Javed Jabbar vs. Pervez Hoodbhoy: Round by Round


This is an introduction to a series of articles, a detailed analysis of former Minister and Senator Javed Jabbar’s video. The analytical articles will appear here twice a week – Tuesday and Friday.  

By Anjum Altaf

Mr. Javed Jabbar has posted a public video titled “Two Nation Reality” to refute certain statements about Pakistan by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I feel the issues raised in this exchange are worthy of a detailed analysis.

In this introduction I wish to explain my motivation for undertaking this analysis and laying out how I have organized it.

The video was forwarded to me with a ‘must-watch’ label by someone whose opinion I respect. He was impressed by how Javed Jabbar had successfully refuted Pervez Hoodbhoy with infinite gentility. That statement intrigued me sufficiently to make an exception to my standard policy of deleting, without watching, all videos sent to me via social media.

The issues debated in the exchange go to the heart of the controversies that are generally avoided in Pakistan much to our disadvantage. Mr. Jabbar’s initiative is therefore to be greatly appreciated and it becomes incumbent on us to take it forward with the seriousness it deserves. After watching the video, I scrolled through the more than a hundred comments posted by viewers and felt that the seriousness required was lacking. The commentators acted more as partisans than analysts with the majority labeling Dr. Hoodbhoy as “anti-national,” “angry,” and “vitriolic” while lauding Mr. Jabbar for being “calm,” “reasonable,” and “patriotic.”

This raised a red flag because it is common for people to remain loyal to pre-existing views and dismiss contradictory perspectives as not just being wrong but vitriolic as well. They also tend to consider opinions that coincide with their own as being reasonable and, in particular, give undue credence to those they deem to be uttered in a calm and collected tone. In my view, there is no such one-to-one association between the manner of speaking and the truth or correctness of what is said.

I felt there was need to deconstruct the statements in order to give readers the opportunity to consider them in more detail. I also decided to remove any possible subliminal bias that may result from either watching the video or listening to the audio. I therefore had the audio transcribed in order to present the statements made by both protagonists in writing which is as neutral a form as is possible — the visual and tonal clues being stripped out.

There is one potential bias that I have not been able to circumvent. Since the video was made by Mr. Jabbar, he had the discretion of presenting very brief selected extracts of statements by Dr. Hoodbhoy so that the viewer is not cognizant of the surrounding text, before or after, in which the statements might have been embedded. For his refutations, Mr. Jabbar, seated in a relaxed manner with soft music, and at one point the national anthem, playing in the background, has as much time at his disposal as he desires. The readers of this analysis would have to discount any bias that may accrue from the fact that the video has been made by one protagonist and is not on a level playing field.

The video opens with the following text on a slide:

“At the Adab Festival, Karachi end-January 2020, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy made certain remarks. On viewing a recording later Senator (R) Javed Jabbar disagreed… as follows.”

Mr. Jabbar then makes his appearance and speaks the following preamble:

“I respect, Professor Sahib, your right to freedom of expression, everyone’s right, and I don’t think there should be any curbs on responsible freedom of expression. But if that freedom of expression uses half-truths, quarter truths and no truths, then it is my humble duty to respond.”

This preamble sets the context for the exchange: Mr. Jabbar believes the statements made by Dr. Hoodbhoy are false and feels obliged to set the record straight. The exchange is organized in a format in which a statement by Dr. Hoodbhoy is followed by a response from Mr. Jabbar. There are in total ten such statements and responses.

This format brought to my mind the image of a boxing match and I have accordingly framed this analysis as a contest. I will present each statement and response separately as one round of the contest, score it very much as referees do in a boxing match, and give my reasons for the assigned score. At the end of the series, the scores for each round would be aggregated to determine the winner of the contest — in my assessment. Readers would be free to disagree and assign their own scores which would open up the opportunity for an extended and much-needed discussion.

To conclude, I would write a summation of my views with a focus on what I learned from the exercise.


The writer, a PhD from Stanford University, was Dean at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Provost at Habib University Karachi. He is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.


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