Whiplash: Ziaist Islam takes hold in Pakistan – by Nadeem Paracha

A consensus across various academic and intellectual circles now states that violent entities such as the Pakistani Taliban and assorted sectarian organisations are the pitfalls of policies pursued by the state through its intelligence agencies to safeguard Pakistan’s ‘strategic’ and ideological interests.

The supposed ideology was constructed by the ruling establishment many years after the painful birth of this country. It has since been used by the state apparatus, political parties and media men to justify the patronisation and formation of brutal reactive outfits and groups. But whose ideology is it anyway? Pakistan seemed to have had a simple answer till about 1956. This answer, it seems, did not suit the political and economic interests of the early Pakistani ruling elite.

Till about the late 1960s it was normal to suggest that Pakistan was carved as a country for Muslims of the subcontinent who were largely seen (by Jinnah and his comrades in the Muslim League), as a distinct cultural set of Indians whose political, economic and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial ‘Hindu-dominated’ setup. As Jinnah went about explaining his vision of Pakistan, there was no doubt whatsoever in the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and politics would remain separate.

The state was to be driven by modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and interfaith tolerance. According to Professor Aysha Jalal, Jinnah’s view of Islamic activism in the subcontinent was akin to his understanding it as a phenomenon that ‘derided the false and dangerous religious frenzy which had confused Indian politics and the zealots who were harming the national cause.’

However, Jinnah’s death in 1948 reduced his Muslim League (from being a dynamic organisation of visionary action) to a rag-tag group of self-serving politicians. It became a pale reflection of its pre-independence past. Gone too was the party’s ability to bring into policy Jinnah’s modernist Muslim vision. The idea got increasingly muddled and shouted down by the once anti-Pakistan Islamic forces, who now started flexing their muscles in the face of a disintegrating Muslim League, and the erosion of the ideal that its leader stood for.

The Jamat-i-Islami (JI) went on a rampage in 1953 in Lahore, hungrily overseeing the country’s first major anti-Ahmadi riots. Of course, by now the famous speech by Jinnah in which he underlined the idea of religious freedom in the new country was conveniently forgotten as the ruling elite grappled confusingly with the crises of its own creation. Eventually, it capitulated to the demands of the handful of vocal Islamist leaders by officially declaring the country an ‘Islamic Republic’. It was classic ostrich behaviour; the sort a number of Pakistani leaders continue to demonstrate whenever faced with the question of Pakistan and its relationship to political Islam.

Misunderstanding Islamist activism as mere emotionalism, the ruling elite gave the Islamists a bone to play with, without bothering to explain to the rest of the people exactly what an Islamic republic really meant in the Pakistani context — a country buzzing with a number of ethnicities, minority religions and distinct Muslim sects. A democratic order should have been a natural answer to the state’s crisis. But for Islamists, democracy meant the emergence of ethnic and religious plurality that would encourage secular politics and further undermine the notion of the new-found Islam-centric Pakistani nationhood.

Many years and follies later, and in the midst of unprecedented violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam, Pakistanis today stand more confused and flabbergasted than ever before. The seeds of ideological schizophrenia that the 1956 constitution sowed followed by the disastrous doings of the Gen Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s. These have now grown into a wicked tree that only bears delusions and denials as fruit.

As Islamic parties and reactionary journalists continue to use the flimsy historical narrative of Pakistan’s Islamic republicism, consciously burying the harrowing truth behind the chaos the so-called’ Islamic ideology of Pakistan’ has managed to create, whole new generations grow up lapping up this synthetic narrative. While it has continued to alienate not only the religious minorities — Muslim and non-Muslim — it has also stoked intolerance among the very vocal and assertive, puritan Muslims.

A recent example is the way many puritan Islamic groups have reacted to the conservative Nawaz Sharif’s statement sympathising with the plight of the Ahmadis. Also, one of Pakistan’s outstanding, moderate Islamic scholars, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, has had to fly out of the country into a self-imposed exile. According to an executive producer at a popular Urdu-language TV channel, Ghamdi was facing a number of threats from certain puritan and violent Islamic groups.

His sin? He stood out as a mainstream Sunni Muslim scholar who banked on reason and an interpretive take on the Quran, eschewing the myopic literalism of the puritan groups that espouse a violent, political view of Islam.

Source: Dawn, 13 Jun, 2010



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