Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jinnah’s Pakistan as a rallying cry

Salmaan Taseer was a man of great moral clarity whether his detractors care to admit as much or not. He was from an increasingly rare breed of idealists who believed in Pakistan as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, i.e. a liberal democratic state where faith would be a personal matter. I submit that it was this belief in Pakistan’s destiny that drove Salmaan Taseer to stand up for the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Therefore, when his children write that their father died for Pakistan, Pakistan’s self-appointed guardians of ideology should take note and learn a thing or two. The need of the hour is for Pakistanis to stand up for that ideal, for this is our only homeland and if we do not save it, no one else will.
It is for these reasons that I found Ammar Rashid’s article ‘Moral medievalism and the state’ (Daily Times, January 13, 2011) to be most disturbing. At a time when Pakistanis should be united in realising that Salmaan Taseer’s death and the subsequent polarisation around the assassination is indicative of state failure and the state’s abdication of responsibility for its people, self-proclaimed intellectuals regurgitating a flawed interpretation of Marxist ideology are in the forefront of efforts to sabotage all attempts to gather the less fortunate on a platform against bigotry and hate. To begin with, the reasoning of the author is entirely muddled. Blaming modern information-age capitalism and its confluence with the historical memory and ‘logic’ of the Pakistani state is akin to making excuses for an abandonment of common sense and reason. The “historical memory” of the Pakistani state as it were is much warped and distorted. The great leftist historian Hamza Alavi examined the causes and the events leading to the creation of Pakistan in many of his works and rejected in entirety the state-sponsored narrative introduced largely during the Zia era. In his enlightening paper Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity or Ideology, Hamza Alavi traced the formation of the ‘salariat’ or the secular Muslim middle-class, which became the engine for the Pakistan Movement. He showed how the basic ideas of Islamic modernism had moved into the sphere of conventional wisdom for this group. Therefore, far from arguing a moral superiority based on Pan-Islamic religious identity, Muslim nationalism as it emerged was the attempt of a nascent Muslim bourgeoisie in the subcontinent to secure a foothold economically and politically. It was also indicative of an internal struggle between the professional and secular-minded classes amongst Indian Muslims led by Jinnah and the clerical class that opposed them. This is what prompted Jinnah to declare in 1938, “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulvis and maulanas.”
Salmaan Taseer was the foremost symbol of the professional and secular-minded Muslim bourgeoisie that created Pakistan. He was a self-made man, a professional and a businessman. The late governor was the physical embodiment of the confluence of Pakistan’s genuine historical memory and modern, information age capitalism.
There is no reason why we should complicate a simple issue. I submit two points: a) all nationalisms are exclusionary and, as Eqbal Ahmad said, “the ideology of the other”, and b) states are duty bound to be above issues of identity and nationalism and this is precisely why we have constitutions. Secularism, historically, has developed from confessional societies, and pluralism is almost always a desired by-product. The example before Jinnah, as the creator and the first governor general of the new state, was Britain which he alluded to in his famous August 11 speech, which, mind you, was not the only speech he delivered where he outlined in clear terms his idea of what the Pakistani state should be. Great Britain’s history is defined by the protestant nature of its monarchy and the struggle between the clergy and the state. It has in its history seen gruesome violence on religious questions including blasphemy. In due course of time, however, the Protestants and Catholics did learn to live together as citizens of Great Britain.
So what is Jinnah’s Pakistan and why is it increasingly becoming the rallying cry of all Pakistanis who want to bring about a change? Jinnah’s Pakistan means a Pakistan where dialogue and constitutional means are the only available choice when resolving disagreements and discord. How then can today’s Pakistan be Jinnah’s Pakistan when the very essence of the man is sacrificed in the name of political expediency and the doctrine of necessity? Jinnah’s Pakistan will remain the only credible answer for positive social change because Jinnah represents something much more substantial than a dead secular politician. He is, for most Pakistanis, a deep structure of identity that remains on a higher pedestal for them. It is for this reason that Jinnah’s Pakistan remains the only viable option for this state to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Without Jinnah, the liberals of Pakistan are like fish out of the pond.

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