In Taseer's 'Noon', Fictional Violence Is All Too Real In the span of less than a year, Aatish Taseer's father was killed and his brother was kidnapped. Taseer writes about a violent and turbulent Pakistan in his new novel, Noon. "There's a general sense of a society disintegrating," he says.
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In Taseer's 'Noon', Fictional Violence Is All Too Real

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In Taseer's 'Noon', Fictional Violence Is All Too Real

In Taseer's 'Noon', Fictional Violence Is All Too Real

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Writer Aatish Taseer's father, a Pakistani governor, was murdered by a religious fundamentalist earlier this year. The author's brother has since been kidnapped. Taseer writes about this kind of violent and turbulent Pakistan in his new novel "Noon." The author's own connection with the country is complicated. He first came to know his father's Pakistan while growing up in New Delhi with his Indian mother. The novel is largely based in a fictional Pakistani city, a place beset by Islamist extremism. Aatish Taseer joins us from our New York bureau and he began by reading this passage from "Noon."

AATISH TASEER: There were green turbans, brown turbans and red turbans. There were six inches and 12 inches, depending on which relationship between piety and the length of your beard you believed in. There were Shias and Sunnis, of course, but among them too there were innumerable divisions and sub-divisions. 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.

GREENE: You paint a picture of a very busy, incendiary place, it sounds like, with a lot of divisions.

TASEER: Right. And also that sense of where religion, which has been what the state was founded on, is distorted to suit everyone's particular end.

GREENE: Well, let's step back a little bit. Your brother, Shahbaz Taseer, a businessman in Lahore, was kidnapped at the end of last month and hasn't been heard from since. I mean do you know anything about his whereabouts that you can tell us?

TASEER: No. Frankly, I don't. 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. And one of the ways that they get money is that they organize these kidnappings in Pakistan. And this is the way that these groups are now filling their coffers.

GREENE: Well, your father was the governor of Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan. He was killed by his own bodyguard for being very outspoken in fighting Pakistan's blasphemy law. Do you sense or see a connection between his death and your brother's kidnapping?

TASEER: I hope not. Because if there is a connection, then that's the most scary scenario, if in any way it's linked. Because there's been, since my father died, there's been cycle after cycle. There was a celebration of his killer. There were the lawyers who came forward to defend the killer. There were great posters of his killer around the city of Lahore. And so it's been 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. So much so that my first book, "Stranger to History," had been used in court to basically put forward the idea that my father was in some ways not as pious or as religious as they wanted him to be. And because of the kind of place that Pakistan is at the moment, it's possible to make the case that someone, because he's not religious in the way you want him to be, well, it's all right for him to be killed.

GREENE: You say your own words from your last book were - are being used by people in Pakistan to say that your father should have been killed.

TASEER: And that's the kind of place that Pakistan is at the moment. There are judges willing to hear that. There are lawyers who feel that they can make that case in a court of law. And (unintelligible) a pretty hideous thing to be suggesting.

GREENE: I want to ask you - your father was opposed to a blasphemy law, and I know he was defending a Christian woman. What exactly does the law say that your father was opposed to?

TASEER: The law is an absolute absurdity. It's a law that means like David and I could have a conversation today. I could go to the court right after the conversation, because perhaps there's something that you've said that I haven't liked, and I say this man has committed blasphemy. Someone would come and arrest you, and what the law became was an instrument for a majority to oppress the minority. It became a very high number of Hindus, Christians who were in jail for this law. And so for my father that it should be used to terrorize the country's minorities would have been particularly horrible. And it was against those laws that he was speaking out. And this became twisted to in some way suggest that he was guilty of blasphemy.

GREENE: You had a difficult relationship with your father. When he was killed, you hadn't spoken to him in a couple years. How has his death sort of shaped your memories of him?

TASEER: My differences with my father were differences, intellectual differences, political differences. I wrote and spoke about Pakistan in a way that he didn't like. I often didn't agree with his assessment of the country. There were things that I never doubted about him. I never doubted his A) his love of his country or his courage. And I'm pretty proud of what he did. You know, whatever acrimonial difficulty we had, it's very small compared to what I feel he's been able to do for his country.

GREENE: What does his death and what does the fact that people are calling his killer a hero say about Pakistan today?

TASEER: I think that it says that this ideology that we thought was limited to a few, that was thought was - in some way had no traction among the population of Pakistan, well, one fears that it's seeped very deep, that this kind of religiosity, this kind of ugly fanaticism, is much deeper than we thought. And it's very worrying, because to get rid of a regime or to get rid of a government that's playing with religion is, as you 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.

GREENE: You write in your novel - and we should say that "Noon" is a novel, it's not a memoir, it's a fictional novel - but you address some of the religious thoughts, fanaticism, starting to make their way into the minds of a younger generation in Pakistan.

TASEER: Yeah. You know, this novel was written before my father was killed. And so there are vibrations of what's happened this year in the novel. It seems that it anticipated some of the things that have happened this year. I think it anticipated the violence that's widespread in the society, the violence that's not simply jihadi violence or Islamic violence. There's a kind of a general sense of a society disintegrating. I think it also anticipates the kind of absurdity of fanaticism, of people making sort of prisons for the mind, which make the world sort of easier to deal with. They sort of narrow your worldview and then the world becomes less fearful when you see it through the lens of that very simple idea, you know?

GREENE: I don't want to give too much away from the novel, but there are, you know, violent mobs in your book. There's a scene of torture. And I guess I just wonder, given your father's murder, given that your brother's been kidnapped, is it difficult to read these passages now?

TASEER: I think it's all difficult. It's all difficult because it represents a kind of violence that I think of as very real in Pakistan. And to have seen that violence come so clearly to the surface in this last year, I'd had an intimation of it when I was last in Pakistan and I think I probably wrote with that intimation of violence in mind. All of that's very disturbing. It's very chilling for me to read it now in light of what has happened this year.

GREENE: Aatish, thank you so much for talking to us.

TASEER: Thank you.

GREENE: That's Aatish Taseer. He's author of the new novel "Noon."

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