In the span of less than a year, Aatish Taseer's father was killed and his brother was kidnapped. His father, a politician, was slain by a religious fundamentalist in January. His brother, a businessman, was kidnapped in Lahore in August and hasn't been heard from since.
Taseer writes about this kind of violent and turbulent Pakistan in his new novel, Noon. It takes place in fictional Port bin Qasim, a city beset by Islamic extremism:
"There were Shias and Sunnis, of course, but among them, too, there were innumerable divisions and subdivisions," Taseer writes. "And these groups, each in their highly particular way, despised one another. They planted bombs at each other's meetings, they rioted at the slightest provocation, they dug themselves into breeze-blocked ghettos that stretched for miles along the periphery of the city."
It's a portrait of a very busy and incendiary place; Taseer tells NPR's David Greene that he was trying to show that religion was being "distorted to suit everyone's particular end."
On his kidnapped brother and other kidnappings in Pakistan
"There are many theories going around, and none of them are very clear. I think perhaps the most worrying thing is there have been a series of kidnappings in Pakistan — and it seems one of the theories that people put forward is that these are groups, Islamic groups, that are running out of money. ... They organize these kidnappings in Pakistan, and this is the way these groups are now filling their coffers."
On his father, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was killed by his own bodyguard for fighting Pakistan's blasphemy law
"There was a celebration of his killer. There were the lawyers who came forward to defend the killer. There were posters of his killer around the city of Lahore. So, it's been this environment — this environment has been created — where it's been almost impossible to try his killer and there's a huge amount of public support for what the killer did. ...
"My first book, Stranger to History, [was] used in court to basically put forward the idea that basically my father was not as pious, as religious as they wanted him to be. Because of the type of place that Pakistan is at the moment, it's possible to make the case that someone — because he's not religious as you want him to be — then it's all right for him to be killed."
On the blasphemy laws his father opposed
"The law is an absolute absurdity. [You] and I could have a conversation today, I could go to the court right after the conversation because perhaps there's something you've said that I haven't liked, and I say, 'This man has committed blasphemy.' Someone would come and arrest you.
"What the law became was an instrument for a majority to oppress the minority. Very high numbers of Hindus, Christians ... were in jail for this law. ... It was against those laws that [my father] was speaking out, and this became twisted to in some way suggest that he was guilty of blasphemy."
On his difficult relationship with his father, to whom he had not spoken for several years
"My differences with my father were differences — intellectual differences, political differences. I wrote and spoke about Pakistan in a way he didn't like. I often didn't agree with his assessment of the country. There were things I never doubted about him: I never doubted his love of his country or his courage, and I'm pretty proud of what he did. You know, whatever acrimony or difficulty we had are very small compared to what I believe he's been able to do for his country."
On what the widespread celebration of his father's killer says about Pakistan today
"This ideology that we thought was limited to a few — that we thought in some way had no traction among the population of Pakistan — well, one fears that it [has] seeped very deep. This kind of religiosity, this kind of ugly fanaticism is much deeper than we thought. It's very worrying because to get rid of a regime or to get rid of a government ... as you've seen recently in the Arab world, is no great thing. But to root out this kind of sentiment from a population is a far more difficult thing."
On the way he addresses fanaticism in his fiction
"There's a general sense of a society disintegrating. I think [the novel] also anticipates the kind of absurdity of fanaticism — the kind of making a prison for the mind, which makes the world easier to deal with. They sort of narrow your world view and then the world becomes less fearful when you see it through the lens of that very simple idea."
On rereading his fictional scenes of violent mobs and cruel torture
"It represents a kind of violence that I think of as very real in Pakistan. To have seen that violence come so clearly to the surface in this last year — I'd had an intimation of it last year when I was in Pakistan and I think I probably wrote with that intimation of violence in mind. All of that is very disturbing; it's very chilling for me to read it now in light of what has happened this year."
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