Saturday, July 18, 2009

Secularism, Communalism, and Pakistan

Friday, June 5, 2009
The Original Lawyer's Movement
By Supna Zaidi

"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."

If we polled Pakistanis today, what are the odds that anyone polled would be able to recognize that the above quote came from their nation's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Secularism in the Muslim world has evolved into a dirty word, indicative not of "individual conscious", but selfish dictatorship. Religious parties across the region realize that the people are taken care of by their governments and so, selfishly make a grab for power by offering what civil society fails to. Take Egypt for example, the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to indoctrinate Egyptians into its militant anti-colonial Islamist rhetoric by operating hospitals, schools and other charities.

In Pakistan, the greatest void is in the area of education. In a country where the majority of its budget is reserved for the military, countless children (and now adults) remain illiterate and uneducated for decades. Foreign money, mostly Saudi filled the gap with Islamist madrassas that indoctrinated the youth with the same militant anti-colonial rhetoric that the Muslim Brotherhood prescribe in the Arab world.

Today, democratic institutions are not overthrown by Islamists, but undermined through the system. Arguing falsely that secularism is anti-religion, and anti-Muslim, Islamists are pushing for a paradigm shift in the Muslim world toward Islamism that never found success in Pakistan.
Minus the period of Islamic history ending with four "rightly guided caliphs", Muslims always gave lip service to their adherence to Sharia, but never lived under governmental and societal systems that were founded on it. Rather, institutions varied from Byzantine, Mongol to latter European adaptations. The severity of a life under complete Sharia was romanticized, but never realized. Even in post British India, the Khilafate movement stirred emotions, but never a majority following. Jinnah was a secular constitutionalist who married a Parsi, and whose daughter later married a Parsi.

The most critical mistake Jinnah made was concede "Islamic" in the name of Pakistan to quiet the religious clerics. Thus, the "Islamic nation of Pakistan" was born, and the subsequent identity politics it fostered continues today. But, without any quality education for the masses, the majority of Pakistanis do not even know the history of the subcontinent up till partition and the goals of its founder. Yet, they know Islam. Or think they do. Pakistani human rights activist, Asma Jahangir quipped that she found it amazing (in a negative way) that her children, upon a visit to India, realized that she had Hindu friends. But, unfortunately, they feel very confident in enforcing their Wahhabi inspired fanaticism.

Last month, I heard about a poor girl in Lahore who went to a tailor shop to get some clothes mended. She was wearing a sleeveless top and wore no headscarf. As of today, the hijab is still not the norm in Pakistan. A fourteen year old boy with a hot iron burned her on one of her bare arms for "not dressing modestly" and ran off. The tailor watched silently as the girl wailed for someone to do something. The tailor's sad response went a little like this, "If I retaliated against the boy, he and all his friend's would burn down my shop at night."

This is the law and order situation in Pakistan today. Pakistanis are either confident Islamists, or stuttering cowards who are too afraid to get involved. As of the "2008 elections, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties that ruled the NWFP from 2002-07,won 10 of 100 seats in the NWFP Legislature. In Sindh province, religious parties failed to get even one of 130 seats, while in Baluchistan, the alliance took seven of 51 seats, and in Punjab, one seat out of 297."

But with Islamists gaining influence within the Obama administration, and Secretary Gates inviting Saudi Arabia to "help" Pakistan negotiate with the Taliban, religious parties just might seem reasonable to Pakistanis who never would have thought so before.

A history lesson would do Pakistanis good. The original lawyer's movement did not begin post-Musharaff, but with its own founder.

(Supna Zaidi is assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project at the Middle East Forum and editor of Muslim World Today.)

Member of the Internet Link Exchange

Front Page Editorials South Asia Media Arab Media Focus Archives Subscribe to Muslim World Today Advertise on Muslim World Today

Copyright © 2009 Muslim World Today

No comments: