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Muslim-Baiting to Muslim Hating

At least five people are dead, including a dedicated US diplomat who had risked his life during the Libyan revolution to stand with the people of Libya against the tyranny of Qaddafi. These people certainly did not deserve to die especially since they had nothing to do with the film produced by a producer whose real identity is still not fully clear.

Let us examine our own actions first. A clip of this movie (Innocence of Muslims) is posted on YouTube. The Egyptian media start talking about it. A group of Muslims then attacks the US embassy in Cairo and another group attacks the US consulate in Benghazi. The second group ends up killing four people, including the very ambassador who had fought alongside them during the revolution. Does this meet any criteria of Islamic sense of justice or Islamic mores on political alliances? Of course it does not?

The shariah is clear: one cannot punish randomly for wrongs committed by specific people. Thus, if an American makes a film about Islam and insults the prophet, it does not make every American a suspect and a criminal. The diplomatic missions of all countries within Islamic nations are places of Aman, places that need to be protected at all costs. Attacking them, therefore, is not only wrong under international law but also immoral in terms of Islamic rules of Aman and protection provided under national and international treaties.

So, absolutely, without a doubt, all attacks on US embassies in wake of this new scandalous attack on Islam are haram, forbidden, and immoral.

The movie, of course, is the cause of this series of tragic events. The movie falls into a specific genre that happens to be the main concept in my forthcoming book: poetics of incitement. This kind of poetics, which has its attendant politics, involves picking up topics most sensitive to practicing Muslims and then rendering them in one or the other art form.In all cases the producers of these texts always claim that their purpose was to challenge Islam and Muslims to rethink their practices and that they have the artistic license to do so.

Now, of course, there is another brand of racist opportunists who abuse this freedom of expression and end up producing works with no artistic merit but with a huge potential to enrage common Muslims. The cause of this rage, thus, offers itself as a proof of what is to come. Or in other words, such stupid movies and books claim that by attacking Muslims where it hurts the most they will, somehow, be able to smoke out the most intolerant practitioners of Islam. And when these intolerant Muslims perform the unspeakable acts of burning building and killing innocent foreigners, the actions are then offered as a proof of Muslim atavistic nature and inherent intolerance. The same logic is being applied by at least one person involved in the production of this tasteless piece of ordure.

Mr. Steve Klein was deeply involved in the production of this film. That his involvement in this production is not free of malice and bigotry is painfully obvious. This self-proclaimed warrior goes around US mosques looking for the lurking Islamic terrorists and finds it his patriotic duty to do so. That this kind of private crusade has been allowed to continue in today’s America is what we should be protesting about. Would he been able to do this kind of surveillance and offer his silly proclamations against any other ethnic or regional group in the United States. Somehow, it is believed, the tragedy of September 11 has given him the right to go on a perpetual witch hunt against Muslims in America. And, let us not forget, he is not the only one: many a GOP lawmakers have made it central to their campaigns to scapegoat American Muslims just to “secure” their base and get a few votes.

Another sad pathetic participant in this sad attempt at self-promotion is Pastor Jones, famous for public burnings of the Qur’an. He was proud to show the video clip of this so-called movie to his parishioners. So, what do these people get out of these actions: to prove that Muslims are irrational and dangerous? But you are likely to enrage even some regular Muslims if you threaten to burn their book, especially since you cannot force them to see your act from the perspective of your own cultural and religious sensitivities.

So, in the end then, Muslims are inherently evil and prone to violence because they, somehow, refuse to see the world with the eyes of the very people who are attempting to goad them into violence. And when this violence erupts, as it has over a vast global landscape, these minions of hate can then tell us that they were right all along and the proof is on the TV screens. So, basically Muslims must become passive, inert, and docile and must show no rage or anger when the most sacred in their religion is mocked and derided: That seems to be the only  way to prove that Muslims are decent people.

Let us not forget that those who caused this rage are no model Americans either: Pastor Jones in no way represents the American tradition of tolerance and compassion and is rather a great example of sanctimonious bigotry; Mr. Klein is unapologetic vigilante anti-Islam bigot and in no way represents America, and we are not even sure what the elusive Mr. Bacile (or whatever his name is) stands for. These three represent the worst of America and should not be allowed to become symbols of America to the Muslim world.

On the other hand, our mullahs should not incite the kind of rage that makes their followers lose their common sense of decency and justice, especially if they seek revenge on those not even remotely responsible for this sad episode in tasteless ” reformation” of Islam by yet another group of bigots.

So, let us stand firm against all forms of cultural imperialism and bigotry, but let us also condemn the senseless killing of the innocent and especially the attacks on Western embassies. They are in our lands under Aman, under international treaties and to protect them is not only our international responsibility but also our moral obligation.

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On Dishonest Maulvis, Harsh Laws, and Minority Rights

Last year when the case was being made to alter or abolish the blasphemy laws, the argument from the liberal and progressive minority of Pakistan was mobilized primarily to point out as to how the law could be misused to persecute minorities. At that point, the case of Asia Bibi was at the forefront of the struggle. That debate was stilled soon after the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhattit.

The case of Rishman (I do not think this is not her real name but I use it to assert her humanity) has taught us that we were right all along. Here is an instance where a local imam himself inserted the pages of the Qur’an in a bag that was brought to him as evidence. His reason: “This would make the case stronger in getting the Christian family evicted.”

There are many things wrong with this action. First of all, it is an immoral act of the highest degree: bearing false witness is a serious offense in Islamic jurisprudence, especially since the punishments are so severe. In fact here is how one Hadith describes it:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.7  Narrated by  Abu Bakra

Allah’s Messenger (saws) said thrice, “Shall I not inform you of the biggest of the Great Sins?”  We said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (saws)”  He (saws) said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to be undutiful to one’s parents.”  The Prophet (saws) then sat up after he had been reclining and added, “And I warn you against giving forged statement and a false witness; I warn you against giving a forged statement and a false witness.” The Prophet (saws) kept on saying that warning till we thought that he would not stop!

Secondly, it tells us the absolute internalized intolerance toward minorities that these mullahs and their followers display. If the poor minority citizens of Pakistan are to be evicted from their shanty towns and hovels, where are they expected to go? Why is it necessary to get them evicted through malicious and falsified accusations?

Thankfully, an honest Muslim named Hafiz Zubair, and we need more of them, came forward to testifythat the Maulvi himself had inserted the pages of the Qur’an in the plastic bag, which, according to the definition of blasphemy by the maulvis, is a serious offense. We would now like to see the maulvi taste the same medicine: he should now be tried under the same law, for his act is not only illegal and immoral but also blasphemous according to the very law that he and his ilk support and have killed for.

We Pakistanis often use India as the bogeyman to justify our policies and our communal behaviors, but compared to Pakistan, India is much more complex and tolerant democracy in which minorities do not just live as passive right-holders at the mercy of the majority. It was, let us not forget, the fear of minoritization that had become the main cause for the Pakistan movement. Now that we have been a nation for over sixty years, we have been responsible of the same actions toward minorities that we had feared would be our lot in a united India.

For all of us who believe in human dignity, honesty, and compassion it is imperative to speak up and to challenge all messengers of hate and injustice: If  Islam has to survive and remain pertinent in the modern world, its best attributes must guide us and not its most intolerant interpretations.

 

 

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Rishman: Another Victim of Unjust Laws and Communal Hatered

It seems that those who claim to police the sanctity of the majority religion in Pakistan are on a constant and unending witch hunt. Their victims, or targets, mostly always happen to be poor and destitute women from the Christian minority that already lives a perilous existence in our increasingly intolerant country. A few years ago we witnessed the case of Asia Bibi who was charged under the blasphemy laws and in the wake two courageous opponents of the law were killed by the so-called protectors of the faith.

The victim this time is a poor, unlettered minor named Rishman. Those who have accused her of blasphemy assert that amongst the papers that she collected in the street to use as fuel for a cooking fire were some pages of the Qur’an. And thus having burned those pages, she has, somehow, blasphemed. Needless to say that our first concern should be to speak about the nature of this life: why does a child have to gather fuel in the streets to cook food in the so-called Islamic republic of Pakistan.

A board of seven physicians have attested that Rishman is a minor and does not even have the IQ commensurate with her age. No one saw her burning the so-called pages and, most importantly, being unlettered, she would have not even known what she was burning. Neither the intention nor the act can be proven. So, how is it that this case is even on trial and that she awaits her fate in jail without a recourse to due process or even a bail.

Is this what we have become as a nation: a bunch of ghundas who pry on the weak in the name of religion. Is this how Islamic jurisprudence works? Does Islam permit arresting and jailing children for committing offenses even when they might not even had the metal capacity to discern right from wrong. My reading of the Sharia tells me that the justice system in Islam cannot be arbitrary and that the rules of evidence are extremely strict to protect people from false accusations.Which Qur’an are these mullahs and their followers reading?

It is time we stood up against these messengers of hate: we need to declare once for all that Pakistan does not only belong to Muslims. That all those who live and abide by the laws of the country are its citizens and are inherently equal. Let us stop our mullahs and their followers from dictating as to what kind of nation we ought to be.

Let us stop blaming and arresting children in the name of religion: it defies the basic dictates of human dignity, cheapens the value of law, and darkens our future.

Yes, no more of these witch hunts. No more public or legal prosecution of minorities. No more injustice in the name of religion.

We have had enough of your  bigotry!

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Muneeza Shamsie on Pakistaniaat and My Book

I find it apt to include here the kind words that Muneeza Shamsie, renowned Pakistani writer and critic,  wrote about Pakistaniaat and about my book in her annual bibliography of Pakistan-related works. You can find the whole article at the website of the Journal of Commonwelath Literature.

Shamsie on Constructing Pakistan:

Constructing Pakistan: Foundational Texts and the Rise of Muslim National Identity (1857–1947) by Masood Ashraf Raja studies the ways in which pre-Partition literary texts in Urdu created transgeographic narratives of Muslim unity which contributed to the idea of Pakistan. He asserts that the growth of Muslim nationalism and concepts of Muslim exceptionalism were political and “a question of survival” (xvi) amid major political changes in the post-Mutiny era. He re-interprets the writings of Ghalib and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as a means of negotiating an equitable relationship between the British Raj and the Indian Muslims (not one of patronage). He discusses the new movement in Urdu literary criticism pioneered by Azad and Hali and the reformist message in the fiction of Nazir Ahmed, who advocated Anglicization while neo-traditionals such as Shibli Nomani and Akbar Allahbadi searched for answers in Muslim history and pan-Islamism instead. Raja goes on to compare Iqbal and his modern, egalitarian universalist interpretation of Islam with Maulana Mawdudi’s concepts of an Islamic state governed by shariah.

Shamsie on Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies:

Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies, edited by Masood Raja at the University of [North] Texas, is an immensely important addition to Pakistan Studies. The journal is a peer-reviewed multi-disciplinary academic journal with online and print editions; its many literature-related writings include critical articles, reviews, bibliography and a much-needed platform for new poetry, fiction and translations by writers of Pakistani origin.

Shamsie on Pakistaniaat’s Special Issue on 1971 War, edited by Cara Cilano:

Cilano guest-edited the “Special Issue on 1971 Indo-Pakistan War” of Pakistaniaat: Journal of Pakistan Studies which has five essays that look at the national and international dimensions of the conflict. These include Philip Oldenberg’s discussion of the four different phases of the 1971 war including Kissinger’s visit to Peking; Luke A. Nichter and Richard A. Moss’s examination of the memoirs and policies of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and Mavra Farooq’s analysis of the relationship between Pakistan and China in 1971.

 

My personal gratitude and thanks from the entire staff of Pakistaniaat to Muneeza Shamsie for including us amongst the best of Pakistan-related works.

 

 

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Pakistan: Need for a New Historiogrpahy and National Narratives

Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Image via Wikipedia

This will probably be one of the many articles that I plan to write about the construction of contemporary Pakistani national identity. While I have many versions of theories of nation available to undertake this project, I have decided to focus primarily on the mainstream statist narrative that Pakistani media, the school system, and the foundational intellectuals rely on to  construct the narrative of Pakistan.

In this highly idealized and ideological narrative, Pakistan is posited as the terminal outcome of an elitist dream of separatism defined in difference and in conflict with the larger “Hindu” nationalism of India before partition. We have been telling this story to our children, showing its unfolding in well crafted historical TV shows and movies. As a result, the Pakistani national narrative has now streamlined itself as more or less a religious narrative of nationhood. In my humble opinion, unless Pakistan dismantles and restructures this psuedo-religious national narrative, it will continue to struggle as a nation perpetually in crisis.

There is a dire need for a new kind of historiography: a historiography that does not rely on usual clichés of a great leader fighting against the machinations of Hindus and the British to wrest a country for Indian Muslims. Those of us who have read the events and politics of the creation of Pakistan know, through textual analysis, that mr. Jinnah, until the very end, would have been happy if the British and Indian National Congress had agreed to a sort of federation in which the Muslims of India could have had parity at the federal level. It was the failure of this particular thrust of Jinnah’s struggle that ultimately resulted in the failure of his larger dream and creation of Pakistan as a less-than-perfect alternative. We need to seriously read and discuss this hidden aspect of the creation of Pakistan.

We also need to seriously question all those who assert that Pakistan was to be exclusively a Muslim nation: that was never what Jinnah had intended. In fact, the religious leaders–most of them–were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and did not lend their full support to Mr. Jinnah until the very end.

A critical historiography will highlight these aspects of the struggle for Pakistan and will also open space for imagining a more diverse, equal, and egalitarian Pakistan. A kind of Pakistan in which histories of minorities, women, and peasants are not whitewashed but foregrounded.

Our national narrative should also focus on the rapacious role of the zamindari system, the sardari system, and the destruction of our public sphere by the mullahs and their followers. We should have the courage to challenge all these sectors of political power that seek to present Pakistan in their own contorted and outdated vision of  national life. Unless Pakistan tells a story in which the people have the ultimate power and, Pakistan will remain the crisis state that it is so aptly dubbed by its friends and foes alike.

Most importantly our historians and writers need to stop valorizing the military and need to highlight the destructive role that the armed forces have played in keeping democracy in check and in maintaining the socio-economic status quo.

The stories that we tell our children should be about a more diverse and democratic Pakistan and not of a religiously defined nation perpetually in embrace with all the outdated and repressive forces in of our public sphere. All assertions of exclusive ideas of identity–may it be regional, political, or religious–must be challenged and questioned perpetually by the public intellectuals and the media.

A critical historiography, a democratic didactics, and a re-imagining of our past to create a vision of a better future would be a good start!

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The Arab Spring and the Autumn of the Dictators

For the last few weeks, I have been, like so many other people from the Muslim world, engrossed in the uprising in Libya hoping for a quick end to Qaddafi’s dictatorship. As someone who comes form a country where one after the other dictator has conveniently defiled the national constitution in the name of national service, this new tide of popular uprisings against dictators is really heartening.

This new wave of popular revolutions not only dispels the often racilized views of Arabs and Muslims (A FOX news commentator recently declared that Arabs were genetically unfit for democracy) but also sends a strong message to any future adventurers in our part of the world. It seems our people will no longer allow local dictatorial puppets to become the local policemen for the imperial interests.

These new revolutions, of course, should also be a lesson to the generals in Pakistan: it seems they can no longer oust popularly elected governments in the name of national security.

There is an ironic moment in Pervez Musharraf’s (remember him?) post-coup speech where he indicts Nawaz Sharif’s government for “politicizing the armed forces.” The fact that he does that with a straight face exactly at the moment when he himself has suddenly become a politician is akin to work of art in sophistry.

I also like this image of Musharraf in uniform being greeted in Lahore as he canvasses for his so-called referendum: a general playing a political without even a hint of irony.

let us hope that this new wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East will forestall any future military adventurism.

Next, we need to teach some lessons to our over-fed and anachronistic waderas and zamindars. I am sure there time will come soon.

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Pitfalls of a Religious National Identity

Hadith Oliyankara Juma Masjid
Image via Wikipedia

There is myth in the public politics of the nation that underwrites the political narrative of religious political parties. It is a myth of a sacred and unsullied past. The common belief is that if the nation could, somehow, retrieve and emulate this idealized past then all our problems will be solved. Surprisingly, no one actually explains or streamlines as to how a future Islamic Pakistan will function: the future is posited as a natural outcome of a turn to religion.

Now, we know that even at the height of its symbolic and political power, Islam was by and large a very pragmatic political system. As the Muslims conquered the persian and Eastern Roman empire, their approach to governance was based in tolerance and acceptance: they accepted and appropriated the differences that they could appropriate, but also allowed their non-Muslim citizens a fair degree to fluidity and freedom in practicing their particular religions.

This, sadly, is not the case with the religious-minded political parties in Pakistan. Yes, they pay lip service to the rights of minorities, but the system that they envision creates a national space divided between those considered full citizens–Muslim men–and those not so equal. A national imagination underwritten by this view of the real has its inequalities pre-inscribed in this narrative. There are, of course, material causes for the rise of Islamist politics in pakistan: The Islamists, at least, promise a restructuring of the Pakistani public sphere,which the neoliberal system absolutely cannot. This future restructuring–in which the least shall, they are told, will be the first–can be very seductive as it is revolutionary and not reformative in nature.

In true sense though, even if this future were to be realized, would it not create a nation at the mercy of only one dominant group? Can we have a viable nation if it is divided between has and has beens not on the basis of material resources but in terms of their pure, immanent ontological being? Can there be a just system if people in a nation are considered ontologically unequal?

Religion, in my humble opinion, will fail to solve our problems and would rather fracture the nation even more. We know what happened when a certain group with a certain specific view of Islam came to power: Afghanistan became a death world. If we continue on this path of unreflective Islamization of the public sphere we will also become such a death world.

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On Minority Rights in Pakistan

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state.

 

Image, Courtesy Viewpoint Online.

 

 

After the brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Ms. Asiya Nasir, a Christian member of Pakistani National Assembly, made a courageous and passionate speech in the national assembly. [The speech can be viewed here]. I have watched this speech numerous times, for in its tragic appeal also lies an incipient hope for a better Pakistan.

In the wake of Shahbaz Bahtti’s murder, Ms. Nasir puts the very question of what constitutes a Pakistani under a serious challenge. This question about the nature of a Pakistani identity is crucial, for it can decide the fate and future of Pakistani nation-state.

Ms. Nasir, one could say, in her historical retrieval of the contributions and sacrifices of Pakistani Christians inserts this marginalized community into the very heart of the nation, for after all, in her words, the Christian community was given a choice to move to India but they, as future citizens of what was to be a composite, cosmopolitan nation, chose to stay. They should, therefore, be included within the national promise as equals.

We cannot have it both ways: either we become a democracy in which all citizens—regardless of their religion, gender or other identities—are treated as equal right holders, or we stay the mockery of a nation that we have become: defined by a religious constituting power as opposed to the constituted power that at least, in theory, promises all citizens of Pakistan an equal humanity in the eyes of the law.

In her speech, the honorable member starts with a reference to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti but soon moves on to challenge the very idea of Pakistan as an Islamic state. She points to the official portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and then asks him a direct question: “Is this the kind of Pakistan that you had promised us?” Her criticism of the current imaginary of Pakistan is, therefore, offered in comparison to the kind of Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned and promised, a Pakistan in which the minorities would have had equal rights. The devolution of Pakistan into an Islamic republic, in this argument, is a failure of the Quaid’s dream and also a failure of the promises made to the minorities.

Ms. Nasir reminds her audience that when Pakistan needed the Christian votes to ask for a separate nation-state, the Christians had voted for Pakistan: their presence in the Pakistani public sphere, thus, was not an accident of history but a matter of choice. Now, however, the same Christians whose votes were coveted at the time of partition are treated as second-class citizens. The arguments, thus, rests on the kind of nation that was promised to the minorities and that the current definition of the nation as a purely Islamic state is nothing but a broken promise.

Ms. Nasir also has some pointed questions for the government: “Why did you not provide sufficient security for Shahbaz Bhatti?” and “Why there has been no clear declaration by the Prime minister and the President to hold the murderers accountable?” The obvious reason for the indifference of the leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party, the party that had benefited from Shahbaz Bhatti’s loyalties, is because he is a Christian and thus, it seems, his life was not as valuable as that of a Muslim.

Ms. Nasir also points out that the minorities have reached a point in their history in Pakistan that they are seriously questioning whether or not to remain in Pakistan. If the current treatment of the minorities continues, she states, then the minorities will have to choose to leave Pakistan.

Ms. Nasir’s speech is also made in the spirit of patriotism as a true Pakistani claiming equal rights in the national public sphere just like the Muslim citizens of Pakistan. This claim to equal treatment is also bolstered by the examples of Christian sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan, the sacrifices that have been elided from Pakistani history due to the “distorted history” being taught in schools. “We have not been given equal rights in sixty-five years” declares Ms. Nasir, and it is time now for the government and the people of Pakistan to recognize the Christians as equal citizens of the state.

The question of rights is, therefore, crucial to creating a more tolerant and humane nation and Islam, I am sad to say, will not solve this problem for us, especially the kind of historical retrieval attempted by our Ulama.

There is a perception amongst the devout Muslims that if we revert to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation, all our problems would be solved. This, of course, is a grand illusion created by the rhetoric of the mullahs and their followers and this rhetoric is made acceptable by cherry-picking Islamic history and by completely foreclosing any new and liberating interpretations of the Islamic sacred.

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state. This, in a way, foregrounds the role of constituting power over constituted power. [I am using Roberto Esposito’s discussion of these two facets of power to make my point. For details, see Esposito. Bios]. In such a project, the worth of the individual and the larger political entities is determined through recourse to a transcendental constituting power. But while in most of the cases the constituting power ceases to exert itself and creates a space for the constituted power to function independently, in case of our Ulama the constituted power of the Pakistani constitution is always under constant pressure from the metaphysical constituting power of the Muslim sacred. It is this reversal to a purist past that allows them to create unequal subjects within the Pakistani political space. Thus, even though they live in a modern nation, the individuals in Pakistan, based on their gender and religious identity, get divided into active and passive right holders. As a consequence, Only Muslim males seem to enjoy the full rights and humanity of real citizens, while women and minorities are reduced to a passive political identity, alive but not really fully realized political beings.

It is this nexus of power and religion that Ms. Nasir’s speech challenges, for if Pakistan really wants to be a democratic and humane polity, it must accord equal rights to all its citizens and no amount of purist religious retrieval should be able to trump that.

The saddest thing about our Ulama is that they have chosen to elide all views contrary to what they deem a proper interpretation of the sacred. Thus, while our mullahs can quote their respective scholars, none of them seems to acknowledge the existence of scholars such as Mumtaz Ali and Fazlur Rahman who, at least, attempted to force a more nuanced and enlightened interpretation of the sacred. These are the silenced histories of Muslim past that must be retrieved and foregrounded if Islam is to play any positive role within the Pakistani public sphere.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any such movement in Pakistan, I would declare my own personal stance: I stand with my brother Shahbaz Bhatti for his humanity, his wisdom, and his sacrifice and with my sister Asiya Nasir for her courage to ask some apt and hard questions.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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My Fellow American Website

I just recently got an email about this wonderful website that offers the best of America. There project about Islam–offered against the usual racist representations of Muslims–is commendable. Here is their statement/ pledge about American Muslims:

They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.

Please visit their website: http://myfellowamerican.us/

 

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Mullahs in Nation-Building

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations

Image From Viewpoint Online

of the nation by one or the other mullah.

There is no doubt in my mind that when Mr. Jinnah mobilized the Muslim identity as a marker of difference from Majority Hindus, it was only a strategic assertion. The creation of a new and separate homeland for the Muslims of India, in Muslim majority areas, depended on this assertion but nowhere in Jinnah’s arguments can we find convincing proof that he had envisioned this future state to be an Islamic state. In fact, Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) quite convincingly suggests that Jinnah would have been rather happy in a confederacy in which the Muslims were given a parity in the future national assembly.

However, it is no surprise that the very slogan that was essential to mobilize a nationalist movement has now come to haunt us: the slogan has become the truth. This articulation of the nation, in which the slogan becomes the truth, manifested itself immediately after the creation of Pakistan, Remember, we were told that Pakistan was not able to create and ratify a constitution until 1956: we were taught this in high school. But no one bothered to teach us that, besides other things, what delayed the writing and adoption of the constitution was the fight between the Islamists—who wanted a strict Islamic state—and those opposed to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation. This fight, or aporia, thus is within the very fiber of our national genealogy.

In essence what kind of nation we would be if all that the diverse groups of mullahs continue to insist on from their pulpits, through media channels, and through their published works. Here is a possible sample:
•    A nation in which women have less rights than men.
•    A nation in which non-Muslims have less rights than Muslims.
•    A nation in which feudal system can still thrive, as there are no strictures against it.
•    A nation in which justice is harsh and immediate: sometimes without due process and sometimes meted out by private individuals.

So, in its true essence, the mullahs want to abolish modernity, retrieve an eighth century politics, and then posit it as a recipe for our national future. The constitutive power of this vision, therefore, is always an idealized past upon which the present can have no bearing as the discourse of the present is not authentic enough to form a new constitutive force for the future.

In posting their views about a purely Islamist nation, the mullahs mobilize varied historical narratives without ever acknowledging that history is always inherently textual: we know of it because it has been written down. The mere acceptance of this fact allows us to imagine that if the history is a record then it must contain, unless written by a computer, the temporal, spatial and personal biases and ideologies of those who recorded it. History, therefore, is never unmotivated and if mobilized uncritically can undermine the present and seriously damage the future in the name of tradition.

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations of the nation by one or the other mullah. Somehow, it seems, that their answer to all our problems is more religion. But more religion has not really solved any of our problems. In fact, since the foregrounding of a religious national identity we have become a more intolerant, sexist, racist, and chauvinistic society.
Of course, it is not the religion that is to be blamed for it. But the politicized and militaristic interpretations of certain aspects of religion play an important role in this. In pretty much all debates about the role of religion in the public sphere, the mullahs mobilize religion only as a system of justice. Yes, Islam has certain laws about justice, but is there no love in our religion? And if there is love, mhuhabbah, then how come it does not shine through in our public undertakings.

The recent murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are two important cases in point: both these persons were murdered by “Muslims” because they had, by opposing a destructive law, somehow, blasphemed. What kind of a civil society allows public citizens to be murdered by private citizens as an act of popular justice? And if that kind of murder is permissible, then why have the blasphemy laws? Why not just accept that people themselves have the right to judge and punish their own fellow human beings.

Sadly, the rise of private media has not, in any way, diminished the role of half-baked theories of the mullahs; the private media, in fact, have provided the mullahs with a much larger frame and enabled them to spread their vitriol to larger audiences.

There can be no short-term solution to this problem of perpetuation of hate in the name of tradition and religion. A good start would be to, at least, pass some hate-speech legislation: a law that forbids any acts of rhetorical violence against any group, individual or entity. This could at least regulate speech in the public sphere; it may not affect what the mullahs are saying in their mosques, but at least there they can be told to keep it to their own captive audiences.

On the whole, having read and followed the public debates by most of Pakistani religious leaders and scholars, I, in all due humility, can say very positively that I have found nothing in their articulations of the Pakistani nation that can create a viable, pluralistic, and compassionate nation-state for all those who call themselves Pakistanis.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)