New Delhi: Days after writer Salman Rushdie lashed out at Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan for dropping out of a conclave in New Delhi in order to avoid sharing a stage with him, Imran has hit back.
In an interview to NDTV's Group Editor Barkha Dutt, Mr Khan said that Mr Rushdie's statements reflected the mind of a small man. He further said that some of Mr Rushdie's remarks were so ridiculous that they didn't merit an answer. Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Barkha Dutt: Imran, thank you so much for your time. You must have heard and read by now about things that Salman has said about you. He was obviously taken aback that you opted out of India Today Conclave because you did not want to share a platform with him, but he has compared you with Gadaffi, he has said that you are a dictator-in-waiting. Are you stung by these comments?
Imran Khan: You know Barkha, there are people whose views I respect and maybe, I would worry about what they say, may be I would worry about what they say about me, but Salman Rushdie is someone I couldn't care what he said about me. Because Barkha, he is someone who has caused a lot of pain to over a billion people in this universe. Someone who is, who knew the impact of what he did. You know, I can understand Westerners. In the West, people don't understand how we treat our Prophet, may peace be upon Him, how we treat our holy book Koran, how we treat our religion; because in the West, they have a completely different attitude towards religion. But Muslims live their religion, and the way they react to, especially our Prophet, peace be upon Him, and our holy book Koran. Salman Rushdie is someone who would have known about it because he grew up in a Muslim household. Therefore, the fact that he wrote the book, it causes immense pain. There was no way I was going to be on the same platform as him. And so, the remarks he made about me, I mean some of them are extremely petty. Whatever little I thought him to be, a brain, an intellectual, but some of the remarks he made about me just reflected a mindset of a small man. Frankly speaking, it doesn't matter to me what he says. The fact is, I was never going to share a platform with him.
Barkha Dutt: When Salman calls you a better-looking version of Gadaffi, do you just laugh at it or do you just not care what he says?
Imran Khan: I do not care, it's a question of mind over matter. If I don't mind, he doesn't matter.
Barkha Dutt: But today on Twitter, you wrote that you wanted to clarify your position to the younger people of sub-continent, the younger people of Pakistan...for those who see this as a freedom of expression debate, who say alright, you can hate Salman Rushdie if you want to, you can disagree if you want to, but banning books or not being ready to share the space with somebody is a form of intolerance, what would you say?
Imran Khan: Barkha look, look at the Jews. For them, the holocaust is a painful experience. In some countries, if you even question the holocaust you can go into jail. There is a certain Professor Irwin who is serving a jail sentence in Austria for even questioning the holocaust, forget about even questioning it. Even if you question it, they do not tolerate it. Frankly speaking, I agree with the Jews. It is something so painful for them that people should lay off the subject. Under the freedom of speech, you should not be allowed to hurt people. For Muslims, I reiterate, the Quran and the Sunnah are something that sadly, our leadership has not been able to convey to the Western world that causes immense pain to us. And you know, a lot of times, I have heard this argument that six million Jews died, but yes okay, that caused them pain and they don't want anyone, under the freedom of speech, they don't want anyone to question it. Who is going to decide what is painful for a Muslim? Who is going to decide, are others going to decide what is painful for me? I am telling you to go into survey for Muslims, anybody ridiculing the Koran or the Prophet, immediately a Muslim will respond. For a lot of them, it's a way of life. The Prophet was a witness to the Quran. The Quran is a way of life. So when anyone attacks that, it causes immense pain to us. So whatever causes pain to such a large part of humanity, you should lay off the subject. The people should not have the freedom and the right to cause pain to other human beings, because we live in a human community, we survive in a human community. On certain subjects, I repeat Barkha, on certain subjects, only on certain subjects, other people should respect the sensibilities and the sensitivities of other human beings.
Barkha Dutt: There are those who would say though that the freedom of speech and expression is meaningless without the right to offend and that, if religious doctrine were to become the point at which nothing can be questioned, then a lot of art and literature could be considered as blasphemous. I know you to be somebody who is at peace with the modern world, how do you respond to that, because a lot of greatest art and literature have emerged from the right to dissent? Imran Khan: Listen Barkha, it's a huge field, religion is a huge field. There are so many interpretations, there are Western interpretations of the Quran. You don't have a reaction in Pakistan or the Western world. It is when you ridicule. For instance, there were caricatures of our Prophet, immediately there was a response. In this book which Salman Rushdie writes, "The Satanic Verses", it's again a caricature of our Prophet and that's where people find it offensive. Look, it's not an interpretation, but when you are ridiculing something sacred to an individual, it evokes a reaction. You cannot hide under freedom of speech and cause immense pain to human beings, and I am not talking about intellectual interpretations. There have been so many interpretations, there have been books on the Prophet by non-Muslims, there have been books on the Quran by non-Muslims, people don't respond to that. I am not questioning them. In this case, it's a caricature, ridiculing, I think people should lay off that. This thing about freedom of speech, there is a limit and I agree with Jews that people should lay off some topics which cause them so much pain, which is the holocaust.
Barkha Dutt: Imran, though Salman Rushdie did pose some counter questions to you, he said that, to use the phrase, that immeasurable hurt would have been caused to Muslims had you shared the platform with him and he said and I am going to quote this that "immeasurable hurt is caused to the Muslim community by terrorists based in Pakistan who act in the name of Islam...immeasurable hurt is caused to the Muslim community by Osama Bin Laden finding a shelter in Pakistan and by a recent survey that shows that Pakistanis see Osama Bin Laden as a hero...this is what causes Muslims immeasurable hurt"...this is a quote of Salman Rushdie. How would you counter this?
Imran Khan: Look, why is Salman Rushdie trying to hide behind all this. Of course it causes us harm, it hurts us, of course Pakistanis are concerned by terrorism, extremism. You know that I have come on your programme and told you that this war on terrorism has increased extremism. Which human being wants extremism and radicalisation in the society? So people like us who opposed the war was for that, and that's what happened. Pakistan is a polarised country, there is growing extremism, but what has that got to do about what he is hiding behind? The fact is, he wrote a book that caused immense pain. Not only pain, but resulted in deaths of people, and what happened? The chasm between the West, which did not understand the Muslim point of view. All it did was, it aggravated the situation, so that there was more antipathy against the Muslims in the West. And that's what I hold him responsible for, because he was someone who grew in a Muslim household, he should have known. Every Muslim knows if you have grown in that type of a household, there are certain boundaries that you should not cross. And then, he portrayed himself as a hero in the West, a hero for freedom of speech. I want to ask him, would he go and write a different interpretation of the holocaust and then what would happen? Do you think he will be treated as a hero anywhere? Would he get a platform anywhere? You know in the West, after this Iranian revolution, there was a fear about Islam, so he cashed it on it. And again he used the term Mullahs, Imran is scared of Mullahs. I mean what has the Mullah got to do with it? It's widespread across the Islamic world. In the Islamic world, ordinary people they despise Salman Rushdie. Why do you think they despise him? People who want freedom of speech in their country also despise him. Why do you think they despise him? Because he caricatured, ridiculed something which was dear to us.
Barkha Dutt: But Imran, his criticism really is that this confirms that Imran Khan is a radical...he is playing a radical form of politics...he is being reactionary. He is playing to orthodoxy; he talks about how you have been willing to engage with groups like Lakshar-e Taiba for example. Something you have been criticised for back home as well. How would you deal with this criticism that this confirms your reputation as a radical?
Imran Khan: Listen, if there is anyone who is a radical, it's Salman Rushdie. Radicals cause pain, he has caused pain. He is a fanatic in a sense. Anyone with a freedom of expression who could cause pain and who could go to the extent, he did. I don't want to speak about his contradictory statements because I followed him at one stage, he had embraced Islam and all the nonsense he came up with. I don't want to waste a lot of time on him. Coming to myself, but him saying that I am pandering to Mullahs, him saying that he even called me a dictator. Where did he come with that? I mean, I don't even know where people can come with such things. It is sort of, some of the remarks I came across were even ridiculous to answer. I don't know how to answer them.
Barkha Dutt: Can I ask you though, you said that this is not about Salman Rushdie and I agree. So what I want to ask you is that, going beyond Rushdie. You know and the last time we met in Pakistan, I asked you about the liberal criticism about some of your political decisions and you said that liberals are some of the intolerant people. In fact, I remember they are the scum of Pakistan. Since then they have criticised you again, they have said that you have shared the stage with orthodox religious leaders that you have reached out to groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. What would you say to that because I know a lot of Indians would want to know about that?
Imran Khan: Look Barkha, I have to do politics in Pakistan. A political person, anyone who is in Pakistan, any group who is in Pakistan, a politician has to engage with them. You hope to bring them in the centrefold. Now I will tell you what is happening in Balochistan. In 2008, along with all the other nationalist parties, along with our party, boycotted the elections in Balochistan. Once they boycotted the elections what happened? They were marginalised in Balochistan and other people came in the Balochistan assembly. So from marginalised they became radicalised. So the parties that were demanding the freedom for Balochistan have now picked up a gun for an independent Balochistan. Had we got them in the assembly, had we engaged with them and got them in the mainstream, they won't have got radicalised. This is what happens in every country. If you marginalise a group, if you radicalise a group, they become a problem for a country to deal with, and you can only deal with them through arms. Now in Britain they are having a rare problem, in north of England the Muslims are getting marginalised, and that's where the radicalisation is at its worst. Now what are they doing? They are trying to bring them to the centrefold, they are not trying to pick up a gun. So in Pakistan whatever radical groups are there, our job is to talk to them. Doesn't mean that you agree with their views, but eventually you have to talk to them. Otherwise if you don't agree with them, what happens is what happened in Balochistan. Every day people are getting killed, our soldiers die, they are killing other people and there is collateral damage. We have lost thousands of people in this, there are hundred thousand people who have left Balochistan because of the violence going on there. The whole economy is collapsing. So my point is as a politician we look for solutions, you come to a conclusion after exhausting everything, the only thing left is to use violence against them. But that surely has to be their last resort.
Barkha Dutt: So Imran, you are saying in a way that your view of engaging with the Taliban has been vindicated today with the world reaching out to them but would you extend the same philosophy to someone like Hafiz Saeed or Jamaat-ul_Dawa or Lashkar-e-Taiba? Would you engage with them or would you share a platform with them?
Imran Khan: Look Barkha, how did these groups come about? These groups were created during the period of Afghan Jihad. Okay they were backed and funded by Pakistan's ISI and CIA funding them to fight against the Soviets and they were called Mujahedeen. So at the end of war unfortunately our own establishment patronised them, and used them for personal purposes, strategic depth or whatever. Now what we should do is to patronise them, to engage with and tell them the real Jihad is stop Pakistan from an economic collapse. We should use them in nation building, which is also a Jihad. Jihad is a struggle. So I would try my best to get them for national building and disarm them. But if you say that because they are radicals, the only option left is to use guns against them, we are going to another round of killings here. Already Pakistan has got forty thousand people dead in war on terror. So how much longer? The country can't face it. So as a politician let me repeat, if these groups were created with state backing it's time for the state to win them over to your side and disarm them. Try to use them for nation building, for building dams or whatever, helping the country, using them constructively, possible. If we fail, the last resort is always there to use violence against them. But you must exhaust all other possibilities before.
Barkha Dutt: Imran, you are saying that we must engage with them but many Indians and many Pakistanis would say that why aren't they imprisoned, why aren't they jailed for the acts they have perpetrated, what would you say to that?
Imran Khan: If they have done, if anything is proven in the Court of law, yes they should be jailed, and yes I also believe in another thing. A civilised country must follow the due process of law. Now if our courts, you should have strengthen your judiciary, and if the courts find anyone guilty they should be sentenced. But at the moment, as far as I know, I don't know, as far as I know, there is no evidence against these guys. So if the courts haven't declared them guilty we should engage with them. Barkha you're missing one point. The whole purpose which people in India should be thinking of is, how can a Pakistani state ensure that there is no terrorism from our soil? That's what you should be worried about. My point is, the way you go about it is not necessarily by using violence, and attacking them, and killing them and not talking to them. I think you should first try your best to use them, engage them constructively, try and convince them that this is not the, whatever use they had before, or whatever the policy of our government was before. Times have changed, it's time to develop a new philosophy, it's a new beginning, and so that's how I think we should go about it. And from Indian point of view, you should be asking, you should be hoping that Pakistan has a government that ensures that there is no terrorism from the soil. Whichever way we decide to do it.
Barkha Dutt: This is a longer debate that we will need more time, so let me end by asking you the larger picture in Pakistan. The institutional collision in Pakistan between the army, the parliament, the judiciary still seems to show no signs of resolution. Now you have the Pakistan Prime Minister basically telling the Supreme Court that Parliament should decide on the issue of presidential immunity, so he has positioned this debate as one of parliament's supremacy. Where do you think this confrontation with the judiciary is headed for Pakistan?
Imran Khan: Well the moment you had a government which came through an NRO, NRO was this Number Resource Ordinance, by which the Americans brokered a deal between Benazir and Musharraf, where all the corruption cases of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and 8000 people, all these corruption cases were given amnesty. Cases were, there was an amount which was over a trillion rupees, all this was given amnesty. The Americans pushed it because they wanted "moderate government", in other words a government which would fight their wars on the border area. Now the moment these guys had the cases given amnesty through the NRO, they were allowed to contest elections, and the moment they came into power we were all was going to have this problem. Independent Supreme Court came in through a public movement. We had Chief Justice Iftikhar restored, he immediately struck down the NRO. The moment the NRO was struck down, which was no country would have an ordinance where all the corruption cases were wiped off of people. So the moment that happened there was going to be a clash between a crooked government and an independent Supreme Court. What you're seeing is, the Supreme Court is asking the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, where 65 million dollars of Asif Zardari were found in several bank accounts now, and these accounts were discovered by an accountability bureau. So the government, Supreme Court is asking, now that the NRO cover is no longer there, ask the Swiss government to return the money to Pakistan. The Prime Minister is standing by the corruption of the President, and is defying the Supreme Court, so that he doesn't write the letter.
Barkha Dutt: Can I ask you though, that much has been made by the PPP of the fact that they marked the five years. President Zardari in fact addressed the Joint Session, becoming the first civilian government in decades to have achieved that!
Imran Khan: Well if he if he completed his five years it's a sad indictment on a political class. Basically Asif Zardari has co-opted them with him. He has worked from the premise that every politician has a price. He has basically given everything, everyone a share of the pie. So he has got all of them with him, that's how he has lasted five years. Certainly not through his performance, because according to the government's economic survey, never has the plight of Pakistani's people been as bad as it is now. Never has there been so much poverty, inflation, unemployment. We don't have energy, factories closing down, no rule of law. So never has the situation been so bad, and yet the President has lasted because he just bought all the political class.
Barkha Dutt: Alright, Pakistan in volatile time. Next month I guess the Judiciary may have the final word. As we bring it back to Salman Rushdie, just want to ask you whether you were surprised by the comments, whether you have met him in the past, whether there has been any past association with him worth mentioning?
Imran Khan: No, I have never met him and frankly speaking I never want to meet him.
Barkha Dutt: Strong words there from Imran Khan as he clashes with Salman Rushdie.