On the Amer Liaquat phenomenon

Amer Liaquat defies the imagination. It’s official now that he is on billboards and bus stop hoardings advertising his very own lawn range, called Aanchal by ALH. The lawn is for women, but the advertisements all have the esteemed doctor’s face on them. His beard looks like it was trimmed by the shoemaker’s elves using very, very small rulers and elf-sized scissors, his teeth are Britney Spears-caliber white, his gaze the same old combination of ingratiating sleazy self-confidence. He exudes the confidence of a man who is rich as Croesus based entirely on the gullible public that adores him. Liaquat has evidently got some secret magic to him. The man has been exposed time and time again as a charlatan, someone who dispenses religious advice and lip-syncs naats in the fruitiest of outfits, laced with a fake tear or two on camera. The minute the camera isn’t recording, he is a foul-mouthed rogue, guffawing and mocking the guests on his show with adolescent aplomb. People have seen videos of him doing it, and yet instead of acknowledging that he is in fact a human being with juvenile interests and a tendency to braggadocio, Liaquat will slick his hair back, widen his eyes and in the plummiest of tones chalk all of this up to a terrible conspiracy against him. It was all smoke and mirrors, he explains to his adoring public, the wicked cunning of people with computers who cut-and-pasted to defame Liaquat.
And everyone believes him, and shakes their head and says haw hai. Poor misunderstood ALH, being shamed before everyone, having to apologize for the dirty computer nerds out to get him. Then they tune right back into his morning show, his Ramzan show, his Aalim Online, his whatever show where he stuffs mangoes into people’s mouths and still gets to keep his job. The man has obviously hypnotized legions of viewers into thinking he is the best thing on television since Zubeida Apa, and trumping the fairness-soap hawking desi Martha Stewart is a feat-and-a-half indeed.
How does the ALH phenomenon happen, though? We grew up with Tariq Aziz and his most excellent game-show-host breathless spiel about winning a microwave for getting X or Y question correct, and the rhythmic clapping to the Casio keyboard as the happy victor jogged down the Alhamra steps to claim his prize. It was good old-fashioned fun, without bawd, or fancy green-screened minarets in the background. Nobody sang fake songs and everyone seemed to have a good time. Evidently popular standards for entertainment have changed, and audiences want more than just kitchen appliances. Shows like Hasb-e-Haal, starring the pithy Punjabi wit of one Mr. Azizi, are wildly popular, but you don’t see Azizi selling you fabric, only the occasional Osaka battery.
Amer Liaquat has evolved into a lifestyle, a brand name that wants to sell you the best of both worlds: you can be religious and fashionable! You can carry your deen and duniya with you simultaneously, and Azizi can’t hold a candle to that. Yahoo! Callooh! Callay! All you need to do is tune in to Inaam Ghar every Friday and Saturday, the ad for which says “alhamdulillah, inaam jo dil jeet lay” on doctor sahib’s official website. The lawn is described as being representative of a mother and sister’s aanchal (apparently no other woman has one), and “helps in veiling things that cannot be hid otherwise”. This is meant to be “very uplifting for the women of Pakistan”. So now you needn’t feel guilty about buying designer lawn that has no spiritual benefit, it’s ALH to the rescue, providing you affordable and high quality lawn to cover your modesty with! Cue the Casio keyboard, and trot down to claim your most excellent prize, morally justifiable fashion!
Us second and third generation Pakistanis have it bad. We lack the pride and conviction of the original, first lot and thanks the muddying of our intellectual, cultural and moral waters, we now have absolutely nothing to hold onto for an identity other than religion and consumerism. Two hundred new lawn brands have been launched this summer, the shopping malls keep steadily encroaching on our skylines and the underpasses keep eating up our trees to accommodate our cars. If you drive past Fortress Stadium on a weekend, you’ll find it choked with men and women turned out in their weekend best, clutching their children for an evening of window-shopping, ice cream cones and a bit of Joyland. Everyone is out to have a good time, all the time. We don’t really care about the cyber crime bill, the muzzling of freedom of speech, the environment, what the army is up to. But what we do care about is wanting to appear virtuous. We care about morally policing everyone around us, which is why people like Amer Liaquat are so popular. They pander to our slack-jawed, vacuous desire to be perpetually entertained, and they slap some Arabic onto it to legitimize the entire process. It isn’t enough to be Jerry Springer, who never said he was anything but a trailer-trash exploiting talk show host who made money by making them look ridiculous. In Pakistan we prefer the hypocrisy of dressing Jerry Springer in an embellished kurta and a beard as he laughs his way to the bank.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore

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