Smok­ers' Corner: Let's let go

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Nadeem F. Paracha

Two of the most com­mon com­ments I re­ceive through emails are: 'If only Pak­istan im­poses true Is­lamic sys­tem, we'll be able to get rid of the hypocrisies com­mit­ted in its name.' Of course, most of such sug­ges­tions are pur­posed by my fel­low Pak­ista­nis. The other com­ment in this re­gard is usu­ally from Dawn read­ers liv­ing in In­dia or the West. It's a sim­ple ques­tion: 'Why are Pak­ista­nis al­ways so en­grossed about re­li­gion?'

I am no scholar (re­li­gious or oth­er­wise), but rather a stu­dent of his­tory with a keen in­ter­est in un­der­stand­ing it through the lens of cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy. You see, most of us liv­ing in Pak­istan have al­ways been ad­vised to look at cul­tural stud­ies with sus­pi­cion. It has been embed­ded in us that this sort of an en­quiry leads one to ques­tion the very foun­da­tions of the coun­try's ide­ol­ogy.

But, the prob­lem is, the less equipped or in­clined we are to ques­tion­ing what we've been told, the more one-di­men­sional re­mains our un­der­stand­ing of the di­verse range of peo­ple that re­side in Pak­istan; and also, that we be­come more vul­ner­a­ble to the con­tin­u­ous vol­ley of half-truths and glo­ri­fied delu­sions that have been com­ing our way from dic­ta­tors, text­books and cer­tain me­dia crack­pots.

The whole no­tion of be­ing a coun­try buzzing with eth­nic, sec­tar­ian and re­li­gious di­ver­sity be­comes some­thing to be afraid of. To many this is some­thing to be re­pressed with the help of an ide­ol­ogy that has, over the decades, been im­posed upon this di­ver­sity by a cu­ri­ous nexus of so-called mod­ernist Mus­lims and their more my­opic and pu­ri­tan­i­cal coun­ter­parts. At the cen­tre of this all is an ever-weak­en­ing state, which, from 1947 till 1977, shunned recog­nis­ing the dy­nam­ics of Pak­istan's di­ver­sity by im­pos­ing a na­tion­al­is­tic Mus­lim iden­tity.

It didn't work. In the ab­sence of the kind of democ­racy that a di­verse nation re­quires, this all-en­com­pass­ing Mus­lim na­tion­al­ism only ended up alien­at­ing the cen­turies-old cul­tural moor­ings of the nu­mer­ous eth­nic­i­ties in Pak­istan. So, as the Baloch, Sind­his and Pash­tuns rose up in anger; Ben­galis of the for­mer East Pak­istan did the same, who even­tu­ally de­cided to rip them­selves away from Pak­istan's ide­o­log­i­cal equa­tion.

Though the anti-di­ver­sity dy­nam­ics of Mus­lim na­tion­al­ism were, by and large, suc­cess­ful in keep­ing this ide­ol­ogy's more rad­i­cal ad­vo­cates at bay, the 1971 East Pak­istan de­ba­cle left this ide­ol­ogy vul­ner­a­ble to the in­flu­ence of what was once dis­missed as be­ing the Is­lamist fringe. Grad­u­ally, es­pe­cially with the ar­rival of the dic­ta­tor­ship of Gen­eral Zi­aul Haq, the ide­ol­ogy's early mod­ernist dic­tum of mod­ernising Is­lam was turned on its head when the new ide­o­logues de­cided to Is­lamise the mod­ern. Sir Syed gave way to Abul Ala Maw­dudi.

The kind of the­o­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural dam­age this long-winded at­ti­tude has in­flicted in the past three decades has made the state and gov­ern­ments of Pak­istan will­ing hostages to the abra­sive and re­ac­tionary ways of the pu­ri­tan­i­cal ide­o­logues. What's more, to­day, even some of the most ed­u­cated young Pak­ista­nis have lost the ca­pac­ity to ques­tion what is dished out to them as Is­lamic/Pak­istani his­tory and ide­ol­ogy. We are still not pre­pared to face an ob­vi­ous truth that may put the very essence and foun­da­tion of our so-called ide­ol­ogy into ques­tion.

Has not this ide­ol­ogy - first of mod­ernist 'One Unit' Is­lam, and then the ex­hi­bi­tion­is­tic and mil­i­taris­tic ver­sion of it - com­pletely failed to achieve what it wanted to? That is, to turn a di­verse Pak­istan into a united, ide­o­log­i­cal whole based on re­li­gion? It was al­ways an over-am­bi­tious and Utopian task. We were never 'one peo­ple' in the or­ganic sense of the word. The ma­jor­ity of us were Mus­lims (and still are), but our un­der­stand­ing of the faith is in­tri­cately linked to and in­formed by the cul­tural moor­ings of our own dis­tinct eth­nic­i­ties and sects.

Laws and poli­cies can­not be made to suc­ceed based upon the sim­ple idea that all Mus­lims be­lieve in the same God and the same book. What passes as Is­lamic law in cer­tain Arab coun­tries would be an anachro­nism in Pak­istan. In the same way, what may be a suc­cess (as an Is­lamic law) in cer­tain ar­eas of the Deobandi dom­i­nated Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa could be of­fen­sive to the Barelvi or Shia dom­i­nated ar­eas of the Pun­jab and Sindh. There has never been a con­sen­sus among the sects and eth­nic­i­ties of Pak­istan about the ide­ol­ogy of Pak­istan. How can there be?

Shouldn't the con­sen­sus be more about recog­nis­ing the eth­nic and sec­tar­ian di­ver­sity of this coun­try, giv­ing all the demo­cratic par­tic­i­pants of this di­ver­sity as much au­ton­omy as pos­si­ble (through a fair demo­cratic process) to take re­spon­si­bil­ity of just how much re­li­gion, or what sort of re­li­gion (if at all), would ev­ery eth­nic­ity and sect want to use in their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties' pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety? The state's role should be to make sure that such a na­tional con­sen­sus holds and that none of the state's in­sti­tu­tions is al­lowed to iden­tify with any one eth­nic or sec­tar­ian group or its ide­ol­ogy.

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