Reporter’s Notebook: The Qadri Supporter

Jan 2013

There is more to the story of Qadri than the selfless preacher who returned home to save his motherland. That, however, does not negate the need to understand The Qadri Supporter.

So, here’s an attempt to put a face to the faceless masses. During two short visits–one, on the evening of Qadri’s arrival, and the second, the morning after–I met the schoolgirl from Sheikhupura and her Minhaj ul Quran mother, (heard about) the businessman from Kuwait with the extensive transport business, the retired government bureaucrat, the driver from Muzaffargarh, the Rawalpindi doctor, a unemployed 20-something year old from Mandi Bahauddin, and the BSc student from the International Islamic University sitting next to her friend with the MBA.

Here are some shots taken from the dharna (sit-in).

It would be unfair to draw any conclusions from a handful of conversations, but here’s an initial observation: You can’t help but ask them what the difference is between Tahir ul Qadri and Imran Khan… Here’s another one: Equating the two sets of supporters is still a mistake.

Here’s a sketch of my initial observations (emphasis on sketch–1-5 remind me of Khan supporters).

1. Anti-corruption discourse. And how the individually corrupt politician (more than, say, structural inequality) is the main driver behind inflation, gas shortages, power outages and violence. The discourse seems creepily similar to rhetoric adopted by the Pakistan Army to legitimize coups against civilian rule. Remove a handful of corrupt politicians at the top (in 90 days, says Khan), and bring in the noble soldier to save the day–woopidoo, problem solved.

2. Upwardly mobile, lower-middle to middle class. Their kids go to public, Islamic or cheaper private universities. Many seemed to have middle class, professional, wage-earner jobs (teacher, doctor, bureaucrat)–some at the top were made-it-themselves businessmen. Those who were drivers, housewives, or laborers had children sent to public schools for the first time.

3. “The Knight in Shining Armour”/Something New. Qadri, and Khan, are pure, uncorrupt, and they’ll save us all. They’re new, we should give them a chance. (The unquestioned loyalty is unsettling. Here’s some academic lingo: makes them seem like the objects, not the subjects, of liberation).

4. Army soft spot. Supporters agree with Qadri, who want army intervention in elections, and Khan, who spends most of his time railing against politicians, and way too little time criticizing army violence in the tribal areas  (glaringly obvious during Tank speech) or Balochistan.

5. The God-fearing patriotThey reside in that comfortable space between modernity and conservatism.

6. More semi-urban, than urban. Most come from second-tier cities–you won’t find many Lahoris, Karachiites or Islamabadis in this crowd. Multan, Sheikhupura and Muzzafargarh is a more common sight.

7. The Pope has come. Qadri is more than Khan–he’s not just a good guy, he’s almost God-sent. He’s a Shaykh-ul-Islam, and that means he is almost pope-like. He doesn’t speak, he preaches. It’s sermons, not mere speeches. Very masjit feel.

8. Still outside politics. Khan’s hands have gotten dirty (he entered politics). The most oft-cited explanation for not supporting Imran Khan: He’s compromised with the powers that be.

9. It stays in the family. Inherited membership.

10. Socially conservative–with a rationalized take on religion. Obvious point. Lots of modern arab veils (tightly bound around the face), and an almost Al-Huda-like feel. Mom’s still have loose-bound chadors, but they’re quickly being replaced by the hijabs and niqabs. Anecdotal personal experience tells me that’s women who own their religiosity–choice plays a bigger role.

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