The Peculiarities of Imran Khan

Two things struck me as being odd in Imran Khan’s article that I had discussed earlier: how he found wisdom and the use he put the wisdom to.

Imran describes his narrow escape: “it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.”

I have just recently read Latika Gupta’s account of what some mothers are doing to their children and so reading Imran’s sentence made me shiver. Imran just turned out be very lucky in having a pious and sensible mother but is it a good idea in general to be shaped by the powerful religious influences of mothers and to believe in something out of love rather than conviction?

Could it not be the case that mothers would pass on all their prejudices to their children and the children would subscribe to them out of love? Let us stay within Islam for the moment and imagine a Muslim mother saying that Islam is superior to all other religions. Quite possible. But the same Sunni Muslim mother at the same time might say that Shias are not really Muslims and need to be taught a lesson (or vice versa). Equally possible. Where does that leave us?

To range a little further, is it difficult to imagine a White mother saying that Blacks were not quite humans or an affluent mother saying that the lower orders need to be kept in their places?

The bottom line is that much as we love our mothers we cannot be fully objective about them and nor can we expect them to be fully objective about the societies they live in. When all is said and done, mothers are more likely to pass on the same bundle of prejudices that they picked up from their own mothers especially if they have never been exposed to any other viewpoints – half the mothers have never been to school in some countries of South Asia.

This is where the contribution of the public school system becomes absolutely critical. It is the function of the schools to ensure that the prejudices imbibed at the mother’s knee are neutralized before they have a chance to harden into lifelong attitudes. This is all the more crucial in societies like ours that are riven by innumerable fault lines along which mothers might have taught children to hate each other.

To get back to Imran Khan. What I found hard to understand was why, once he had found wisdom and become a good and tolerant human being, he had to go off on this crusade to prove that the East was superior to the West. I am sure he himself is responsible for this attitude and that it could not have been his mother who passed it on to him.

I keep puzzling over this great need to prove that one’s ways or inheritance are superior to someone else’s. It must be a powerful urge because one runs into it all the time. Have you heard people argue that Indian classical music is better that Western classical music? They are different, no doubt. But both have lasted over a thousand years and so both must be beautiful in their own ways. Would it not make more sense to enjoy the music than to try and prove the superiority of one over the other?

This is one human need that I have not been able to explain satisfactorily to myself. Is there a reader that can shed some light on the subject?


  • Hamza
    Posted at 22:01h, 10 May Reply

    I fully agree.

    People might find this recent interview of Imran Khan very interesting:

    The World Cup speech referred to at the end of that interview could be viewed from here:

  • Vinod
    Posted at 07:26h, 11 May Reply

    That’s a very difficult question in your last para for me too. One possible explanation is that the sources in a person’s identity need to continue to be special and need to continue to provide a reason for the person to stick to them. In a world where everything is subjected to rationality, an answer like ‘I follow these things because I was brought up in these’ seems inadequate. Most people are stuck at this point. Some manage to rise above it, examine rationally their own identities, comare it with others and note the uniqueness of each. He may then choose to stick to his own because of the pre-existing familiarity with it. And while doing so, he is able to appreciate the sources of identity of others different from him. This is an enlightened mode of wearing an identity which few have the time and energy to pursue and accomplish. Most people would succumb to the temptation of resorting to arguments about the superiority of one’s own identity over that of others simply because it is convenient to the ego.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 15:53h, 11 May Reply

    I also want to add that at the point where comparison is made, there is a little risk of nihilism creeping in. I cannot explain that. Perhaps when one realizes that there is nothing special (in the sense of superior) in any of the cultures of humanity, there is no more reason left to pick any. The ego is dissatisfied with all and it starts to “let go” of everything. That is a risky point to be at.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:20h, 12 May

      Vinod, Yes, this is difficult to explain. A culture can be special without having to be superior to every other culture. The proposition of there being nothing special in any of the cultures of humanity is difficult to assimilate. My culture is special to me and yours is to you. It should be easy to live with that but it isn’t. At the same time, there are things in my culture that I am deeply ambivalent of. Besides, we don’t really pick cultures – we are born into them and just the fact that it is an accident of birth should make us more humble. This competitive ethos seems pretty primitive and I am surprised that we haven’t grown out of it yet.

  • Ganpat Ram
    Posted at 16:10h, 30 October Reply

    South Asian:

    The fact is, many people are rather simple minded. It never occurs to them that a way of life or a belief system which they do not accept as a whole may nevertheless have great strengths and important truths. To have such a complex attitude to the world is simply beyond their petty, dogmatic minds.

    I for instance am a Hindu, but have no trouble admitting the gross failings of Hinduism (just look at caste) and admiring the strengths of Islam and Christianity. I respect the thought of Karl Marx though I have my criticisms of it.

    This sort of “there’s many kinds of good music” attitude to the world is easy for a Hindu, because this is a polytheistic, undogmatic religion. It is hard for those brought up in a “there’s only one God” religion like Islam.

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