Daily Archives: September 3, 2010

Political Islam, Politics of Identity, Ethnic Nationalism and the Centralized State

By Raza Habib Raja

The selective way of presenting history in Pakistan conveniently ignores the fact that at its creation, there were two large sometimes contrasting and sometimes overlapping movements. The first was primarily centred around Muslim Identity and tried to actually bargain a better position for its bearers. This movement though ended up in carving a separate homeland for the Muslims, nevertheless did not have that strong separatist thrust at least in the beginning.

 However, the Islamic identity itself was not the only identity assumed by Muslims as strong ethnic nationalist tendencies existed particularly in the region which later became Pakistan. Thus the ethnic nationalist movements in NWFP and Baluchistan existed even before the partition. Let’s not forget that NWFP and Baluchistan were not totally comfortable when they “opted” for Pakistan. At best their support for Pakistan was tepid. West Pakistan at its creation was a multiethnic region with strong individual demands for greater autonomy based on linguistic and ethnic lines. The residents were largely Muslims but at the same time they also gave importance to their ethnic linguistic identities. East Pakistan had a more or less uniform language and culture and at that point supported Pakistan as they perceived the creation of that state as synonymous to sufficient degree of autonomy.

One thing grossly overlooked by the establishment is that ethnic based nationalism flourishes and can even manifest into separatist movement if the state creates this impression that it is biased. Nationalism is not merely preservation of identity; it is very much intertwined with the concept of state. If state is perceived as unjust then nationalists will try to create their own state and thus would try to secede.  Ernest Gellener actually defines nationalism in the context of injustice. The deprived and excluded, if belonging to some common ethnicity, will revolt and will form nationalist expression built around that ethnicity and may end up striving for a state of their own.

Another important fact is that, identities based on linguistic cum ethnic lines cannot be made to disappear through superimposition  or playing up the religious factor particularly when discrimination and exclusion is based on such lines. Yes being a Muslim is an important part of the identity, but at the same time so is the ethnicity and language, and the latter would assume supremacy in the environment of discrimination, whether real or perceived.

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