Ideology as ‘false consciousness’ – by Khaled Ahmed

Pakistan began describing itself as an ideological state when the word had been made respectable by the Soviet Union through its planned economy and rapid growth. Ideology in the case of Pakistan was its religion.

The state is not supposed to be without a purpose. Our ideology, like most other ideologies, was utopian. It made us different from India. India was more ‘planned’ and ‘socialist’ but was not called ideological because it did not ordain coercion. Today India is de-Nehruising itself. Should we too de-ideologise ourselves?

Ideology means that the state has an idea which it thinks is right, and will punish anyone who doesn’t believe the state. With the passage of time, and despite Section 123-A in the Pakistan Penal Code punishing anyone opposing the ‘ideology of Pakistan’, Pakistan has become relaxed about ideology. It is not like Iran; it is not like the Soviet Union either when it was run by the Communist Party.

In an ideological state — if fascist and totalitarian — there are supposed to be no individual liberties. The state is coercive, as in Iran, and people don’t have the right to think freely. In that sense, one can say that Pakistan is an ‘incomplete’ ideological state, a hybrid distasteful to the Islamists. It upsets many minds. The liberals complain the state tolerates extremism; the orthodox detest the state’s reluctance to reach its religious fulfilment as a violent utopia.

Where did ‘ideology’ come from?

The word was born in the French Revolution but Marx did not refer to it in any meaningful manner. However, Engels did discuss it, but surprisingly called it ‘false consciousness’. He meant that it was false so far as the state tried to create it under duress. (There is no other way ideology can be embraced.)

Alan Cassels says in his book Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World (Routledge, 1996): “The word ideologie came into use in the French revolutionary era in order to characterise the beliefs of certain anti-metaphysical philosophers who followed Locke and Condillac in contending that all knowledge derives from sensation.”

The French Revolution was the dark underside of Enlightenment in Europe. Its ‘ideology’ dealt in distortion and illusion and thus deserved the title of false consciousness. Engels is quoted in the book: “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it would simply not be an ideological process” (p.3).

Today, there is a consensus against ideology: “Ideology is a doctrine whose special claim upon the attention of its believer rests much less upon its supposedly scientific or philosophical character than upon the fact that it is a revelation” (p.6).

Interestingly, the ideology of the rationalist French Revolution — and later the October Revolution — replaced the dogma of the Church and demanded the ‘leap of faith’ the same way some of us want the ‘two-nation theory’ believed blindly. Distracted from other implications of ‘ideology’, we now take it to mean Islamic laws. But once we play on this turf, al Qaeda is more ideologically focused.

In his rejection of the Pakistan constitution, al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri questions Pakistan’s ‘incompleteness’. He wants the constitution to clearly ban bank interest, lotteries, insurance and stock exchange, etc, while clearly outlawing women as leaders of the state. His book The Morning and the Lamp is being distributed by the madrassas that agree with him.

As long as we are ideological, we have no business calling al Qaeda’s suicide-bombers non-Muslims. In fact, they are better Muslims killing lesser Muslims.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010.