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February 11, 2016
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Towards a national democratic narrative

Opinion

February 11, 2016

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In my previous column I tried to summarise the extremist religious narrative. In this column I will be presenting a counter-narrative. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently been repeatedly asserting that Pakistan should be a liberal, democratic and progressive state. What does he mean, if not changing the nature and character of state? Based on our critique of the extremist religious narrative, broad features of a counter-narrative – a national democratic narrative – are being presented here:

Who are we as a people? What is our identity? What makes us different from other Muslims who live in 56 Muslim-majority states and are separated from each other by ethnicity, geography, culture, language and nationhood? These are the questions that bog every young mind in search of an identity. They confuse faith with ethno-lingual-national identity and opt for further divisions on sectarian lines.

Had Muslims been one, there would not have been 56 nation-states and they would not have been divided on multiple sectarian lines in an infinite battle of apostatising one another. Hence, the need to understand nationhood and how to undertake nation-building rather than on the basis of political Islam that has divided us on sectarian lines instead of binding us together.

Since its creation, Pakistan has faced principal questions regarding the nature and character of the state – whether it ought to be a Muslim state, an Islamic state, a theocracy, or a federal, democratic, and secular republic. What will be the role of religion and its relationship with the state and education system? Will it be a secular state or theocracy? What will be the scope of people’s fundamental, civil, social, and human rights, particularly of women, minorities, and the dispossessed?

There has been a continuous ideological struggle on these issues that continues to this day. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah did not want Pakistan to become a theocratic state. He wanted to keep religion out of state matters and believed in religious freedom with equal rights as citizens.

The Muslims’ communitarian movement in British India before Partition was primarily for the rights of the minority community, as manifested by the ‘Two-Nation’ theory. In light of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, Pakistan was created out of the Muslim-majority areas and was not meant for all the Muslims of the Subcontinent. Various nationalities and different peoples living in Pakistan have their own history and separate ethno-cultural roots. Although it is a Muslim-majority country, Pakistan has a strong territorial basis that constitutes the Pakistani nation out of the voluntary accession of multinational federating units and assimilation of multicultural heritages.

If Islamic ideology was such an overriding factor, then why did East Pakistan separate and why didn’t all the Muslims of India migrate? Essentially different from the religious communities, the sociological and ethnical evolution of various people passed through various stages of societal development – from families to clans, clans to tribes and various tribes to nationalities and nationalities to nations. Similarly, the evolution of the state has also passed through various stages of history – from the ancient to feudal and modern nation-state. It’s a politico-legal entity which has nothing to do with religion, even though its citizens may belong to various cultures, ethnicities and religions.

Unfortunately, Islam’s sacred name was used as an ideological shield to exploit both the underprivileged and oppressed nationalities and minorities. The languages, cultures, and rights of indigenous peoples were trampled in the name of Islam and the national language (Urdu). Nation-building and national cohesion were not promoted because of over-emphasis on a so-called Islamic or ‘Pakistan ideology’. Instead of creating homogeneity, it ended up creating heterogeneity. Consequently, due to the spread of religious sectarianism, the building and progress of a nation-state on a religious basis is no longer plausible. Nation-building is not done by denigrating and discriminating against Muslim and non-Muslim minorities; this only creates national anarchy.

The Pakistani nation-state, though not historic, is a product of a social contract in a democratic manner. If it has to evolve on the basis of unity in diversity, it can only be a federalist democracy on the basis of unity among the federating units, where all citizens enjoy equal rights irrespective of colour, creed, race, gender, or religion. The concept of a democratic state is irreconcilable with theocracy and does not grant the ulema (clerics) divine right to make a law and enforce it. Faith is a matter between Allah and the faithful and every citizen has a right to believe and practise his/her religion without the intervention of the state or vigilantes.

In every society there is a variety of people with different views, ideologies, cultures and languages, as in Pakistan. The Subcontinent has its own history and we cannot disown it. The Indus Valley civilisation is our heritage – not Turkish, Afghan, or Arab cultures, even though many elements of these alien cultures have mixed with our indigenous cultures. On the other hand, alienation from our Indus Valley civilisation, indigenous cultures and history divorces Muslims from their roots. The Sufis made their place in the hearts of the people by adopting languages and cultures of the Subcontinent.

As opposed to the view that Muslims have strayed away from Islam, the fact is that they probably practise their faith much more vigorously than followers of other religions. However, the virtues of moderation, justice, tolerance, prudence, justice, egalitarianism, humanism, self-sacrifice, and peace professed by Islam are conveniently ignored by extremists in favour of barbarism, intolerance, ignorance, hate and conflict.

Intellectually, the Muslim world has still not come out of the Dark Ages and has not experienced the intellectual fruits of the Renaissance. The primary cause of the deplorable condition of the Muslims and of their intellectual and material underdevelopment is that they are still stuck in the past and have failed to adapt to modern developments in the spheres of science, technology, politics, economics, law and human development. According to Allama Iqbal, unfortunately religious thought among Muslims is ideologically and historically frozen and they have abandoned the tradition of ijtihad. And only they themselves are to be blamed for this decadence.

Although some of the anti-democratic amendments made to the constitution by dictators have been removed, the most reactionary distortions introduced by General Ziaul Haq continue to preserve the constitution’s religious tilt against its original balance and moderation. Parliamentary religious parties are essentially sectarian or cult-like, and have become apologists of terrorism and are bent upon setting up a divisive theocracy. Paradoxically, under pressure from religious extremism, the liberal parties have often compromised on liberal-democratic values. The intellectual and cultural spheres as well as education have been handed over to bigoted and religious elements that also dominate most of the academia and media; their narrative finds patronage from the most powerful elements of the state.

Without changing the divisive and parochial ideology of the state and defeating the extremist paradigm, the war against terrorism can’t be won. It can be won by evolving a national democratic paradigm in all spheres of state and society.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

 

 

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