Review of Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s ‘The Pakistan Anti-Hero’

Let me start with an excerpt from the magnum opus of Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah.

“The inner meaning of history involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things and deep knowledge of the how and why of events”

Contrary to the aforementioned argument, for masses, history is about brainstorming the facts and figures. It has just remained a compilation of anecdotes. Moreover, it has been treated as a subject that evokes the victories of glorious past, and dampens the rants of defeat and humiliation.

Approaching the history, one finds his sole responsibility to study the heroes of the past. Trumpeting the heroism of individuals, one tends to snub significant aspects of history. It is necessary to get the insight of the lot that failed to align itself with the populist rhetoric. The iconoclasts!

But who bothers to study their iconoclasm?


Out of these few, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a leading cultural critic and historian of Pakistan, is the one who carves out the anti heroes from the history of Pakistan.

In his latest book, The Pakistan Anti-hero, NFP discusses the iconoclastic persona of numerous individuals. These influential dissidents are unknown to a lot, who have remained busy studying the traditional history of Pakistan.

The book basically deals with the history of Muslim nationalism which has remained a misunderstood term since the very beginning. The book follows a track to define the birth of Muslim nationalism. For the past 70 years, we have been debating to define the time period for when this ideology came into being. One dates back to the colonial period to find its evolution, another calls the Mughal period to date the birth of this ideology; while yet another goes back to 8th century to substantiate the nurturing of Muslim nationalism.

The book does not exhaust the reader with the events that led to the creation of Pakistan; it rather takes a course to define its ideological evolution.

The characters of the book could be exclusive for one, inclusive for the other, but what remains constant is the objectivity that rules the book.

What makes Iqbal enigmatic? Is it possible to have lovers all around you? Is it rational to collect admirers from all the strands of faith?

These questions addle the young mind, but this ideological limbo tends to fade after reading the vivid account of NFP. The comparative analysis of the ideologies makes one more acquainted with the existing paradoxes.

There have been numerous events in the history of Pakistan that shape the rationale of a Pakistani today. The impact of such events has adversely hit the psyche of an ordinary Pakistani. Their brain bears convolution when they navigate between faith and nationalism. Discussing the saga of notorious groups and political rivalries, it allows one to get acquainted with the psyche of the adversaries.

The book serves as a masterpiece to understand the cultural evolution of Pakistan. The brief introductions of prolific artists and writers allow one to understand the diversity of Pakistani society. NFP has cited numerous personal accounts of his life to approach the character he wants to enlighten. As in one case, his barber serves the purpose!

The book is wide-open to discuss the ideologies from religious pluralism to political antagonism; cricket stars to troubled writers; rising Qawwals to falling partisans. It makes one acquainted with the characters that came to infringe the political and religious spectrum of Pakistan. But heroism collides with iconoclasm, and what happened was certain; their iconoclasm won, their heroism lost.

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