Hasnain Kazim has some time ago published an article in Der Spiegel (online) on Hitler’s popularity in Pakistan. It could have been less generalizing – I doubt that “most [Pakistanis] like Hitler”, since most Pakistanis have no clue about Hitler. But I had similar experiences: When I saw the Mullah of the Wazir Khan Masjid in Lahore the first time, proud beard and seemingly wise face I was sure he would be a wonderful person to have a conversation with. When I told him where I was from, all he mastered to say was that “Hitler was great”. I didn’t bother to squat beside him. The most gruesome Hitler-episode was on a Jeep ride between Chitral and the Shandur La. 9 hours with two guys from Peshawar, who tried to tell us that Hitler was a great man and Tirich Mir the second highest mountain in the world, inhabited by faries. Like Kazim writes, I was equally “glad I avoided the usual Hitler conversation” whenever I could, since seldom did it lead to a fruitful discussion. But it’s not true that every Pakistani will “hone in on that topic” or wants to make the point being an Aryan.
Kazim is right though in not jumping to a wrong conclusions that many Europeans immediately take – adoration of the person Hitler and Aryanism being equal to Anti-Semitism. Still he points out (and thus suggests a link)
In the Islamic world, not just in Pakistan but right across from Iran to northern Africa, anti-Semitic sentiment of course plays a role. Conversations with German visitors rapidly turn to the injustice being suffered by the Palestinians who were robbed of their land.
An add for a new T Shirt line in the Daily Times Sunday supplement, the other shirts sported Bob Marley and Marilyn Monroe. I took these pictures in April 2006.
If Anti Semitism comes to play, it’s via the Israel-Palestine conflict, which of course evokes emotions all over the Muslim world. But I have never heard anyone make the link between Hitler the statesman and war leader – and that’s what they adore him for, like they adore Chengis Khan, whom many Kashmiris see as their direct ancestor, and Alexander who in the eyes of many Pathan is their forefather – and the conflict in the Middle East.
Daily Times (above image) without any irony or weird humour puts him in a line with other celebrities. The guitarist from one of the bad Lahori underground bands who thinks that holding a guitar straight makes you Ali Azmat, believes that Hitler is simply “cool”. The person who in our eyes is foremost associated with atrocities, in Pakistan does not have that label. Confronted with a “Hitler-discussion” I would always try to push the focus on our way of seeing it – my friends would see that argument, acknowledge, that the atrocities committed were indeed bad, but that I should acknowledge too that he managed to lead a huge country towards one goal (whatever that exactly was, good or bad, no matter) and that this is a great feat.
Teenager at a Rafi Peer Rock Concert (2007)
As Kazim points out, Indians have a similar affection (see a picture taken by a friend here, leaving it all a grotesque, putting Joan of Arc on a same level).
Not once in Pakistan have I met overt Anti Semitism like on a recent train ride in Austria, when a person after a long and interesting discussion, politically left, tongue loose after some beer, finished his talk with asserting, that the greatest evil today “were the Americans [a common left wing opinion in Central Europe] … and the Jews”.
The fact that Daniel Pearl was a Jew, may have benefited the propaganda of the kidnappers after they got and killed him. But it was not the reason why he was kidnapped. Being a Jew may leave you with heated Israel-Palestine debates in Pakistan, but highly unlikely will you be confronted with aversion towards your religion (as long as you don’t pick your discussion partners straight from heated Jamaat e Islami crowds).
The admiration for Hitler may be hard to grasp, especially for us Austrians and Germans when confronted with the topic, but I think it’s fair enough to let the main reason for that admiration, him being a strong statesman, be an explanation. To expect from every Pakistani who brings up the issue to see the bigger picture and our view of it is far fetched. Any European coming to Pakistan with the assertion that Bhutto is (was) good and democratic and everyone with a beard or a Military cap is evil should equally understand that he is not getting even half of the picture and seeing it from another perspective without the respective upbringing and education is a hard task.
P.S. The most beautiful Swastikas can be found in the old Masjids of the village just below Karimabad (Hunza) on the KKH.