Nationalism: inclusive versus exclusive – by Ishtiaq Ahmed

Part I published in the Daily Times:
As an ideology and political doctrine, nationalism is a claim set forth on behalf of a body of people claiming to constitute a nation to establish a sovereign state over a specific territory. Once that state comes into being, it has to devise a national identity to distinguish itself from other states. No state can hope to survive in the long run only through the exercise of force or threats. Deeper links in the larger society have to be cultivated so that a substantial number of people, a majority if not the whole of its population, identify with the state in an emotional sense. In order to achieve that, the state has to disseminate the national identity in the larger society through the educational system, the mass media and the political system.

This is not easily done because the selection of unifying symbols and values is a sensitive matter. There is no absolute or objective criterion — or criteria — on which nationalism in general or state-nationalism in particular can be grounded. Language, religion, common ethnic origin, historical experience, cultural heritage or civilisation, common residence in the same region, and various other such factors have been invoked from time to time to construct national identity. All types and forms of nationalism as well as official or state-nationalism can be classified as varieties of two analytically distinct types: the civic-political and the cultural/ethnic type of nationalism.

The civic model is conventionally associated with the emancipatory ethos of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution. It terminated the feudal system of hereditary privileges requiring inferiors to render duties and obligations to superiors. Instead an egalitarian body of equal citizens entitled to equal rights vis-à-vis the state was established in the new dispensation. It took that model another 156 years before it became truly universal and inclusive when the UN Charter of 1945 proclaimed it as the preferred framework for establishing participatory, democratic states.

The second type is known as the cultural or ethnic model of nationalism. Its origins are traced to the German Romantic Movement, which emerged in reaction to Napoleon’s expansionist wars to spread the European Enlightenment’s universalism and rationalism to the whole of Europe. For the German patriots it meant hegemony of the French culture rather than some universal spread of rationalism. Consequently, they emphasised the peculiarity and even uniqueness of the German culture. The underlying logic of such theorising was that nations were organic communities bound together through feelings of affection and solidarity deriving from a sense of common descent and culture. Thus rather than individual citizens being the main bearers of rights it was the nation or community which had priority over members. However, as a cultural marker, common language was not accepted by the German Romantics; hence only people of German blood could be proper Germans. German-speaking Jews or Roma people, also known as the Gypsies, were thus excluded. Nazism was the manifestation of an extreme type of nationalism based on putative common ethnic descent.

Keeping these two distinct models of nationalism and state-nationalism in mind, we can look at the problem of nation-building that Pakistan has faced from its inception in August 1947. The Muslim League asserted that Indian Muslims were a separate nation by virtue of their common faith in Islam. As a nation it was entitled to the right of self-determination over territories where Muslims were in majority. Such a definition ipso facto precluded non-Muslim Bengalis, Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Baloch or Urdu-speakers from the nation because they were not Muslims.

When Pakistan came into being, Mohammad Ali Jinnah heroically tried to reverse the basis of state-nationalism: instead of Muslim nationalism he proposed Pakistani nationalism. The August 11, 1947 speech was just that attempt to rectify the inherent tendency of ethno-religious nationalism to exclude those who do not fit the bill according to some organic sense of community. Jinnah had no compunctions in using Islam in the election campaign in the Muslim-majority provinces of northwestern India to mobilise Muslim support for Pakistan.

He was, however, too intelligent and too much of a liberal not to understand that religious nationalism is inherently anti-minorities. Therefore, he wanted to go back to his pristine liberal convictions based on equal rights and equal citizenship. However, here he miscalculated. He believed that giving birth to an idea — that Muslims are a separate nation by virtue of faith in Islam — to achieve a political objective would not prolong the life of that idea once the objective was achieved.

The history of ideas shows that once an idea takes off it acquires a life of its own — bigger and more powerful than its originator. That is exactly what happened in Pakistan. The birth of Pakistan was inevitably going to be bloody — anybody who knew the situation on the ground knew that well. Consequently, some one to two million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed during the partition massacres and pogroms; the biggest forced migration in history took place — at least 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted from their ancestral abodes where they had lived since time immemorial. In the partitioned Punjab — the first case of ethnic cleansing took place as both were emptied of unwanted minorities.

Those Muslims, especially who lost hearth and home in East Punjab, did it because they were Muslims. In fact, the loss of Muslim life in East Punjab was greater than the Hindus and Sikhs killed in West Punjab. Those Muslims who left northern India either under duress or voluntarily were also doing it because Pakistan was going to be a land for the Muslims. I interviewed the formal MQM president Azim Ahmed Tariq in Karachi in early 1990. He said to me that Nehru and Gandhi were insisting to our elders to remain in India but we decided to migrate to Pakistan, which was going to be the national home of Indian Muslims. This claim of the MQM is absolutely right though what they did to the Sindhis who opened their arms to receive them is another matter.

Could such a state easily become a secular, democratic state based on the French model of inclusive nationalism simply because its founder wanted to reverse the basis for citizenship because he was personally a secular-liberal? I will address this question in the follow-up article next week.

(To be continued)

Part II published in the Daily Times:
Jinnah wanted to establish a Muslim-majority state, but not a Muslim-majoritarian state that would privilege Muslims over non-Muslims in their status and rights as citizens; hence he spoke of Pakistani nationalism and not Muslim nationalism when on August 11, 1947 he addressed the Pakistan Constituent Assembly:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state…We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state…Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

Stanley Wolpert, who is considered a sympathetic biographer of Jinnah, has noted that when Jinnah was delivering his address even his immediate disciples were visibly confused and shaken. What Jinnah was doing was repudiating the basis of nationhood on which he had demanded Pakistan: that Muslims were a separate nation from other communities of India. Now, he seemed to champion inclusive nationalism. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur mentioned (‘Whose progeny? — I’, Daily Times, June 20, 2010) the 1928 Nehru Report as having made the same pledge. In fact, this was explicitly stated in the Nehru Report: “There shall be no state religion; men and women shall have equal rights as citizens.”

So, then, why first divide India on the basis of an exclusive nationalism based on religious criteria and then adopt an inclusive formula based on territorial criteria? Jinnah never explained. He simply employed a strategy that would deliver the objective: the creation of a separate Muslim state. Moreover, both before and after the creation of Pakistan he did refer to Islam playing a role in the polity. The letter to Pir Manki Sharif is testimony to that. Therefore, all sections of Pakistani society could pick and choose a statement of his or pledge given by him that suited their sensibilities.

His followers were less charismatic. They were products of the Aligarh Muslim University. They had been fed on the Romantic School of eclectic historical narrative associated with Syed Ameer Ali, Shibli Nomani and others. Iqbal greatly augmented such thinking with his poetic recital of the glory of Islam, especially that of its military exploits. Thus bringing Islam in the centre of Pakistani national identity was imperative for them to justify the creation of Pakistan.

Hence, when the Hindu members of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly expressed their worries about ‘sovereignty over the entire universe belonging to God’, Liaquat Ali Khan assured them that a Muslim state should have no problem in having a non-Muslim as prime minister. However, this was not true even when the wording of the Objectives Resolution was pompous and ornamental; there was a catch. Somebody had to translate God’s sovereignty into authoritative and binding commands. The framers of the Objectives Resolution attempted a caricature of the idea of the ‘sovereign’ that originally Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) had developed. The Hobbesian Sovereign was to be chosen by the people and was a tangible person or a body of persons. John Austin (1790-1859) had reinforced the same idea that the sovereign must be someone real. With God now being declared as sovereign, and such a sovereign not identifiable as a concrete individual (king) or as a body (national parliament), the will of the sovereign had to be determined by someone.

Since the two undisputed sources of ascertaining such will were the Quran and Sunnah, it meant that their authority would override all other wills. Such a pre-condition disqualified non-Muslims from effectively taking part in the constitution-making process. The discussions in the Constituent Assembly dragged on for years as the members tried to find a solution that was both Islamic and democratic. The 1956 and 1962 constitutions came up with a formula that said that all laws repugnant to Quran and Sunnah will be removed, and all laws brought into consonance with the Quran and Sunnah. Both declared that only a Muslim male could be president of Pakistan.

During the colonial period, inflating the Muslim percentage of the total Indian population was good for Muslim nationalism, so all those who had in the 1931 and 1941 Census of India entered their names in the records as Muslims were accepted as Muslims. So, Sunnis, Wahabis, Shias, Ahmedis, Communist Muslims, all were welcomed by the Muslim League. Now, when the will of God and representing the presidency was concerned, the problem of who is a Muslim could not be evaded for long. Historically, all Islamic states had been either the Sunni or Shia or Khwariji states.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, some new groups with drastically different theologies were claiming to be Muslims as well. Consequently the movement to make Pakistan an Islamic state based on Sunni-Shia dogmas emerged soon after independence. In 1951, Maududi proposed a 22-point Islamic agenda called theo-democracy — that is both a democracy and a theocracy. Only a mullah could formulate such a hyphenated contradiction.

The next on the process of exclusion were understandably the Ahmedis whose beliefs were irreconcilable with the Sunni and Shia doctrine of Khatm-e-Nabuwat or the Finality of the Prophethood of Mohammad (PBUH). This was formalised in 1974 when the elected members of the National Assembly declared the Ahmedis as non-Muslims. Bhutto indeed exploited this for political purposes, but he was by no means the first to exploit Islam for political gains; this was deeply rooted in the emergence of Pakistan.

The Pakistani Shia minority is too large — 10-20 percent depending on who you talk to — and too well-connected within Pakistan and regionally. Excluding them from the category of equal citizens may not be possible formally, but it is inherent in the nature of a confessional state to discriminate against those who do not comply with ‘correct belief’.

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