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The Ideology Of Thought Control In Pakistan

By Maheen Usmani

1 Aug. 2011


Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It has become something of a personality cult in Pakistan. Nowhere is this cognitive dissonance more visible than amongst the educated who refuse to accept facts and logic, clinging instead to a neurotic persecution complex.

Columnist Khaled Ahmed says: “The vast majority of literate Pakistanis take comfort in ignorance, skepticism and conspiracy theories. The self-glorification of an imagined past matched by habits of national denial have assumed crisis proportions today when Pakistan’s existence is under far more serious threat from fellow Muslims than it was in 1947 from rival non Muslim communities.” What lies beneath this inability to critique and lack of intelligent analysis? Undoubtedly, one’s education influences views on politics and society. As Robert Frost aptly puts it: “education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

To sift the chaff from the grain, let us consider a ubiquitous slogan about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. A staple of our school textbooks, it echoed in massive public rallies as well as debates on secularism. Pakistan ka matlab kiya? La illaha il lallah (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah) has become the rallying cry of the campaign to Islamise Pakistani society. Ironically, it is a slogan that was coined long after the creation of Pakistan, but it is now being falsely ascribed to the leaders of the Pakistan movement in 1947.

Religion has often proved to be a powerful binding factor which has merged heterogeneous groups into a distinct nationality. Through appeal to supernatural authority, religion promotes national unity as a divine command. Examples abound in contemporary history: the Greek church as a source for Greek nationalism, the Catholic church as a factor in Irish separatism, Judaism and the state of Israel, Islam and Pakistan.

Soon after he seized power in 1977, General Zia ul-Haq sought to create a nation based on religion rather than on secular principles. An important part of the Islamisation agenda was defining the Islamic ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. In stark contrast to modern textbooks, no textbook written prior to 1977 mentions the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’.

Since education was a key factor in Zia’s Machiavellian manoeuvrings, a presidential order was issued that all Pakistan Studies textbooks must “demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularise it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a completely Islamised State.”

Instead of being a Muslim state as envisaged by its founders, Pakistan was recast in the mould of an Islamic state, where Islamic law would reign supreme. A state sponsored and systematic purging of liberal and secular values of future generations of Pakistan ensued.

History was rewritten to redefine Pakistani as an Islamic society, and no research on ancient India, the medieval period or the colonial era. Our history was linked with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, thus alienating it from ancient Indian history. This interpretation creates a Muslim consciousness that seeks it’s identity outside India.

Historian Mubarak Ali cautions “History should not be influenced by religious beliefs since history has no religion. Pakistan came into being in 1947, but our history existed before this which cannot be deleted.”

History textbooks written soon after Partition – a time when the grief of shattered families who experienced communal killings was at its peak – show a more liberal mindset. The history of the subcontinent was taken to start with the ancient Indus valley civilisations rather than with the conquest of India by the first Muslim invader, Mohammad bin Qasim, in 712. In contrast to today’s history books, these books contained discussions of the empires of Emperor Ashoka and the Maurya dynasty. Has there has been a deliberate revival of communal antagonism over 30 years after Partition? Undoubtedly, the permanent militarisation of society requires a permanent enemy.

Although Edward Everett may state that “education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army”, the task of defending Pakistan’s ideological borders has been entrusted to the military as they are defenders of the ‘faith.’ Textbooks extol the achievements of Muslim conquering heroes, as well as those of the Armed Forces. In sharp contrast, no contributions by any heroes in fields like education, medicine, law or social work are highlighted.

September 6 commemorates the defense of the country against an Indian attack in 1965. According to our textbooks, it was India which attacked Lahore in the middle of the night, without any provocation, but our army won this war. The reality is that Pakistan started the 1965 war on August 5 by sending soldiers into Kashmir and India retaliated the following day.

Instead of the soul searching and accountability undertaken by nations like Japan and Germany after devastating wars, our history textbooks explained the separation of East Pakistan in 1971 as an evil design by India which created the guerrilla group Mukhti Bahini in order to seize Pakistani territory. Although we lost half of Pakistan, there was no mention of the gross inequalities which led to the grievances of the Bengalis. Tens of thousands died, millions were displaced, atrocities were committed and the country was rent asunder. But the guilty were never punished.

The seeds of the distortion of history and the preponderance of religious dogma which were sown decades ago are bearing fruit today. Examples from the curriculum designed by the Federal Ministry of Education abound. The Social Studies textbook for Class 7 says: “European nations have been working during the past three centuries, through conspiracies on naked aggression to subjugate the countries of the Muslim world.”

14-year-old students of Pakistan Studies are being taught that: “one of the reasons of the downfall of the Muslims in the sub-continent was the lack of the spirit of jihad.”

13-year-olds are instructed: “In Islam jihad is very important…..The person who offers his life never dies….All the prayers nurture one’s passion of jihad.”

Thus, a primary and secondary school environment is being created which is nurturing prejudice and extremism. “College and university come much too late; change must begin at the primary and secondary school level,” sums up physicist and lecturer Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Although religious schools or madrassas in Pakistan are often blamed for breeding extremism, only 6 per cent of children are educated in these schools. Furthermore, research does not confirm the link between madrassa education and terrorism. The cause for the intolerance experienced by Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians lies in public education, structured as it has been to defend Pakistan against some phantom enemy. Non-Muslims are forced to read the same textbooks which contain derogatory remarks against Hindus, e.g being eternal enemies of Muslims. Our myopic educational system discourages questioning and causes ethnic and religious minorities to be viewed with suspicion.

Pakistan is primarily a young country, so it is the youth which is severely impacted by rampant unemployment, inflation, corruption and violence. Many amongst this disenchanted segment have started seeing religion as their anchor and are attracted to demagogues like Zaid Hamid. A self-proclaimed jihadist who claims to have fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Hamid banks on the insecurity and frustrations of college students and television viewers. Just as Adolf Hitler dwelt on Germany’s ‘wounded honour’ in his famous beer-hall oratory in Munich (where he promised that Germany would conquer the world), Hamid calls for the Pakistan Army to go to war against India and liberate Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Our curriculum stresses the formal and ritualistic aspects of Islam, as against those which emphasise social justice. Science and secular knowledge are regarded with contempt. Dr Hoodbhoy says, “I have never seen a first-rate Muslim scientist become an Islamist or a terrorist even when he or she is a strong believer. But second-and third-rate technologists are more susceptible. These are people who use science in some capacity but without any need to understand it very much—engineers, doctors, technicians, etc.—all of whom are more inclined towards radicalism. They have been trained to absorb facts without thinking, and this makes them more susceptible to the inducements of holy books and preachers.”

The steady diet of religious fundamentalism and blind faith has clouded objective and rational thinking, and transformed Pakistan from a moderate Muslim-majority country into one where the majority wants Islam to play a key role in politics. A 2008 survey by World Public Opinion found that 54 per cent of Pakistanis wanted strict application of Sharia. The British Council polled 1226 young Pakistanis between 18 and 29 in 2009 and found that ‘three-quarters of all young people identify themselves primarily as Muslims. Just 14 per cent chose to define themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan.’

Pakistan’s skewed priorities may account for the huge amount spent on its ever increasing “defence needs” and only 1.5 per cent of it’s GDP on education. But lost in the brouhaha over the lack of access to education is the dire need to revise the dogmatic and distorted school curriculum. As the pendulum swings in Pakistan between radicals and moderates, we need our friends to stand with us and demand that Pakistanis don’t need an education which stunts, blinds, distorts and deadens any more. As Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.”

Maheen Usmani is a freelance journalist. She has reported on varied subjects, ranging from socio-political issues to sports, travel, culture and counter terrorism.




85 Responses to " The ideology of thought control in Pakistan "

1.  Abdul Fattah Solangi says:

August 13, 2011 (2 days ago) at 6:00 pm

Although the writer has attempted to touch the core issue but yet she has deeply gone into exaggerating the issue. Besides, she has really ignored the reality that except English and M. T no other subject is paid attention to including Islamic studies and Pakistan studies; even private school are no exception to it. What is in the syllabus, even the appointed teachers don’t know. So the question of misguiding the students does not arise at all. JIHAD means strive and struggle. Had it not been taught in the primary or secondary schools, children would believe what some unlearned Mullahs told them, i.e. Holy War.

2. saman says:

August 7, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 10:25 pm

A thought- provoking article. I wish Maheen you could write in urdu so that masses could really know the facts. Well Done, Maheen, I am proud of you.

3. hamad says:

August 5, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 9:31 am

Pakistan cannot produce single world level scientist in her all life since birth. There must be some reason???? Of course it is that we are brought up with education that shuns our thinking process where we are discouraged to raise questions by saying that accept this as it Divine knowledge on the name of supremacy of religion! Remember what Prof Abdus Slam said after his M.Sc in Mathematics from GCU,”either I should leave the country or science”. He did latter. And what grim demonstrate proceeded by students of Quid e Azam university when he returned back to Pakistan for developing science institution here. By this precedent, one can calculate the narrowness, even by the educated class of Pakistan s most elite university. We have to review our text books at all.

4. Gajanan Taman says:

August 4, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 9:29 am

I find Pakistani youth is highly intelligent. They are fully conscious of distortions in their educational system. My heart-felt thanks to Ms Osmani and DAWN for this article.

5. Rashid says:

August 3, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 10:28 pm

Good article and well effort by writer to mould minds of Pakistanis….

6. Tariq says:

August 3, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 1:04 am

It is not just the illiterate masses who are living in denial. Last week I met a visiting couple from Pakistan at a dinner party here in the SF Bay area. The husband / wife were both educated working professionals. Here are some of the gems they dropped during the dinner table chit chat.

1. The attack of Sri-Lanka Cricket team was the work of Indian agents.

2. the attack on PNS Mehran was the work of American agents.

3. The devastating floods last year were caused by Indians who can now control the water flow into Pakistani rivers because of all the illegal dams they have constructed up-river.

4. There are no Pakistani Taliban. The terrorist attacks around the country are the works of Americans in order to justify the Drone attacks and keep Pakistan involved in the war on terror.

5. If the Americans simply leave Pakistan all our problems will disappear instantly.

There was a lot more in the same vein. My two American born and raised teenagers had this to say after wards: “Dad, people in your old country are Nuts”.

7. Yousuf says:

August 3, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 12:39 am

A very nice article which shows the root cause of the different social and political problems in Pakistan. But one thing to be pointed out, this question (referring to British poll) is really absurd in its sense that what are we primarily? Pakistani first or Muslim first? Both can be at the same time and can’t be, I am Muslim and Pakistani, state has nothing to do with my religion, and my religion has nothing to do with other Pakistanis, they have to follow their own way. We should see our role as a just Pakistanis……. in fact this is main body of the article, I guess.

8. ambijat says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 7:20 pm

People like Maheen Usmani are Kohinoor of Pakistan. They must flourish for the cause of humanity.

9. Abdul says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:41 pm

great article

10. Bilal says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:40 pm

Can’t agree any more with your views. The current education system is churning out violence obsessed frustrated youth who blindly consider west as the sole cause of all of their miseries. It’s high time we expel this theocratic jargon from our school books for good.

11.  ashutosh says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:23 pm

It is that much more difficult to accept facts that are true, despite having been nurtured oneself in the same untruth one has actually identified and has had the courage of one’s conviction to state that it is untrue. Brave indeed, this journalist. Salutations to this lady.

12.  ExMuslim says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:21 pm

Good article. But try saying this to your local mullah and you will see the reaction immediately.


Whereu says:

August 7, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 7:17 am

Right on the button ExMuslim. These people are incapable of dealing with any form of criticism. This can be the result of lack of confidence in what they believe. If they were confident they would counter criticism with logical discussion rather than with threats.

13. Ratnesh says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:21 pm

That land gave two oldest religion to the world: Hinduism and Buddhism. One of the oldest university in the world, greatest empire of Maurya, oldest books (vedas) were written somewhere in the foothill of Himalaya, Sindh etc. Alexander defeated on that land. What else any country need to be proud of?? Is it just because of religion?? Then what do you say about Egyptian, Mesopotamia, Persian, Greeks, Romans?? I rest my case



14. Shakil says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:20 pm

Almost completely agree with the writer, it’s true the history is distorted by some short sighted leaders. It’s not only one sided distortion of history, Indian side has similar share in creating hate culture between Pakistan and India. The view changes when both Indian and Pakistanis interact with each other and initial perception changes with time and after fact finding exercise.

Having said that, defense spending is more linked to political solution of Jammu and Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India, its not only a religious issue though faith is being used. But core problem is resolution of this issue. After that there will be no more reason for hate mongering on both sides. From that point onwards, both countries have much in common than any other on the planet. They can and will exist as good neighbors with harmony and friendship!

15. imran sheikh says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 6:09 pm

A balanced article that points out the systematic mis-use of religion. The priorities in Islam are Tauheed (not joining anyone in worship with God), then respect and care of parents, then Haqooq-ul-Ibad ( respecting the rights of your fellow humans-note: not just Muslims) and then the tenets, like namaz, zakat, etc. None of these speaks of anything but a concern for all humanity at the individual level. The inability of the majority of Muslims to read, and further read and understand Arabic to understand the message themselves has opened up huge opportunities for people who deliberately or unwittingly distort the message of Islam. Education must be the overwhelming priority for all Muslim countries, so that at least Muslims may read different translations and decide for themselves what appeals to their intellect.

16. n.qureshi says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 5:45 pm

Excellent article.

17. ranga says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 3:16 pm

Good, well thought article.

The though process is excellent. Religion is not important, the faith is. We need to learn to keep religion separate and personal.

One of the best, impartial articles.

Please do not join politics.

18. Nishant Visen says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 3:00 pm

A very thought provoking article for all those who want to see Pakistan in its present form some years down the line. Do act upon it or else your Pakistan will implode sooner than later.

19. Nooruddin Jalal says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 2:56 pm

I agree with you Maheen- because the dogma of ignorance seems to be the sole reason of clash among the future generations of this land. Therefore we need a massive effort to educate the Pakistani youths in a more thoughtful, competent and complete manner for the nation responsibilities which they will be expected to fulfill, and particularly in education sector. What the youth know is therefore no longer the most important measure for a progressive country. The true test is the ability of youth to engage with what they do not know in this cosmopolitan society, on ground basis and to work out a solution. We need to redefine our dim strategy; we need to modify the law, which is based on discrimination so that every Pakistani can enjoy the national rights.

My hats off to you Maheen! The most prominent article I have ever read on the ideology of Pakistan.

20. Irfan Husain says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 2:46 pm

The clearest exposition of the mess we are in today that I have read in a long time. This clarion call for reason and secularism in our public discourse and in our text books needs to be widely disseminated.

21. Human says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 2:04 pm

At first I want to give thanks to the team of DAWN for such a bold and transparent publication thereafter, I want to pay my thanks and hearty respect to madam Usmani for such an excellent and cultured presentation. If 10% like madam Usmani is in Pakistan then remaining 90% will automatically be changed because the power of good is more powerful than the power of evils.

22. Dilip (South Africa) says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 1:51 pm

WOW!!!!! The first article i have come across that both the PAKISTANI and INDIAN commentators are unified. Tolerance is the word. If BOTH of us carry ourselves in this manner, than we have somethings to look forward to. Great goings … Let us LEARN …. Let us RESPECT ….. Let us live in HARMONY ….. Let us ENJOY this beautiful World.

M ohammad says:

August 2, 2011 (2 weeks ago) at 1:47 pm

The article clearly shows the problems in our thinking process as citizens of Pakistan is so true that our core value and belief system are badly distorted by people in power. Our major problem that we have a wrong perception of our grassroot realties and state of affairs ,as one author states “ The way we see the problem , is the problem “