Ethos and sensibilities

January 30, 2022

A comprehensive study of the control,employment and deployment of the male and the female

Ethos and sensibilities

Pakistan has been juggling the roles of a progressive Islamic republic along with the dual image of a nation that also implies sharia. It is under this ideological dichotomy that the contemporary political, social and cultural milieu of this nation is refurbished in a fashion that eventually ascribes to the predetermined roles of both genders. This ‘performance of piety’ by both (masculine overpowering of the feminine) is the subject of Shenila Khooja-Moolji’s latest offering Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness and Affective Politics in Pakistan. The book delves into the study of the control, employment and deployment of the male and the female by the state and Pakistani faction of the Taliban.

Moolji approaches the social implications of the War on Terror, on the ethnic identity and class (state’s control over the heterosexual middle-class family) through a gendered lens. She further categorises her research by focusing on the socio-cultural ramifications of renewed approaches to religion, nationalism and their impact on gender rather than solely dealing with geopolitics. Sovereign Attachments deals with the masculine role and the subsequent archetypal performance of masculinity in the first half of the book; the second half is centred on the very “performance of piety” by the female body, orchestrated by the Muslimness of the male. This female body is the site of honour, respect and national resolve; paradoxically, it is dependent and awaits rescue either from the local or the foreign.

In a classic Westphalian order, sovereignty ideally is reserved for states and is consequentially controlled and practiced by them as well. However, in the case of Pakistan, Moolji’s Sovereign Attachments shows how sovereignty can also be exercised by the opposing members. The book is incisive, precise and touches upon what it is to be a Pakistani Muslim man and woman, upholding the ideals of Pakistaniyat (Page 150). This distinction legitimises the efforts and public support for the ideological wars being fought by the state and the TTP. The book substantiates this codifying of religion through the male and female, by delineating the types of masculinities demonstrated in the memoirs of three national leaders; Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan.

Moolji defines a “Islamo-masculinity” based on Bonnie Mann’s “sovereign masculinity.” The author argues that normative masculinity intersects with the “performance of Muslimness” and is set forth through the treatment, laws and agency afforded to women. The book discusses respect, paternal affection and sexual perverseness – based on the colonial tradition – as hallmarks that distinguish the jawan and the talib; paternal protection offered by the former and the perverse sexual nature of the latter, conflating on female subjugation, their autonomy and control.

The first half of the book, titled Sovereign Islamo-masculinities, delves into the use of this performance of Muslimness by the male. The distinction between the jawan and the talib is drawn on the grounds of “heteronormative sexuality, Islamic warrior masculinity and modernity (Page 54).” This provides a national, progressive outlook to the protective, hetero and paternal masculinity of the state, accentuating the normative Islam it represents.

The talib, on the other hand, has an almost pan-Islamic approach, calling for a mujahid and a mujahida to join the righteous cause. The term mujahid was used by the Pakistani forces (with American support) during the Cold War, to train the Afghans in the ’80s against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The invoking of this term is a reminder by the Pakistani Taliban referring to the past and the now ‘foreign’ (ideological) occupation of the Pakistani state; and its supposedly ‘secular’ leanings.

The second half of the book centres on the female and its use by the state and the TTP. Moolji sees a similarity when it comes to ‘managing’ women, their autonomy and their agency. This is utilised to find legitimacy for their ideology and for their growing industry from their recipients. This legitimacy is augmented in their daily attire and language observed by the talib or taliba. Liberties deemed as progressive or moderate by the outsider are easily ‘granted’ by the state as shown in their publications and productions (Page 141) assimilating with a global and a national audience.

Moolji holds that the performance of piety by the female is often tethered with the male (state’s) codes of honour and respectability. For example, the use of “kinship metaphors” (Page 142) like beti, behn and “unruly daughters”. The book also argues on the basis of class and its intersection with gender and acceptability within the confines of nationhood. In the case of Mukhtaran Mai (Page 152), Musharraf’s remarks stand in opposition to his claim to enlightened moderation. The author uses the examples of Gulalai and Malala, who according to the Taliban are “wayward sisters”, deviating from the Islamic values, becoming a “political tool”.

The book also dilates on mothers who strengthen the “paternalistic attachment” to the state by performing sacrificial duty. Categorising them as “mourning and melancholic mothers”, the former performs her (gender) duty by offering sacrifice and then mourning the loss of her son and by complying with the state’s policies. The latter questions the state’s reaction to that loss. The paternalistic attachment exhibited by the mourning mother to the state is again a reiteration of the female asking for male protection.

Sovereign Attachments has been published at a time when the twenty-year American occupation of Afghanistan has ended with the Taliban takeover. In this context, Moolji’s work provides an explanation and pathway for the postcolonial Pakistan in a post-secular world. Sovereign Attachments focuses on the well-established middle-class ethos. These middle-class sensibilities are injected, moulded and fashioned on the grounds of religion, morals and nationalism. In turn, these are responsible for producing the desired effect for the respective audience. The focus on the ideal progressive Islamic republic highlights how the female is connected with national duty (and male honour). Moolji’s Sovereign Attachments unhooks the everyday sociologically regurgitated gender morals from the acceptable and connects this acceptability to political characterisation used to uphold sovereignty.

Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness and Affective Politics in Pakistan

Author: Shenila Khooja-Moolji

Publisher: University of California Press

Pages: 288

Price: $34.95

The reviewer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore

Ethos and sensibilities