Saturday, May 28, 2005


Broken record Victor Hanson is at it again, decrying those horrible "elites" who live only to ride down America. Matt Welch did a good job a few weeks ago of unpacking the absurdity of a tenured professor and Hoover Institution fellow like Hanson undertaking a jihad against privileged "elites," who Hanson defines, as far as I can tell, as anyone who both disagrees with and makes more money than him.

Anyway, here's Vic:
Former cricket-star-turned-Pakistani-politician Imran Khan in some ways jumpstarted the Newsweek-induced frenzy when in a May 6 press conference he demanded an apology for the alleged slight to the Koran. "This is what the U.S. is doing," Khan boomed, "desecrating the Koran." His mischaracterization, based on a lie, was then beamed across the Middle East — and, presto, Mr. Khan got the anti-American outburst he apparently wanted.

Khan may have made his fortune and name in the British tabloids as a cricket star and international playboy of the London salons, a lifestyle that had strong affinities with the West rather than the madrassas. But now he is back in Pakistan crafting a political career and catering to the Islamists, even though religious extremism is antithetical to what allowed him to succeed and prosper abroad.

Yet this same demagogue earlier urged Hindu extremists to remain calm during a recent cricket match between India and Pakistan. After all, religious extremism is valuable to beat up the West and the United States — but not to the point that such fervor might endanger playing a Western sport amid frenzied Hindus. Left unsaid is that there is no place for an Imran Khan in the world of the Taliban, where soccer stadiums were used to lynch moderate Muslims, not enrich pampered athletes.

Also left unsaid is the fact that Khan wasn't beating up "the West" in any sense, he was quite understandably expressing outrage at reports of U.S. interrogators desecrating the Koran. One doesn't really have to be a religious extremist to be offended by this. I'm not a religious extremist, I'm not even particularly religious aside from my acknowledgement of Paul as the Greatest Beatle, and I'm offended by it.

Khan may or may not have been acting opportunistically, but there doesn't seem to be anything particularly demagogic in his remarks. His comments at the press conference fit neatly into his longstanding critique of the U.S.'s war on terror, and of the Musharraf government as a tool of the United States. Even if Hanson's charges of demagoguery were accurate, and Khan were using the Koran-flushing story purely for political gain, Hanson's canned indignation is still ridiculous given that our own George W. Bush is certainly not above using events to score points with a religious extremist constituency. Indeed, Bush has, at every possible opportunity, used 9/11 and the war on terror to increase his own political power, to the constant applause of people like Hanson.

(I would also be remiss not to point out the further symmetry here in Khan's being a wealthy party boy who found religion, cleaned up, and went into politics. This breaks down, though, when you consider that Khan actually earned his own money.)

Hendrik Hertzberg is rather more lucid on the significance of Imran Khan:

Khan is an Islamic populist, not exactly a rarity in that part of the world, but with a difference. Several differences, in fact. He is, first of all, a wealthy sports celebrity—a global cricket star for two decades—and a national hero not only for that but also because he built his country’s first cancer hospital. He is a graduate of Oxford, and so thoroughly Westernized that his private life is fodder for the tabloids. After he laid down his cricket bat, he became increasingly devout, and in 1996 he founded his own political party. He is its only member of parliament, but his voice is listened to in Pakistan and beyond. Initially a supporter of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s President, he now attacks him as an "American puppet." Khan says he wants Pakistanis to be America’s "friends, but not lackeys." He has no sympathy with terrorism or dictatorship. He has even suggested that only democratically elected governments should be allowed to vote at the United Nations. In other words, he is pretty nearly the beau ideal of the sort of Muslim leader we want, and need, on "our" side.

What conservatives like Hanson seem unable or unwilling to grasp is that Islam is and will continue to be a major part of Middle Eastern and Asian politics, and thus they can't see actual democratic change when it's staring them in the face. The riots, and injuries and deaths which resulted, are lamentable, of course, and it is the hope and goal of democratic development in the region to see the sort of passion which powered those riots cooled and channelled into the political process through liberal democratic institutions. This is precisely the process in which Khan is engaged, and American conservatives have nothing but venom for him.

I'm not particularly a fan of populism myself, either in Pakistan or in the U.S., but I at least have the sense to recognize that the existence of political debate and dissent in an Islamic country like Pakistan is a positive thing. But no, as far as Hanson is concerned, any leader who dares challenge the policies of Bush, whatever that leader's democratic credentials, must be immediately labeled an "elite" or "demagogue," or both, and placed on the Enemies List, thus corroborating Khan's charge that the U.S. doesn't want democrats, it wants lackeys.

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