Hey, Trevor. Thanks for thinking of Pakistan. When your book Born a Crime was published, we listened to the audiobook as a family. We fell in love with your voice and trenchant critique of the racist structures and culture that ravage people’s lives. An international voice in comedy! We celebrated your arrival on the Daily Show. We followed your satirical commentary on Trump’s Islamophobic policies, and cheered you on. Any time we needed a dose of sanity laced with good humor – in brilliantly mimicked accents! – we could turn to the Daily Show. Until this week. Did you just need some filler since there wasn’t much else to speak about? Did your staff fail to research this filler, write DR SHABANA MIR and JUNAID S. AHMAD.
And before anything else is said, if you think this is about ‘hurt feelings’ of a country you’ve mocked…then, sorry to say this, get a life.
In a segment on Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, you argued that Khan was the equivalent of Pakistan’s Trump. You used an image that depicted Khan in Gulf Arab garb (hello, we’re in South Asia; I thought world geography was kind of your thing), leaning and gazing coyly up at Trump (um, he’s actually opposed to Trump and thinks of himself as the opposite of that man. When asked, Imran Khan said his unwavering affinity was with Bernie Sanders). In your image, Trump is dressed in his usual suit: why does the US president get to be his normal self and the Pakistani PM doesn’t? But this only reflects how the segment goes, as you twist and cherry-pick stuff from Imran Khan’s life, past and present, to fit him into a Trump image. It’s a botched job, unworthy of your usual comedic standards.
In a triumph of the democratic process, the Pakistani people just elected Imran Khan. Dear Trevor, if you knew something of our history of three US-supported military dictatorships, you’d give us a lot more credit for exercising our choice via a popular youth movement. Is Trump a choice of the youth (or the sane and decent) in the same way? Come on, Trevor, wake up and read a book.
Next, you used a very short clip from Imran Khan’s sexy youthful days and his 1970s bedroom. You juxtaposed it with Trump’s present-day New York City apartment. How desperate is that? Maybe try finding a present-day image for Imran Khan just like you found a present-day image for Trump? But then this Orientalist exercise wouldn’t work so well, would it? If you’d done some research, you would know that the thrust of Imran’s entire campaign has been to tackle the elites who have only betrayed and robbed ordinary Pakistanis. Elitism and feudal culture have been the name of the game in Pakistan for decades. Khan has always denounced this pomp and circumstance, and in a historic step, has refused to live in the luxurious Prime Minister house. He’d rather make it into an educational institute. Did you know that? If you knew it, would you use that fact in your segment?
Then Trevor, you used clips from news journalists claiming Imran contradicts himself in the same speech. Which speech? How did he contradict himself? Did you listen to his first speech as PM and his call for economic equality and for peace in the region? Or did you just go with western journalists and their claims? A five second google search would have shown you how Khan has generously given his time for hundreds of interviews with the Western media since he entered politics. See if you find any inconsistency in terms of the two core messages he has emphasized for decades: a) Pakistanis are victims of ruthless elitist exploitation and deserve social justice, an equitable health and educational system, fairness under the law, and complete transparency and accountability in government; and b) that the ‘war on terror’ and the military solution (with US drones, of course), is not going to solve anything. Pakistanis are astounded by the inability of virtually all of Western mainstream media to have a rational conversation with him when he knowledgeably speaks on how to seriously tackle the fiasco in Afghanistan and the spillover into Pakistan, and when he speaks of political solutions that rest on developing highly underdeveloped areas.
Maybe that reminded you of Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ comment during his campaign? And Trump certainly did drain it: now only billionaires and generals are given any voice.
You then go on to juxtapose Khan’s popularity and support with Trump’s MAGA crowd. You use Trump’s smug arrogance as a parallel for Imran’s grateful acknowledgement of the support he has been receiving for years in his social and political campaigns.
Come on, Trevor. Have you been in the US too long? Your international cosmopolitanism and political acumen were part of your charm. Are you turning into a regular parochial, provincial American who only sees cheap copies of America all over the world? Can you only make sense of brown people through the lens of America?
Imran Khan and his party, PTI, have many, many flaws. We could start on them right now. But you know what stops us? People like you, might use us in your next poorly-conceptualized segment, pulled out of any context whatsoever. Actually, correction: a broad context has already been laid out for Americans for years: Pakistan is the ‘most dangerous country on earth’, a land of terrorists and nuclear bombs, etc.
Trevor, did you just arrive at the Pakistan-bashing party? Haven’t you been listening for the past seventeen years to the bellicose rhetoric emerging from one shady, warmongering think-tank after the other, equipped with experts on ‘terrorism’ and ‘Islamic extremism’. We thought you knew what most progressives know about them: that they are pure charlatans on the payroll of various other lobbies in DC and the Gulf.
So it’s precisely journalists and commentators like you that muzzle critical Pakistanis like us, who are sick and tired of western (yes, you are now talking just like a westerner, not an African; you’re going to have to make Trevor great again somehow) observers who malign Pakistan at every opportunity. And the only ‘natives’ you cite are the ones who seem to concede the ‘backwardness’ of their people.
Trevor, you raise Imran Khan’s profile and erase ordinary Pakistanis who have been campaigning relentlessly in villages, towns, cities, over the past two decades for him. It’s truly heartbreaking to see the ignorance of how historic a milestone it is for Khan’s party to win. You didn’t even show any awareness of how this new party and figure has finally shaken up the two party duopoly and the other parties rigidly entrenched In Pakistan’s political landscape. I guess to you they’re all just funny brown people running around in their Gulf Arab garb doing funny things like voting.
Khan’s agenda has been to challenge the pharaohs and plutocrats of Pakistan, and even before achieving the pinnacle of those efforts today, he has quite fearlessly tackled the major family dynasties that treat Pakistan as their personal fiefdom.
Trevor, you silence Pakistanis’ voices by ridiculing their choices. Our main goal right now is to watch this government get to work, and to hold it accountable. You (and all of Western mainstream commercial media) have burdened us even further by foolishly, ignorantly, and unnecessarily targeting a political leader whom you seem to not know anything about.
Maybe since cricket is not played in the US, you may be forgiven for not knowing the man and his history. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, he is very well known as the captain who led Pakistan’s cricket team to victory in the the World Cup in 1992. Since then, he has been involved various philanthropic and social welfare initiatives, including building a charitable cancer hospital (named after his late mother) for poor Pakistanis. In short, public figures so clean are a rarity in Pakistan.
How ridiculous is it for you to malign Pakistan’s new government for Khan’s sexiness forty years ago? How is this even relevant? You change the subject, while we Pakistanis and the world are actually focusing on the issues that matter – issues that we thought matter to you, too.
I guess you were trying to focus on personality traits of the two individuals. But there has to be some moral-ethical insight that can distinguish between a politician who ruthlessly wants to tackle corruption and inequality and ensure social justice through a welfare state (we don’t know if he’ll do it, but that’s what his campaign was about), versus a politician whose entire campaign rested on hate and bigotry toward Blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims. Imran Khan claims he will end corruption and income inequality. Basically, the exact opposite of Trump.
Not to beat this to death Trevor, but it is truly disgraceful to compare this articulate and coherent man with an excellent reputation of philanthropy and incorruptibility to an unprincipled con-artist whose narcissism is only surpassed by his ugly policies that rip families apart and make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Sorry if this hurts your feelings, but it’s the truth.
Ultimately, Trevor, what you have done is joined virtually the entire mainstream commercial media in villainising a guy before the final results were even in. Do you ever ask yourself why the establishment media does that now and then with newly-elected leaders at times?
Here’s one possible explanation that may make sense to you, being from the Global South and all: It’s because the bloody idiots (Pakistanis, Venezuelans, Palestinians) elect ‘the wrong people’ – the ones who are not as docile and obedient to Western dictation, who do not dance to their every tune, and who actually have the brains and courage to speak back to imperial diktat.
Like many of his supporters, we are more than unhappy that he has not addressed reactionary religion. We demand that he challenge rampant intolerance. Politicians have pandered to this legacy of sectarian fundamentalism for years, and it was strengthened even by Bhutto in the 1970s, who gave in to Maudoodi’s anti-Ahmadi demands. This legacy was strengthened by American militarism, exported to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s via Pakistan. The remedy is going to take time and a serious campaign, and we will be watching Imran closely.
But he’s not Trump.
We want to see our government address poverty, minority rights, education, and health. We want to see Imran Khan do better on gender. He’ll be hearing from us on women’s rights, after those ridiculous comments he made regarding feminism. But it is hard to find a male politician almost anywhere who gets it right on gender. Imran Khan, like most politicians worldwide, is a product of patriarchy and will be criticized. But he’s not Trump.
When our new Prime Minister siphons off millions (or even hundreds of thousands) to offshore bank accounts, when he does nothing to improve the status of the poor and the bulk of the population, when he ignores the momentum for gender justice and inclusive pluralism in his country, or when he ignores abuses by the state or the military against his own people or others – basically when he becomes like the political leaders that both Pakistan and other countries of the Global South (and North) have been cursed with, then by all means, mock him as much as you want. We Pakistanis will support you.
If Imran Khan fails on those counts, Trevor, please, please, please satirise him. Ridicule the hell out of him.
But give the guy a chance. He’s devoted the past 20 years of his life full-time to politics, and his political breakthrough of the incredibly difficult Pakistani political-feudal-patronage scheme is truly remarkable. Most of us could have never imagined it.
But this segment only tells us you’re out to get Pakistan, or you’re as careless as the others who believe what they hear about Pakistan. You really should have taken the time to do at least a one-page (even half a page) to see what this new guy is about.
We expected better from you, Trevor. I’m not sure if you have this tradition, but for this episode – an apology would be in order.
Dr. Shabana Mir is Associate Professor of Anthropology at American Islamic College, Chicago, and the author of Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity, published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Junaid S. Ahmad is Secretary-General of the International Movement to Create a Just World (JUST-Kuala Lumpur); a PhD candidate in decolonial thought at the School of Sociology, University of Leeds; a fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA-Istanbul); and the Director of the Center for Global Studies at the School of Advanced Studies, University of Management and Technology (UMT), Lahore, Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons