Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Match Fixing and the Inshallah Complex.

9 Jul 2010

Was just reading an Osman Samiuddin column on Cricinfo. While the column was on match fixing in Pakistani cricket, Samiuddin has this wonderful way of using cricket as cultural commentary on broader Pakistani society, or even vice versa. The links he draws are what make me a big fan of his writing. I want to quote a relevant part about how Pakistanis deal with everything they can’t explain, including terrorist attacks and match fixing.

Fixing also fits neatly into our thirst for a good ol’ conspiracy theory, and nothing has more currency in Pakistan. Some newspapers and TV channels exist almost entirely on such fuel. Wives conspire against in-laws, employees against bosses, maids against other maids. Banks are, according to TV show kooks like Zaid Hamid, a Zionist conspiracy. The birth of Bangladesh was a vast conspiracy. The USA conspires against us on a daily basis. India is in a perpetual state of conspiracy against us. Attacks within the country’s borders – even some outside it planned by Pakistanis – are a conspiracy against the country. Without such conspiracies, the state will fall down.

It is a convenient and cheap way out, and it suits everyone. There is no need to examine deeper causes because denial and inertia are easier than rational, analytical debate…

The moment I read this it reminded me of a Guardian column I read a while ago by Mustafa Qadri on Pakistan’s inshallah complex. Here are a few relevant parts.

The situation has exacerbated our cultural tendency to avow causation in favour of fate and the rewards of prayer. Whether looking for a job, waiting anxiously for exam results or willing the national cricket team to victory, prayer has become a kneejerk source of solace and comfort in difficult times. Holy men, or pirs, and local soothsayers have for generations made a career out of selling their prayers to those in need.

This mix of uncertainty and superstition puts a fatalistic streak into our national consciousness reflected in what I would call the inshallah complex. “Inshallah” (the Arabic term for “God willing”) is liberally used by Muslims the world over to describe a broad sweep of aspirations including hope and despair. If the handyman wants to avoid promising to fix your broken generator promptly he is bound to say inshallah. Whenever relatives call to ask if my wife’s health has improved, I always say … inshallah.

As useful as the inshallah complex is, however, it does risk lulling us into a false sense of invisibility…