Native Orientalists at the Daily Times

The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the foremost minds of the ruled class, the more stable and dangerous becomes its rule.

Karl Marx

A few days back, I received a ‘Dear friends’ email from Mr. Najam Sethi, ex editor-in-chief of Daily Times, Pakistan, announcing that he, together with several of his colleagues, had resigned from their positions in the newspaper.

In his email, Mr. Sethi thanked his ‘friends’ for their "support and encouragement…in making Daily Times a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’" Wistfully, he added, "I hope it will be able to live up to your expectations and mine in time to come."

I am not sure why Mr. Sethi had chosen me for this dubious honor. Certainly, I did not deserve it. I could not count myself among his ‘friends’ who had given "support and encouragement" to the mission that DT had chosen for itself in Pakistan’s media and politics.

Contrary to its slogan, it was never DT’s mission to be a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’ The DT had dredged its voice from the colonial past; it had only altered its pitch and delivery to serve the new US-Zionist overlords. Many of the writers for DT aspire to the office of the native informers of the colonial era. They are heirs to the brown Sahibs, home-grown Orientalists, who see their own world (if it is theirs in any meaningful sense) through the lens created for them by their spiritual mentors, the Western Orientalists.

Pakistanis had failed to seize sovereign control over their country at its birth. In August 1947, the departing British had few worries about losing their colonial assets in Pakistan. They were quite confident that the brown Sahibs, who were succeeding them, would not fail in their duty to protect these assets. Within a few years, these brown Sahibs had strapped the new country to the wheels of the neocolonial order. Without effective resistance from below –” from intellectuals, workers, students and peasants –” these neocolonial managers have been free to cannibalize their own people as long as they could also keep their masters happy.

This is not a cri de coeur – only a diagnosis of Pakistan’s misery. It is a misery that only Pakistanis can remedy once they make up their minds to terminate the system that has castrated them for more than six decades. The best time to do this was in the first decades after their country’s birth, when the Western imperialist grip was still weak, and, with courage and organization, Pakistanis could have set their newly free country on the course of irreversible independence.

Grievously, Pakistanis had failed at this task. Pakistan’s elites produced few men and women of conscience, who could transcend their class origins to mobilize workers and peasants to fight for their rights. More regrettably, Pakistan’s emerging middle classes have been too busy aping the brown Sahibs, stepping over each other to join the ranks of the corrupt elites. As a result, Pakistan’s elites have grown more predatory, refusing to establish the rule of law in any sphere of society.

Ironically, the enormous success of Edward Said’s Orientalism, his devastating critiquing of the West’s hegemonic discourse on the ‘Orient,’ has deflected attention from the recrudescence of a native Orientalism in much of the Periphery in the last few decades. Its victory in Pakistan is nearly complete, where it has been led by the likes of Ahmad Rashid, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Najam Sethi, Khaled Ahmad, Irfan Hussain, Husain Haqqani, and P. J. Mir. Not a very illustrious lot, but they are the minions of Western embassies and Western-financed NGOs in Pakistan.

In the euphoria of Edward Said’s success, left intellectuals have nearly forgotten that the West’s servant classes in the Periphery produce an indigenous Orientalism. I refer here to the coarser but more pernicious Orientalism of the brown Sahibs, who are free, behind their rhetoric of progress, to denigrate their own history and culture. A few of these native Orientalists are deracinated souls, who put down their own people for failing, as they see it, to keep up with the forward march of history. Most, however, are opportunists, lackeys, or wannabee lackeys, eager to join the native racketeers who manage the Periphery for the benefit of outside powers.

In the closing years of the colonial era, the nationalists had kept a watchful eye on native informers. In recent decades, as their power has grown several fold, this treasonous class has received little attention from left circles. Post-colonial critics continue to produce learned books and essays on the language, structures, tools, intricacies and even the arcana of Orientalism, but they pay scant attention to native Orientalism. These critics prefer to concentrate their firepower on the ‘far enemy,’ the Western protagonists of Orientalism. Perhaps, they imagine that the native Orientalists, the ‘near enemy,’ will vanish once the ‘far enemy’ has been discredited. In truth, the ‘near enemy’ has grown enormously even as the ‘far enemy’ treads more cautiously.

Quite early, writing in the 1950s, Franz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth, had sounded the alarm about the treachery latent in the ‘national bourgeoisie’ poised to step into the shoes of the white colonials and settlers in Africa. About this underdeveloped bourgeoisie, he writes, "its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the mask of neocolonialism."

"Because it is bereft of ideas," Fanon writes, "because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe."[1] Although Fanon was not writing about Pakistan, no truer words –” nothing more prescient –” could have been written about the brown Sahibs who have managed US-Zionist interests in Pakistan.

To return to the DT, surely some Pakistani –” moved by the instinct of self-preservation –” could have produced at least one damning monograph documenting the methods that this new flagship of native Orientalism has employed to advance the strategic interests of the US-Zionist confederates in Pakistan and the Islamicate. Oddly, you are unlikely to find even a few articles that shine the spotlight on the DT’s unabashed advocacy of the US-Zionist agenda in Pakistan.

The DT was launched in April 2002, simultaneously from Lahore and Karachi, just a few months after the United States had invaded and occupied Afghanistan, with indispensable logistic support from Pakistan. Was this timing a mere coincidence? Or was the launching of an aggressively pro-American and pro-Zionist newspaper, led by a team of mostly US-trained editors and columnists, an imperative of the new geopolitics created by the Pakistan’s mercenary embrace of the US-Zionist global war against terrorism?

Coincidence or not, the DT has served its masters with verve. Its pages have carried countless editorials justifying Pakistan’s induction into the US led war against Afghanistan, under the cover of the attacks of September 11. The editors and columnists at DT have routinely excoriated the patriots who have opposed Pakistan’s surrender to US-Zionist demands, as naïve sentimentalists unaware of the tough demands of realpolitik. Endlessly, they have argued that Pakistan –” with the world’s sixth largest population, a million-strong military, and an arsenal of nuclear weapons –” can save itself only through eager prostration before the demands of foreign powers.

In advocating national surrender, these native Orientalists boldly and unashamedly declared that Pakistan’s elites draw their power from Washington, London and Tel Aviv, not from the will of the people of Pakistan. It is an insult that has since been sinking, slowly but surely, into the national psyche of Pakistanis.

Taking advantage of what appeared to be –” after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 –” the irreversible US assault against the sovereignty of Islamicate nations, Pakistan’s ruling elites openly began broaching the need to recognize Israel. Once again, the native Orientalists at DT were leading the charge, arguing that Pakistan could advance its national interests by recognizing Israel. Their rationale was pathetic in its naïveté. Grateful to Pakistan, the brown Sahibs argued, the powerful Zionist lobby would neutralize the Indian lobby’s machinations against Pakistan in the United States. Only determined opposition from nationalists in Pakistan defeated this treacherous move.

When resistance against US occupation of Afghanistan gained momentum, once again the DT was reading its master’s lips. Shut down the madrasas, they demanded; and, without delay, attack the Pakistanis in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who were supporting the Afghan resistance. Repeated US and Pakistani bombings of the resistance groups in Fata, which has killed thousands of civilians, called forth new Taliban factions that have been attacking military and civilian targets in Pakistan. With barely concealed glee, the DT cheers when the Pakistan military carries its war deeper into the country’s towns and villages.

In 2007, when the lawyers in Pakistan took to the streets to demand the restoration of the Chief Justice sacked by the military dictator, the DT did not support them. Instead, it defended the sacking, and repeatedly made the case for a ‘gradual transition’ to civilian rule in Pakistan. A civilian government, they were afraid, might not be as compliant to US pressures as Pakistan’s military rulers.

When elections became unavoidable, the United States and Pakistan’s generals worked on a plan to bring to power the pro-American Benazir Bhutto, the exiled corrupt leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. At US prodding, President Musharraf passed an ordinance withdrawing all criminal cases against the leadership of the PPP. With luck, the US plan succeeded. The openly pro-American PPP followed General Musharraf into power.

Space allows us to list only a few egregious examples of the Orientalist mindset on display in the pages of the DT. As the paper’s chief native Orientalist, Khaled Ahmad, for several years surveyed the foibles and follies of Pakistan’s Urdu media. He berated the benighted Urdu writers for their naïveté, emotionalism, and foolish advocacy of national interests that collided with realpolitik (read: US-Zionist interests). Ejaz Haider, the paper’s op-ed editor, distinguished himself by writing his endlessly clever political commentaries in the racy street lingo of the United States. Did this make him a darling of the American staff at the US embassy in Islamabad?

Consider one more ‘exhibit’ that captures DT’s servile mentality. In a regular column, oddly titled, ‘Purple Patch,’ the newspaper ladles out wisdom to its readers. This wisdom is dispensed in the form of article-length passages lifted from various ‘great’ writers, who are always of Western provenance. Presumably, the editors at DT still believe, with their long-dead spiritual mentor, Lord Macaulay, that "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia."[2]

Will the departure of Mr. Sethi and his distinguished colleagues make a difference? I doubt if the owners of DT will have difficulty finding their replacements, voices equally shrill in their advocacy of foreign powers. More than at any other time, growing numbers of Pakistanis have been grooming themselves for service to the Empire, as their predecessors once eagerly sought to serve the British Raj. This groveling by Pakistan’s elites will only change when the people act to change the incentives on offer to the servants of Empire. It will only change when the people of Pakistan can put these mercenaries in the dock, charge them for their crimes against the people and the state, and force them to disgorge their loot.

This will take hard work; and some Pakistanis insist that this hard work is underway. It daily gains momentum, and, at some point, the will of the people will catch up with the craven and corrupt elites who have bartered the vital interests of Pakistan and the Islamicate for personal profit. When the ‘near enemy’ has been decapitated – metaphorically speaking –” the ‘far enemy’ too will recede into the mists of history.


[1]. Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, translated by Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, Inc.): 152, 154.

[2]. Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) was a British historian and Whig politician, who, while serving on the Supreme Council in India, was instrumental in persuading the British to adopt English as the official language of India. The quote is from the Macaulay’s ‘Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education.’ See Thomas Babington Macaulay, Macaulay, Prose and Poetry, selected by G. M. Young (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957): 721-24, 29.


M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan, November 2009).