Ideology as ‘false consciousness’

By Khalid Ahmed

Pakistan began describing itself as an ideological state when the word had been made respectable by the Soviet Union through its planned economy and rapid growth. Ideology in the case of Pakistan was its religion.

The state is not supposed to be without a purpose. Our ideology, like most other ideologies, was utopian. It made us different from India. India was more ‘planned’ and ‘socialist’ but was not called ideological because it did not ordain coercion. Today India is de-Nehruising itself. Should we too de-ideologise ourselves?

Ideology means that the state has an idea which it thinks is right, and will punish anyone who doesn’t believe the state. With the passage of time, and despite Section 123-A in the Pakistan Penal Code punishing anyone opposing the ‘ideology of Pakistan’, Pakistan has become relaxed about ideology. It is not like Iran; it is not like the Soviet Union either when it was run by the Communist Party.

In an ideological state — if fascist and totalitarian — there are supposed to be no individual liberties. The state is coercive, as in Iran, and people don’t have the right to think freely. In that sense, one can say that Pakistan is an ‘incomplete’ ideological state, a hybrid distasteful to the Islamists. It upsets many minds. The liberals complain the state tolerates extremism; the orthodox detest the state’s reluctance to reach its religious fulfilment as a violent utopia.

Where did ‘ideology’ come from?

The word was born in the French Revolution but Marx did not refer to it in any meaningful manner. However, Engels did discuss it, but surprisingly called it ‘false consciousness’. He meant that it was false so far as the state tried to create it under duress. (There is no other way ideology can be embraced.)

Alan Cassels says in his book Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World (Routledge, 1996): “The word ideologie came into use in the French revolutionary era in order to characterise the beliefs of certain anti-metaphysical philosophers who followed Locke and Condillac in contending that all knowledge derives from sensation.”

The French Revolution was the dark underside of Enlightenment in Europe. Its ‘ideology’ dealt in distortion and illusion and thus deserved the title of false consciousness. Engels is quoted in the book: “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it would simply not be an ideological process” (p.3).

Today, there is a consensus against ideology: “Ideology is a doctrine whose special claim upon the attention of its believer rests much less upon its supposedly scientific or philosophical character than upon the fact that it is a revelation” (p.6).

Interestingly, the ideology of the rationalist French Revolution — and later the October Revolution — replaced the dogma of the Church and demanded the ‘leap of faith’ the same way some of us want the ‘two-nation theory’ believed blindly. Distracted from other implications of ‘ideology’, we now take it to mean Islamic laws. But once we play on this turf, al Qaeda is more ideologically focused.

In his rejection of the Pakistan constitution, al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri questions Pakistan’s ‘incompleteness’. He wants the constitution to clearly ban bank interest, lotteries, insurance and stock exchange, etc, while clearly outlawing women as leaders of the state. His book The Morning and the Lamp is being distributed by the madrassas that agree with him.

As long as we are ideological, we have no business calling al Qaeda’s suicide-bombers non-Muslims. In fact, they are better Muslims killing lesser Muslims.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010



Filed under Pakistan

5 responses to “Ideology as ‘false consciousness’

  1. Samachar

    As long as we are ideological, we have no business calling al Qaeda’s suicide-bombers non-Muslims. In fact, they are better Muslims killing lesser Muslims.

    This is an extraordinary statement/admission. What Khaled Ahmed is saying is that within the context of “ideology” it is perfectly OK for better Muslims to kill lesser Muslims (and presumably Muslims, even of the lesser variety, to kill non-Muslims. Who knows, such actions might even make them better Muslims within the context of “ideology”!)

    This is a very amar (the commenter here) type of statement, so why is it acceptable from Khaled Ahmed but not from amar?

  2. Kaalket

    I hear the echo of similar sentiment in the cry of a father in Karachi . According to him, his 2 sons were shot dead in front of him like they were infidels. This ideological confusion of who to kill is such great loss of Islamic civil society in Pakistan and lets pray and hope they recover from this loss fast.

  3. Hola

    Yes here is that article from Miami Herald :

    “One trader quietly told how on Oct. 19, gunmen pulled up the steel shutters of his store and shot his two sons and brother inside. His sons, age 24 and 26, died, while his brother was critically injured and is now partly paralyzed.

    The shop owner said that he, along with every other outlet in the market, was dutifully paying extortion money to Baloch gangs.

    [b]”They shot them as if they were infidels,” said the shop owner,”[\b]

    www. miamiherald .com/2010/11/18/1931837_p2/pakistans-biggest-city-on-edge.html

  4. good article


    this person whose sons were killed is also not a good human being, if he say his sons were killed like they infidels, in other words it would be ok to kill infidel like myself, mbut not his sons bec they were muslim

    its hypocricy, no wonder allah is angry with the muslim world, and there is no peace anywere, in the is;lamic world

  5. deepak75

    Ideology in itself is not a bad proposition. However, every ideology is created with an objective and it is the nature of the objective that makes the ideology tenable.

    A comparison of the revolutions (whether be in USSR or in France or any of the others), with the ideology as mentioned in context of Pakistan is actually a non-starter.

    In no way were the revolutions as mentioned in the article striving to achieve a theological change in the social composition of these nations. These revolutions were aimed at creating an economic change. That objective is quite tenable and it gives the masses an incentive of success. However, the ideology as we mention in context of Pakistan is its Islamic identity. The islamic identity does not in any way extend tangible incentives to the masses whether it be economic or social or any such other that improves the basic quality and enrichment of life.

    The Islamic ideology in Pakistan was only the easiest way for some to arrive at a position of influence which they would never have had without its creation. The ojective never entailed anything for the masses and hence the result as it is because like I mentioned, an ideology is only as good as what it is trying to achieve. The comments from the unfortunate shopkeeper are quite in context there….