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Are Imran Khan’s Online Supporters As Intense As Trump’s Fan Base?

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PM Imran Khan is a far cry from Donald Trump. This is because he has focused on raising taxes instead of tax cuts, effectively curtailed COVID through smart lock downs instead of mismanagement that led to unnecessary deaths and has generally focused his rhetoric on uplifting the poor masses instead of pandering to the elite. However, the same cannot be said for his fans who are much like Trump supporters.

This was observed by Jonathan Swan, the journalist who recently interviewed PM Imran Khan, when he tweeted that the PM “has an online supporter base that rivals Trump’s for intensity.” Swan is a young man who grew up watching the famed cricketer turned PM. He even had a picture with another famed cricketer, Shoaib Akhtar, on his twitter account. The fact that Pakistani fans of the PM railed against Swan, lends credence to his tweet.

The PM fans, often University educated youth caricatured as “youthias”, roared that the PM articulated their concerns against the West. These concerns include the rising tide of Islamophobia and the presence of U.S. bases in the region. The fans hailed the PM for “Absolutely NOT” giving military bases to the U.S. for operations. Although, the PM is noted for his many U turns, as hilariously captured by MNA Khursheed Shah, and so time will tell whether he takes a U turn here.

Additionally, the geopolitical situation is quite different. This is not the U.S. immediately after 9/11 where even President Musharraf with all the might of the military establishment did not have the luxury of theatrics. The geopolitical situation is quite different and to blow hot air at a young journalist, who probably grew up admiring Khan, is much ado about nothing. It’s more about political mileage than anything.

Regardless, the PM came under fire for victim blaming on rape and for the complicit silence on Uyghur Muslims in China. Additionally, another clip of the Pakistani Foreign Minister being dodgy on the PM’s comment on OBL being a martyr is making rounds.

The concerns on the PM’s comments on victim blaming, Uyghur Muslims and OBL being a martyr, facilitate questioning whether the PM fans are concerned about Islamic teachings or are simply consumed by the jingoism of “Naya Pakistan”.

Islamic teachings against victim blaming are very clear based on the incident when the Prophet turned the man’s gaze away instead of asking the woman to cover up. On people like OBL, Islam views them as perpetrators of fisad fil ardh (anarchy) that are given the capital punishment. Finally, Islamic teachings are quite harrowing against zulm (oppression) and munafiqat (hypocrisy). This means being vocal on Gazans and Kashmiris but casually ignoring the Uyghurs is self-serving and hypocritical.

But it does not appear that the PM fans are concerned about Islamic teachings for then they would have turned inwards to perfect their character. If anything, like Trump supporters, they posture aggressively and go on angry tirades. This parallel with Trump supporters holds as they too mindlessly supported their erstwhile leader with the slogan “Make America Great Again”.

However, the analogy between the PM fans and Trump supporters runs deeper than the “Naya Pakistan” and “Make America Great Again” slogans. Taking on American conservatism, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman writes that “conspiracy theorizing has been part of American politics,” and that blaming “sinister Jewish financiers” has been a tool to “delegitimize opposition”. Though to be fair, emphasis on conspiracy theories and blaming Jews describes conservative Pakistanis across a broad political spectrum.

Trump supporters vented their frustrations against the “woke” crowd and by justifying every inane statement of their President, including those demeaning women. Analogously, the PM fans exhibit their intolerance of “liberals” and confirm the crude trope of their kaptaan (leader) that men are sexual beasts who rape women without the purdah (veil). Moreover, Trump supporters dilute the concerns of black Americans through the “All Lives Matter” slogan. In a similar vein, PM fans are willing to ignore and even deny the oppression of the Uighur because it’s politically and economically convenient.

In essence, for the PM fans it’s not really about Islam or Islamophobia for they barely understand the hallowed ethos of Islam. What drives them is much more earthly and mundane, which comprises of mindless jingoism, misplaced identity thumping, and a heavy dose of toxic masculinity. In other words, they are like Trump’s mindless minions. However, where the analogy fails is that many Trump supporters are economically disadvantaged and less educated. The same cannot be said of the privileged university educated men that constitute the PM fan base.

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Naya Daur