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Hitler’s Popularity in Pakistan – Jumping to conclusions

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.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.


10 thoughts on “Hitler’s Popularity in Pakistan – Jumping to conclusions

  1. Pakistani society is highly anti-Semitic and we tend to appreciate any/every thing that goes against Jews. No matter how atrocious these acts are. Not many know anything about Hitler except the fact what he did to Europe and Jews. We are fed hatred for many generations now and it is more visible in our society than ever before.

    Posted by Yasir Hussain | January 22, 2011, 2:58 AM
  2. come on, where is it visible? anything comparable to this: http://www.registan.net/index.php/2011/01/20/finally-someone-remembered-the-jews-and-freemasons/

    I had anti-semitic statements once from a blacksmith in kashmir, everything else was anti-israel.

    Posted by Jakob | January 22, 2011, 4:00 AM
  3. Your access to information is fairly limited if you don’t know Urdu which 95% Pakistani’s use to read and write. The rest 5% English speakers are either leftists or portray themselves to be, hence do not represent true image of Pakistan. Get those Urdu newspapers that Islamists publish with tons of conspiracy theories attributed to ‘Yahoodies’ (Jews), America and yes, Israel. I can remember one newspaper name ‘Zarb-e-Momin’, if I am not wrong. The term ‘Jew’ is equivalent to ‘evil’ in our society.

    When Aisam-ul-Haq (a well-known Pakistani tennis player) teamed up with a Jewish player from Israel, everyone was ‘WTF, he’s a yahoodi!’

    You need to dig deeper.

    Posted by Yasir Hussain | January 22, 2011, 10:25 AM
    • apart from the fact that i do read some online urdu newspapers, although probably not the ones with the most populistic content i draw my conclusions from conversations – the last one actually was at the Elite Force HQ of Rawalpindi – the place Mumtaz Qadri was from – where one jawan defended Israel’s stance against all odds. the talk was purely political, at no point did nyone get down to the yahoodi issue with disrespect.

      someone sent me this video yesterday as proof of new trends in arab anti-semitism: http://vimeo.com/16779150
      just picking cherries from some channels (and confusing iranians as Arabs, lol) is no good basis for reasoning. you’ll be able to put the same together for pak TV, but if you go out on the street and talk to the chai walla, the mobile phone store keeper and the bus driver, will anti-semitic rethoric hit you?

      Posted by Jakob Steiner | January 22, 2011, 2:15 PM
      • My point is, there are certain sections of our society that are anti-semitic and anti-Israel. I can’t predict its volume but it is very much there and can be exploited. Just the other day I was watching the protests by fired KESC workers on TV and they were burning US and Israel flags. You can’t guess their logic for burning these flags except hatred; these 4000 workers were fired because the electric company is downsizing.

        If you argue that it is anti-Israel, I reckon, it can easily be turned into anti-semitic any day.

        Posted by Yasir Hussain | January 28, 2011, 6:03 PM
      • that is exactly the problem we have in europe. many europeans who are anti-israel are by no account anti-semitic. their is a counter argument that conflates those two terms, and accuses all critics of Israel anti-Semites, which hits us Austrians and Germans in the guilt-spot. you may be right, that simple minds easily turn an anti-israel debate into something anti-semitic. but anti-israel debates in pakistan are still often discussed on a political (land rights) level than a religious one (although again, these two are by the books unseparably linked).

        Posted by Jakob Steiner | February 25, 2011, 4:07 AM
  4. There seems to be a well backed article out, didn’t have time to read it yet. Pakistan’s Jewish Problem, by Tufail Ahmed: http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5090.htm

    Posted by Jakob Steiner | March 16, 2011, 12:29 AM
  5. Very good post. A reason you can add to the distantly-admiring-Hitler-South-Asian phenomenon is the colonial history of the region itself. At the time of WWII, South Asia was getting warmed up to getting freedom from the British.

    In this context, two things happened:

    1. Many South Asians (regardless of religion) came to get vicarious pleasure from what Nazi Germany began to do to erstwhile colonial powers, particularly the “invincible” Britain. Some of the leaders even cultivated contacts with Nazi Germany.

    2. Hitler demonstrated the ability to push an agenda and get emotions whipped up in Germany to get a well-oiled machine ready for war which got early military successes. With the local South Asian movements not having snowballed into a major success yet, Hitler’s “feat” gained interest so far as getting a movement going was concerned.

    As you yourself rightly said, many Pakistanis (including the educated ones) have no clue about Hitler and what he stood for, and this has allowed the tainted viewpoint to carry on as legacy of anti-colonial feelings in the region.

    My 2c.

    Posted by Noman | August 1, 2012, 12:29 AM


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January 2011


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