By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Reading through pages of history one is struck by the remarkable similarities between two leaders, contemporaries to each other, one from South Asia and the other from the frontier between Europe and Asia that is known as Turkey, but both of whom had the distinction of conjuring up nation states from a multitude of disorganized and demoralized people(s) whose only common bond was shared religious culture and a memory of a glorious empire of yesteryears. What is more is that both these leaders were in their outlook European and shared a world view which was more western than that of their own people. Both these leaders had to make hard choices and were plagued by the controversy that is the role of religion – in particular Islam- within the state. These two leaders were Mahomed Ali Jinnah, hailed as “Quaid-e-Azam” or the great leader and the founding father of Pakistan and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey, Ebedi Sef (Eternal Leader) and the “father of the Turks”.
Mahomed Ali Jinnah was born MahomedAli Jinnahbhai in Karachi, a vibrant provincial town in British India, in 1876, whereas Kemal Ataturk was born Mustapha in Salonica in Ottoman Turkey in 1881. Both Jinnah and Ataturk had parents who were deeply religious, though Jinnah was born into the Ismaili community – the followers of the Agha Khan- and a subset of the Shiite Branch of Islam. Ataturk’s exact religious origins are unknown. There is a claim that he was an Alavi Shiite. Others claim he was from the “Donme” or the Jewish converts to Islam. Ataturk himself identified with mainstream Hanafi Sunni Islam- the state creed of the Ottoman Empire- in his days in Army. Both were educated in High Schools run by Muslim modernists in the tradition of finest European education. Jinnah’s alma mater was the “Sindh Medressah-tul-Islam High School” (despite the name it was a school modeled on the lines of British Public school system – medressah means a school) and the Protestant Bombay Mission High School. In contrast young Mustapha was initially sent to learn the Holy Quran in madrassah but his father, Ali Reza, thought him too good for simple religious education and had him transferred to a modern school.
Mustapha chose a career in the military as it was the right career for a young Muslim man in the Ottoman Empire, all other professions being too low for the ruling Turks. Young Jinnah came from a largely business community and went to London to study commerce. There he discovered that he wanted to be barrister and so he enrolled into London’s Lincoln’s Inn where he was called to bar at a very young age of 19 or 20.
It was at this time that both young Mustapha – who had earned the title of “Kemal” or excellence at the military academy- and young Jinnah were exposed to the ideas of enlightenment and western liberalism with one major difference. For Mustapha Kemal it was the radical liberalism of the philosophers of the French Political system which put its stock in “revolution”, but for Jinnah it was the constitutional liberalism of John Locke, Burke and John Morley which believed in “evolution”. It was John Morley more than anyone else who ignited the fire of liberal politics in Jinnah. I suspect Robespierre must have been Kemal’s inspiration.
While Kemal was away on long military campaigns in distant parts of the Empire, most of Jinnah’s time in London was spent reading books in the Reading Room of the British Museum and listening to great debates of parliamentarians in the House of Commons. He also actively campaigned for the successful election of Dadabhoy Naoroji, a Parsi liberal candidate, to the House of Commons. Soon after the completion of his training as barrister, Jinnah returned to India where he toiled hard the next few years to set up a successful practice. By age 30 he was reasonably accomplished as a barrister and it was then that Jinnah joined the Indian National Congress- the party of Indian nationalists striving for self rule, rising to prominence as its rising star and the most eloquent leader alongside Gokhale and Tilak.
Kemal too was stirred with the ideas he imbibed from Europe. He was stirred by nationalism and joined “Watan” a secretive party consisting of ambitious young Muslim officers of the Ottoman Empire who planned on throwing off the shackles of the Caliph in order to liberate their co-religionists from the tyranny of a feudal religious order. For long the Ottoman Muslim elite had felt that religious edicts of the established order kept Muslims behind in commerce, economics and science. Turkey’s various other Non-Muslim “millets” (community-nations) were doing very well without similar hindrances. Perhaps the greatest impetus for the “Young Turks Revolution” came from a sense of injustice that nationalists like Enver Pasha and Kemal felt when they looked over to the cafes, bars and shopping areas of the Non-Muslim districts of Constantinople and looked back at the squalor and dump the Muslim district of “Stambul” had become. A similar impulse was to later inspire Muslim modernists of Aligarh etc to fight for and create a Muslim homeland in South Asia, which forms the basis for our comparison in this paper.
While Kemal always defined his identity in very clear terms as being rooted in the hopes and fears of the ruling Muslim class in the decaying Ottoman Empire, Jinnah to begin with saw himself as an Indian “first, second and last” and defined his identity in secular territorial terms- an Indian without consideration of religious or linguistic concern. In 1906, he viewed with alarm the attempts of the Muslim elite to forge a separate identity and a separate political party, the Muslim League (which he was to join a almost a decade later), for themselves. Interestingly at this time Jinnah vehemently opposed the principle of separate electorates for Muslims and rebuked the notion that Muslims had any special concerns. Indeed to the very last, Jinnah did seemed to have held on to this secular conception of citizenship even if tactically, he came to support – as he put- the separate electorate demand on temporary basis. In 1916, Jinnah presided over what became known at the time as “Lucknow Pact” between the Congress and the Muslim League, of which both he was a member. As a frontline secular Indian Nationalist Jinnah had joined the Muslim League on the condition that his commitment to the “national cause” would come before his loyalty to the Muslim League and that Muslim League would ally itself with the Congress in a united demand to attain self government.
This was also a time of great upheaval in the world. A famous assassination in Sarajevo had plunged the entire western world into a great war. Ottoman Turkey under the influence of the flamboyant and charismatic Enver Pasha, leader of the Young Turks and Turkey’s Minister of War, had made the fateful decision of joining forces with Germany. Kemal had been part of the Turkish revolution but was never given a leading role and was not particularly liked by Enver Pasha. This war – which was to end Enver Pasha’s political career- came as a blessing in disguise for Kemal who valiantly defending the coast of Galipolli against invading British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops winning fame all over Turkey. It was this battle that got him the Islamic title of Gazi or victorious. The war however ended badly for Germany and its allies, notably Turkey. At the end of the war the Ottoman Empire was at the mercy of the British, the French and the Greeks. This is where Kemal emerged to take charge of the Nationalist forces and resistance, setting up a parallel government in the Muslim majority region of Anatolia. The treat at Versailles had proven to be humiliating and was widely condemned. Kemal denounced the treaty and declared war on all those who were trying to carve up Turkey. Through a call for Islam and Jehad, Kemal Ataturk united the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia under his banner and inflicted a most severe defeat on the invading Greek forces, bringing the British and the French to the table. His right hand man Ismet (later Ismet Inonu) won a great victory at Inonu which sealed the fate of the Greek campaign in Thrace. Ismet went as the representative and chief negotiator of the parallel national government to Laussane where he signed a treaty preserving the Muslim majority areas of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire between Greece, Armenia, Georgia and Syria as one state. Thus was born the first real Nation-state in the Muslim World. The treaty of Laussane was also the first treaty in the history of the 20th century to accept the concept of religious identity as ethnicity- a principle that was to be later applied to Pakistan, Israel, Ireland, East Timor and more recently Kosovo.
For the Muslims of British India, the defeat of Turkey in the first world war created a new anxiety. A majority of the Muslims in India were Sunni Muslims and followers of the Turkish Caliph. They soon started an agitation for the protection of “Khilafat”, which was joined in by the famous Hindu leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi, being a religious man, believed religious Muslims and religious Hindus could work together to drive the British out. Jinnah, while sympathetic to Turkey and its cause, viewed with skepticism both the Khilafat movement, which he described as “false religious frenzy”, and warned Gandhi against the mixing of religious causes with political ones. Jinnah’s secular constitutional approach found no takers in the Congress or amongst the Muslims and so he broke away from the Congress Party, briefly making his own “Liberal Independents” party within the Indian legislature. He also became the president of his own anti-British faction of the Muslim League before finally giving up – after the death of his wife – and settling down in London in 1931.
Meanwhile in 1924, Kemal Ataturk and the Turkish legislature voted to abolish the institution of Khilafat. Kemal Ataturk had set about on a Modernist agenda which was to transform Turkey into a secular state. This was an objective Ataturk followed with great zeal and determination. He singlehandedly transformed a conservative Muslim nation in a European nation overnight. In many ways this undid the glorious past of the Turks but Ataturk forged ahead with his remarkable reforms i.e. the abolition of canonical law, the introduction of Swiss legal code, roman alphabet for Turkey replacing the age old Arabic script which was the language of the Quran, complete equality for women and finally the abolition of state religion in 1927. He also attempted religious reform by attempting to “Turkify” Quran and increasing state control of Islam. Ataturk passed away in 1938 leaving his republic to his able successor Ismet Inonu.
It was in 1932 that Jinnah- while in self-imposed exile in Hampstead, read H C Armstrong’s “Grey Wolf” the biography of Kemal Ataturk, which according to Jinnah’s biographers – reignited the passion of politics in him. Apparently he had seen a reflection of himself in Ataturk’s life (Jinnah of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert page 132) . In many ways, Jinnah was the epitome of the modernity and western civilization that Ataturk had wanted his people to adopt. Jinnah was schooled in British tradition of law and his habits were entirely shaped by the Victorian era in which he had come of age. In the 1930s though, he was an avid member of the Fabian Society and was trying to win an election to the House of Commons. And like Kemal Ataturk, Jinnah had loved and lost, except in Kemal Ataturk’s case it was two women: Fikriye, the young Anatolian country girl who doted over Ataturk but whom Ataturk never married. Fikriye died mostly of broken heart. It was Latife who married him. She was daughter of a rich Turk who had schooled her in Paris. The marriage ended in failure and they divorced. Jinnah had married Ruttie, the beautiful socialite daughter of Parsi businessman, Sir Dinshaw Petit who had opposed their marriage bitterly. For a time they were the most sought after couple in Bombay but Jinnah was a busy man and could not give his young wife the attention she deserved. She died of Collitis aggravated by a deep sense of abandonment. She had borne Jinnah a daughter, Dina, who currently resides in New York City.
Fuelled by a desire to “modernize Indian Muslims like Ataturk” (“Under Shadow of Swords” by M J Akbar) Jinnah returned to Bombay and took over the leadership of the moribund Muslim League. After failing to come to an arrangement with the Congress over power sharing, Jinnah and the Muslim League passed the famous Lahore Resolution at one of the largest mass gatherings in Indian history till that point calling for a new federation to be formed of Muslim majority provinces. This was though more of a maximum demand, as Jinnah showed repeatedly the willingness to settle for autonomous regions within United India and safeguards for the Muslim minority within United India. The breakdown of negotiations between the Muslim League and Congress on the issue of the Cabinet Mission Plan which could have preserved Indian Unity and which Jinnah had bent over backwards to convince his followers to accept. As the Indian author Joya Chatterji wrote in her book “Bengal Divided”, ultimately partition was a Hindu choice and not purely a Muslim one as is often believed.
Horrible communal violence broke out as a result of the partition of Bengal and Punjab- a partition that Jinnah did not want. He had wanted his federation to consist of units with a new center and not the actual partition of units. In the wake of this, Jinnah took office – surprisingly as the Governor General- instead of the Prime Minister- a move that is often criticized by the purists of parliamentary democracy. Jinnah however was already dying of cancer (he died 13 months later) when he took office and preferred to leave the day to day running to his right hand man Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister. While speaking to the constituent assembly Jinnah made the clearest pronouncement of his secularism :
“You are free – You are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state. .. if we keep this infront of us as a principle, you will see that in due course of time, Hindus will cease be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of the state”. (Jinnah 11th August, 1947)
He went on to recount the history of Protestant and Catholic conflict in England and how they had evolved beyond it and he expressed his fervent hope that in Pakistan there would be no bar against any class or religion. This was a tectonic shift from the “Muslim nation” Jinnah had led from 1940 onwards to a secular Pakistani nation. The only other example of this tectonic shift in the Muslim world was Ataturk himself who similarly retired the Turkish nationalism based on Muslim identity in 1928 and sought to define Turkish nationalism on the basis of Turkish language and Pre-Islamic Turkish identity.
Both Jinnah and Kemal Ataturk have the unique distinction of being the founding fathers of two of the earliest Muslim nation states emerging after an era of colonialism. Both were men to a large extent shaped and influenced by ideas that emanated from Europe and the Western civilization. Both were political liberals and secular in their world view but both championed at a certain time in their lives the cause of a people defined primarily by group identity based on religion- in Jinnah’s case, Indian Muslims, and in Ataturk’s case – Muslims of Anatolia who were called Turks. Yet both imagined their states on European lines as Republics run modern principles and constitutional lines. The difference however was in approach. Ataturk was a military man and was largely inspired by the French secular strain. Therefore Ataturk’s approach was quite aggressive, which included stringent measures by the state to clamp down on religious symbolism and identity- even if Ataturk had himself used them during the Turkish War of Independence.
Jinnah was a lawyer and parliamentarian for most of his life. Furthermore his liberalism and secularism was of a constitutional variety derived from the rich British tradition. The British tradition itself is much more tolerant of religion (indeed there are some like archbishop of Canterbury who state that perhaps even Islamic sharia has a role to play in modern legal system) and accepts religion as the civic basis of secular laws- keeping with the work and thought of John Locke who had initiated the whole idea of a modern state with his social contract and the “true end of government” by applying Christian ideals to statehood. Thus Jinnah’s secularism was not aggressive but steeped in British tradition in so much that it expected evolution to a point where religion would become a non-issue. In any event, the short run has shown greater success for Kemal Ataturk’s model of secularism in Turkey. In Pakistan, the state has increasingly moved away from Jinnah’s conception of an impartial secular state and had increasingly created new religious bars which have made some question the very basis of the country. In Turkey we have seen that after decades of repression, the pro-Islam forces have come to define secularism in terms that would be closer to Jinnah than Ataturk- secularism as state impartiality instead of state’s active persecution of the religious minded.
Both Kemal Ataturk and Mahomed Ali Jinnah are accused of being authoritarian and autocratic. Kemal Ataturk was a military man and was ushering in a new form of government to an ancient people. Ataturk resorted measured repression and even military action against his dissidents. Meanwhile Jinnah is accused of being autocratic because he removed a provincial government using his constitutional powers as the Governor General. As Ardeshir Cowasjee described him “he professed top be a democrat but was in reality a benign dictator who harmed no one. He merely put his foot down when necessary”. The provincial government removed was a government that had been openly hostile to the centre and many Jinnah apologists claim that it was out practical necessity. Whatever the case, the interim constitution in force did allow Jinnah to take such an action.
Both Jinnah and Ataturk made the disastrous miscalculation of trying to impose a state language on their diverse people. Ataturk’s decision to impose Turkish and ban all other languages is seen by many as the basis for the Kurdish crisis which has continued since. Jinnah to his credit did not ban any regional language, but he made the fateful mistake of elevating the Urdu language, spoken only by migrants to Pakistan from India, as the state language of Pakistan. This despite his promise that regional languages would get the requisite provincial status. His announcement did not go down well with his Bengali followers who rejected his statement leading to the language controversy in Pakistan. Even though Bengali was later made a state language as well, this is cited as one of the causes of the later breakup of Pakistan in 1971. Turkey on the other hand held on to its Kurdish regions by coercion and military might.
Ataturk and Jinnah are highly revered as the founding fathers of their states. In Turkey it is punishable under law to insult the memory of Ataturk. In Pakistan, Jinnah enjoys the iconic state-defined status of “Quaid-e-Azam” or great leader and is generally viewed as above reproach. Both Turkey and Pakistan, staunch cold war allies of the United States, have gone through extended periods of military rule but also dysfunctional but vibrant democracies. Today both these states are emerging as functional democratic states but they have much to learn from the legacy of their founding fathers. Turkey must honor Ataturk’s strong commitment to secularism but must make a break with Ataturk’s strong anti-religion stance and coercive policies with regard to language etc. Pakistan has developed a consensus that allows for some role of Islam in state and constitution. Nonetheless it must honor Jinnah’s commitment to all citizens of Pakistan that Pakistan would not discriminate against its minorities on the basis of religion and that Pakistan would be a state based on rule of law. It must also seek its inspiration for parliamentary democracy from Jinnah’s long career as a parliamentarian in British India- where he made a very solid contribution to both the laws of India and Pakistan, instead of taking his role as the first Governor General of Pakistan in exclusion or his pronouncements on the language issue.