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Islam and Politics ( 19 Apr 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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What is the Pakistani Culture? Dragged Down by the Stone

By Nadeem F. Paracha

20th April 2012

I’ve always felt that what we were taught (and keep bleating about) as ‘Pakistan Ideology’ has been like a stone around our collective neck.

A stone that keeps pulling us down, so much so that today, we as a nation are in danger of vanishing from the radar of engaging states.

Through hectic and rigorous intellectual exercises and projects, nation states construct ideologies to base and justify their existence on. Such projects are mostly built through narratives that are a mixture of historical facts and myths.

However, the more clever ideologies in this respect consciously leave vast grey areas within their constructs that can be flexed and used to help adjust the ideologies to the ever-changing political and economic dynamics in the international arena.

The best way to do this is usually through a democratic consensus achieved between the state and society.

All that has become obsolete (in the ideology of the nation state) or is hampering the nation to constructively engage with the dynamic forces of economics and politics within and outside the nation is shed away (if not entirely shredded).

It is then replaced with a rationally refreshed ideological view of the nation state’s existence in the changing world.

Those nation states that have failed to do so are facing growing international isolation. They are also suffering deep political and social fissures within their own societies. Their state and the keepers of their national ideology are asking their people to engage with a highly mutable economic and political scenario but at the same time forcing them to continue carrying the heavy, restrictive baggage of an ideology stuffed with dogma.

Introverted ideological dogma is drastically incompatible with extroverted and pragmatic international mutability.

That is why the tension between the two poles is resulting in a kind of widespread social and ideological neurosis in countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan; and perhaps in Saudi Arabia and Israel as well, the two countries that may not seem as isolated (or as anti-West) as the first three but are suffering from equally rigid ideological tendencies.

Anti-West (especially anti-US) sentiments have almost taken the shape of a collective form of obsessive-compulsive neurosis in countries facing imminent international isolation and ideological introversion.

Who made who?

When we look at the salient features of what has been propagated (through various state initiatives, history text books and the media) as ‘Pakistan ideology’ over the decades, the following assertions stand out:

    The idea of a separate Muslim state (Pakistan) emerged to counter a possible post-colonial domination of the Hindu culture and politics in the region.

    Pakistan also came into existence to blunt historical conspiracies by the Hindus to absorb Islam and Muslims into their own belief system.

    The Muslims of Pakistan are a nation in the modern sense of the word. The basis of their nationhood is neither racial, linguistic nor ethnic; rather they are a nation because they belong to the same faith, Islam.

    Pakistanis may share a common history with the peoples of other faiths of the region (especially Hindu), but their faith is more importantly rooted in the history of Islam beyond the sub-continent.

    Since Pakistan came into being to assert the fact that Muslims and Hindus are two different nations, Pakistan should be a state where the Muslims should have an opportunity to live according to their faith and creed based on principles and laws of Islam.

    As a Muslim ideological state it is also the duty of the Pakistani state to defend the interests of other Muslim states and countries.

    Pakistan’s ideological and geographic borders are such that various anti-Islam forces are constantly conspiring against the Pakistani state from within and outside Pakistan.

    Pakistan needs a thorough security apparatus to fend off such forces.

    Such forces constitute countries driven by Hindus, Christians, Jewish/Zionist, secular and Communist doctrines (from the outside), as well as groups and individuals propagating distinct ethnic nationalisms (from within).

    Though Pakistan does not recognise sectarian divisions between Islamic sects, it remains to be a Sunni majority country where Islamic laws based on historical legislative narratives of Sunni Islam have every right to take precedence.

    It is the duty of the Pakistani state to promote Islamic laws and practices in the society so the society can be prepared to collectively embrace without hesitation the emergence of an Islamic state run on the principals of the Shariah.

    Pakistan does not discriminate against non-Sunni Islamic sects and minority religions, but Sunni Islam (constructed on the modernist Islamic thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Iqbal as well as on the Islamic scholarship emerging from friendly Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia), will rightfully dominate in the social, cultural, religious and political policies of the state.

The above are just summarised features of what is understood as Pakistan ideology today. One can expect a majority of Pakistanis to spout them out at the drop of a hat. Questioning them however, is another thing all together.

Some of the earliest critics of the Pakistan ideology were Sindhi, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists, in spite of the fact that the ideology was still a work-in-progress and in its infancy.

For example, just five years after Pakistan’s emergence and three years after the government of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. He passed the 1949 Objectives Resolution that for the first time declared the establishment’s desire to run Pakistan on Islamic principles and laws, famous Sindhi scholar and nationalist, GM Syed, warned that in the coming years not only will Pakistan become a danger to itself, but to the whole world as well.

Unsurprisingly, between the 1950s and mid-1960s, men like GM Syed, Pushtun nationalist figurehead Bacha Khan and many Baloch and Bengali scholars who were quick to observe the inherent dangers of the rigid and monolithic nature of what would become to be known as Pakistan ideology were all labelled as traitors and ‘atheists.’

Their critique of the developing ideology was based on a more rational and deconstructive study of it; a study whose conclusions were soon taken up by leftists and (in the last 30 years or so), by the liberal secularists as well.

So what were these conclusions?

    Pakistan even as a separate Muslim majority state is not a homogenous phenomenon. It is teeming with a varied number of ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects and sub-sects.

    A unified version of Islam and nationalism constructed by the state and then imposed upon the varied ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects was an insensitive, undemocratic attack on their respective cultural heritages.

    In the absence of a viable democratic system and process, Pakistan will continue plummeting as a nation state, and consequently its ideology will become more and more myopic, suspicious and tyrannical – especially when it entirely becomes the domain of the military-establishment.

    The establishment will then incorporate the conservative Islamic forces as allies to justify its undemocratic political domination and to legitimise its Islamic credentials.

    The only thing that can help Pakistan avoid such a scenario (and a possible state failure), is the granting of democratic rights, participation and autonomy to its various ethnicities.

    Pakistan should be a secular Muslim majority state where all Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities are free to practice their faiths according to their own cultural norms, within their homes and places of worship, whereas the state should be discouraged to propagate any single or preferred form of Islam or ethnic culture. The public sphere too should be free from any religious interference or presence of any one particular denomination of the faith.

It was only a decade after such conclusions were drawn (but shunned by the Pakistan state), that many Sindhi, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists actually began demanding separation from Pakistan.

And this was also the moment when the debate over exactly what it means to be a Pakistani reached a decisive peak.

Cross Purposes

Till even today, many young Pakistanis believe that the so-called Pakistan Ideology that they were all so vigorously taught at school, came ready-made the moment the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah announced the creation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947.

It is true that some of the features of the Pakistan ideology summarised in the first section of this piece reared their head during the early years, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that the Pakistan ideology project reached completion, further enhanced and added upon from the 1980s onwards.

In fact, the term ‘Pakistan ideology’ was not even part of Pakistan’s ideological discourse until the late-1960s!

The term’s emergence can be traced to one of the most captivating debates that took place between the Islamists and the country’s then burgeoning leftist intelligentsia.

The debate erupted between the years 1967 and 1969 during the students and workers movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship, and at a time when Sindhi, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists were moving closer to the radical doctrines of separatism.

Though the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), a vigorous participant in the debate, was staunchly against the secular Ayub dictatorship, it started to pull itself back from the movement when the protests began being dominated by the left in the shape of Marxist student and labour organisations, progressive Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Bengali autonomists and the emergent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Perturbed by the autonomists’ rejection of a ‘Punjab-driven’ and ‘Islam-pasand’  West Pakistan’s claim to power, and by the students’ and the PPP’s socialist overtones during the anti-Ayub movement), JI chief and Islamic scholar, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, formulated the scholarly/propagandist foundations of what he called the ‘Pakistan ideology.’

It was a startling irony in which one of the fiercest opponents of Jinnah and the Pakistan Movement actually coined the term ‘Pakistan Ideology.’

In his writings of that period (1960s), Maududi revised Pakistan’s raison d’etre claiming that Pakistan did not come into being as a nation state (for a Muslim majority) but as an ‘ideological state’ (i.e. an ‘Islamic state’).

The JI enthusiastically published Maududi’s new thesis along with his earlier writings but omitted republishing the essays he had written before Pakistan’s creation in which he had lambasted Pakistan as being ‘Na-Pakistan’ (Land of the Impure), because it was being conceived by a ‘flawed Muslim’ (Jinnah).

Famous progressive writer, Safdar Mir, was the first to notice the omission. In a series of articles he wrote for the popular leftist Urdu literary journal, Nusrat (in 1968), he sardonically laid into Maududi’s claims by reproducing the inflammable contents of Maududi’s missing essays.

Mir’s rebuttal was hailed as a victory of progressive forces at the time. But Maududi’s thesis were further carried forward by pro-JI men like the lawyer, A K. Brohi (who was part of the Ayub regime), and novelist Naseem Hijazi, both of whom severely attacked the time’s dominating leftist forces for being ‘anti-Islam/Pakistan.’

Even though Maududi’s thesis was blown away by the triumph of leftist/ secular parties in the 1970 elections, Pakistan Army’s defeat at the hands of the Indian military and the consequent separation of East Pakistan in 1971, saw the elected and left-leaning regime of Z A. Bhutto (PPP), set-up an elaborate project to actually fuse Maududi’s thesis with the secular nationalist narratives emerging from the progressives and the autonomists.

That is why the Bhutto era not only saw a cultural spring of folk music, art, cinema and festivities, and symbolic socialist paraphernalia, it, at the same time, also witnessed the emergence of an aggressive brand of nationalism based on a scornful rhetoric against India, the moving closer of Pakistan towards puritanical (but oil-rich) Arab monarchies, the outlawing of the Ahmadis (as a Muslim sect), and a constitution that (at least in theory) claimed to be working towards achieving an Islamic state through democracy.

A decade later however, Maududi’s thesis that Bhutto had tried to co-opt and dilute, was ripped away from Bhutto’s ideological fusion, and regenerated with a vengeance by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s. In fact the thesis actually began informing state policy and ultimately, the Pakistani mindset.

What is the Pakistani culture? 

During the aggressive debate that took place between the progressive intelligentsia and Islamist ideologues in the late 1960s, the question of ‘Pakistani culture’ had also propped up.

The progressives were represented by poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. In 1969 he wrote a detailed report in which he explained Pakistani culture as being a combination of cultures that included those of the various Islamic sects in the country, the cultures of the land’s various ethnicities, elements of western culture and distinct cultures of various minority groups residing in Pakistan. To him Pakistan’s culture was naturally pluralistic.

The rightists disagreed. They accused Faiz’s thesis of being ‘a Trojan horse through which the leftists were trying to storm the fortress of Islam (sic).’

They insisted Pakistan had an ‘Islamic culture’, suggesting that cultural practices like dance, music, painting and drama, and concepts like diversity and pluralism were the ‘leftists’ weapons’ to cow down Pakistan’s ‘Islamic society’.

Faiz responded by saying Islam is universal and cannot be associated with a single nation. He said Pakistan has its own culture that has many aspects, one of which was Islam. ‘We do not have a monopoly on Islam,’ he concluded.

Though much of Faiz’s thesis continued to be discussed and partially implemented during the Z. A. Bhutto regime, they became taboo once the Bhutto regime was toppled in a reactionary coup in 1977.

In Ziaul Haq, the rightist ideologues finally found a man willing to transform the rightists’ narratives of Pakistani culture and ideology into state policy, something that has gradually become a discomfited part of what is now considered conventional mainstream ideological thought in Pakistan.


    History as official imaging: Ayesha Jalal

    Radicalization of state & society in Pakistan: Rubina Saigol

    Religion & Reality: GM Syed

    Pushtun Nationalism: From Seperation To Integration: Adeel Khan

    Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pushtun: Farhat Taj

    Faiz on cultural planning in Pakistan: ViewPoint

    The Phinox Flops: Nadeem F. Paracha

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

Source: The Dawn, Karachi