Dec 22, 2008

Deconstructing Samad Khurram - Fasi Zaka

Deconstructing Samad Khurram
The Pakistan report card

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Fasi Zaka

The incident of George Bush evading enemy fire in Iraq--shoes thrown by journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi--reminds me of Samad Khurram refusing a certificate from the US ambassador to protest American policy on Pakistan.

An attempt was made by the political right in Pakistan to hijack Samad Khjurram's action as a form of the vapid anti-Americanism they champion. But Samad is not prone to oversimplification of one well publicised action. He was known far beyond, and for longer, than his protest that became a media sensation in this country. He quickly became anathema to the very people who championed him for their own narrow causes: rightwing reactionaries, the religious right and the forces against democracy. And so, these very people have been active in vilifying him wherever they can.

I first got to know Samad through the events of the second emergency proclaimed by Musharraf. I had read in the foreign press about some student who had set up a blog to highlight the situation.

Eventually a group of students contacted me to invite me to one of their meetings. I went thinking I could play the role of elder statesman with some advice. How wrong I was. The students were far savvier than I was. Their organisation and commitment was unbelievable. At the helm amongst several others was Samad Khurram, who had an immense clarity of vision. At the same meeting a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf official was present, and I remember Samad telling him that they were not interested in being part of a political party.

His commitment to non-violence, democracy, fair play and inclusiveness impressed me immensely. Despite Samad's centrality in the movement at the time, I did not sense any impending delusions of grandeur. Samad, and all those involved at the time, put themselves at considerable risk, even lived like vagabonds for a while to avoid the spooks tailing them.

Of course, when Samad refused the award from the American ambassador his background in the pro-democracy movement was not known to most of the pro-military nationalists who took him on without his consent as a hero.

Ever since then he has been accused of hypocrisy. They claim if Samad had true integrity he would have refused his scholarship at Harvard. What they chose to ignore was that Samad was already at Harvard for sometime when his school in Islamabad decided to recognise him for his achievement with a certificate. It was at a prize distribution ceremony that he refused to take the certificate of his school from the US ambassador who was the chief guest. What he did was not anti-American, but something to highlight the illegal strikes in our country and a history of the USA supporting dictatorships in Pakistan. After all, Harvard is a university whose ideals reflect Samad's, they awarded the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry a Medal of Freedom, they even gave Samad a semester off so he could pursue his activism in Pakistan. His scholarship wasn't funded by the Bush administration, nor the US military, but by the alumni of the university.

Second, he has also been accused by many of being utterly malicious to those who disagree with him and claim that Harvard instigated an inquiry against him for harassing via mail people who were against the lawyers' movement. Nothing of the sort has happened, yet it has gained currency only because it has been repeated so many times. Of course there is also the issue of his closeness to Aitizaz Ahsan, but the slavishness people accuse him of is not true. After the copout of Aitizaz on his continued membership of the PPP despite it being the very party that is active in preventing a free judiciary, Samad did take him to task and later felt satisfied with the explanation to his queries.

I just hope that we choose to see Muntadhar al-Zeidi someday as more than the sum of a shoe flung, and also the same for Samad Khurram as someone Pakistani democrats and people around the world can be proud of.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@yahoo. com

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