes. Just like Khan, such false radicals support sharia for the unwashed masses while benefitting from and careering off sexual, secular and human rights and freedoms for themselves. Paradoxically, they defend the politics of pious women as benign and genuine but dismiss PTI women supporters as victims of false consciousness.
Disinformation, lack of cited evidence and empty posturing allow Khan and paper tiger activists to accuse any opposition as “Mir Jafars,” “imported” or Western, so as to project themselves as true radicals but with no strategic responsibility.
In 2014, the PTI looked like Pakistan’s Tea Party; today, many see it as either revolutionary or fascist. But in fact, it is a pale imitation – rebellious and piously conservative. Those who object to the use of the “religion card” in the recent dangerous game of blasphemy accusations by the Shehbaz government against the former leaders are missing a crucial difference between the politics of religion and piety – something painfully theorised over the past decade. However, Imran Khan has successfully managed to derail the potential invested in piety as a benign alternative.
Descaling the fascist tendencies of the past four years requires the unlikely scenario of a strict separation between state powers, and religion from the state. Instead, the best Pakistan can hope for is some democratic buffer that slows its pace.