Tag Archives: Identity

Islam’s Nowhere Men

Unlike third rate commentators such as Fareed Zakaria and Sassanad Dhume – inspired more by their national bias (both are fanatically anti-Pakistan Indian ultra-nationalists) to pin Pakistan down than any real objective analysis-  Fouad Ajami is a true academic.  His article in the Wall Street Journal hits the nail on the head.  Americans are well advised to read Ajami’s analysis carefuly and realize that the problem facing Pakistanis and Americans is the same.  However even Mr. Ajami hasn’t made the real connection i.e.  connection with Islamic extremist organizations operating on US Campuses. -YLH

By Fouad Ajami (Courtesy Wall Street Journal)

‘A Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” the intellectual godfather of the Islamists, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, wrote decades ago. Qutb’s “children” are everywhere now; they carry the nationalities of foreign lands and plot against them. The Pakistani born Faisal Shahzad is a devotee of Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine, and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was another.

Qutb was executed by the secular dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966. But his thoughts and legacy endure. Globalization, the shaking up of continents, the ease of travel, and the doors for immigration flung wide open by Western liberal societies have given Qutb’s worldview greater power and relevance. What can we make of a young man like Shahzad working for Elizabeth Arden, receiving that all-American degree, the MBA, jogging in the evening in Bridgeport, then plotting mass mayhem in Times Square?

The Islamists are now within the gates. They fled the fires and the failures of the Islamic world but brought the ruin with them. They mock national borders and identities. A parliamentary report issued by Britain’s House of Commons on the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005 lays bare this menace and the challenge it poses to a system of open borders and modern citizenship. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism, War On Terror

Room for optimism

[‘The audacity of hope’? ‘Hope dies last’? Or, just the reality of Pakistan in its many aspects? Here’s how Mohsin Hamid sees it. – PTH]

Dawn, Friday, 09 Apr, 2010
 EVER since returning to live in Pakistan a few months ago, I’ve been struck by the pervasive negativity of views here about our country. Whether in conversation, on television, or in the newspaper, what I hear and read often tends to boil down to the same message: our country is going down the drain.

But I’m not convinced that it is.

I don’t dispute for a second that these are hard times. Thousands of us died last year in terrorist attacks. Hundreds of thousands were displaced by military operations. Most of us don’t have access to decent schools. Inflation is squeezing our poor and middle class. Millions are, if not starving, hungry. Even those who can afford electricity don’t have it half the day.

Yet despite this desperate suffering, Pakistan is also something of a miracle. It’s worth pointing this out, because incessant pessimism robs us of an important resource: hope.

First, we are a vast nation. We are the sixth most populous country in the world. One in every 40 human beings is Pakistani. There are more people aged 14 and younger in Pakistan than there are in America. A nation is its people, and in our people we have a huge, and significantly untapped, sea of potential. Continue reading


Filed under Democracy, Economy, Education, Identity, Judiciary, Languages, Media, Pakistan, Religion, Society, state, Terrorism

No priests needed – search of a Pakistani identity

Raza Rumi wonders why we remain in search of a Pakistani identity

Half-truths are what we love to indulge in. One of the countless crimes committed by President Asif Ali Zardari is that he wears a Sindhi cap instead of a Jinnah cap. That by preferring a Sindhi topi and thundering at the occasion of late Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary, he undermined his Pakistani identity, is truly mystifying. After all, what is a Pakistani identity and why is the Jinnah cap being elevated to the level of an article of national faith?

If anything, Mr Jinnah’s patronage of Muslim identity mark was an afterthought. His usual attire was a well-tailored pucca-sahib-like suit. It was only in the nineteen forties and that too close to India’s independence that Mr Jinnah started donning the Muslim nobility’s attire.

So what is this fuss all about? Constructing Pakistan’s ideology based on theological interpretation of a universal religion like Islam has been a carefully executed project of the Pakistani establishment and its shadows in the non-state domains. Such cliques have grown bigger, mushroomed and are now essential to our lived reality. Therefore lambasting of Zardari on not sporting a Jinnah cap finds public resonance and broad acceptability within the populous Punjab province where the Urdu press flourishes and finds readers and writers aplenty.The opening up of the electronic media has been a liberating experience but it also means that the deep-seated and embedded distortions, cultivated by the state, biased education system and militarisation, have now captured a wider public space. This includes audiences and listeners who are outside the ambit of the ‘literate’. Given the inherent dangers of such a phenomenal change, many independent observers have called for arresting and regulating further corporatization of the media. Advanced countries such as the USA have already experienced the pernicious trend of ‘dumbing down’ and mainstreaming unaccountable political and security agenda[s]. The case of the war on terror is a pertinent example of this unfortunate reality. If we are aware of it should we not undertake pro-active course correction? Continue reading


Filed under History, Identity, Pakistan

Revisiting the Pakistani Grand Narrative

By Zia Ahmad

“Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives.

(Jean-François Lyotard)

Most of the cultures around the world have an innate tendency to view themselves at the center of the universe. As with individuals this may be owing to the inability for some to live outside one’s head. The centrist view is enforced by following a given set of codes and traditions that reaffirms the uniqueness and superiority of the given clan, tribe, culture or civilization over others. This view is further informed by a given sense of history that adds significant gravity to the culture’s place in this world – and in some cases even in the one after. This sense of history is communicated, over generations, through an esoteric mix of myths, historical retellings, sacrosanct parchments and possibly just about all that goes into making stories and fables.

In the second half of the twentieth century, certain scholars who helped to flesh out the post modern perspective culturally, the communication of history was seen as a story told on a larger scale for the benefit of a crowd significantly larger than your average theatre going audience. This sort of storytelling was appropriately called Metanarrative or a Grand narrative. Continue reading


Filed under culture, History, Identity, Islam, Pakistan

Veiled, Turbaned, Dangerous: Book Explores the Changed Identity of Muslims in Post 9/11 America

Kristina Lycett

Award-winning Pakistani-American author, Shaila Abdullah’s new novel “Saffron Dreams” offers readers a chance to explore the tragedy of 2001 from an uncommon viewpoint and examines Islamophobia in the aftermath. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

Urdu and I


Noted filmmaker MAHESH BHATT makes an impassioned plea to save Urdu from extinction here

Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Man is memory, and memory is sound. The first sound that resonates in my heart is the Urdu word “Shireen”, meaning sweet; the name of my mother, who was by birth a Shia Muslim and remained one till the end of her days.

Shadowing that sweet memory is a bitter one. My mother couldn’t marry my Hindu father because my father couldn’t go against the wishes of his staunch Brahmin family in post-Partition India. She concealed her Muslim identity in the predominantly Hindu area of Mumbai’s Shivaji Park where we lived because, in spite of the Nehruvian vision of India as a plural and diverse nation, the rising Hindu fundamentalist movement looked upon the minority Muslim community as the enemy within. So, to arm herself from a possible Hindu backlash, she tried her best to fit in by submerging her true identity. “Do not call me by my Muslim name,” she would caution us in private. “I do not want the world to know about my Muslim identity.” Continue reading


Filed under India, Urdu

Citizenship, identity and the nation state: re-imagining Pakistan

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

The number one issue in the subcontinent which threatens the fabric of every nation state that exists today in the region, is that of the inability of the central state structure to harmonise contending notions of identity. In no small way is this attributable to the events of the British Raj. Consider this: Before the British colonised the subcontinent, the people of this region existed in overlapping sets of multiple identities, where contending sovereignty of identity groups was negotiated and power was shared at several levels.

When the British came along, they brought with them the then in vogue European notions of nation and nation state. Differences between homogenous European nation states and the heterogeneous nature of India were glossed over when applying the same model here. Later enthusiastic young Indian nationalists, including Muslims like Badruddin Tyabji and Mahomed Ali Jinnah, bought into this thesis of one Indian nation and remained committed to it for a very long time. It was only the fear of Hindu majoritarianism within this one Indian nation that forced Jinnah to revert to the thesis they had rejected hitherto i.e. India was not one nation but at least two or even more. Though for the most part the two major leaders of the Indian Nationalist Movement post-1920, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were well aware of the various contending identities within the fold of the umbrella the Indian Nationalist Movement, the centralised Indian identity proved itself to be intolerant of smaller communal and ethnic identities. In fact Congress spent much of its time demonising them as the “other”, the exact opposite of the one Indian identity.

Instead of relying on the pre-colonial paradigm of multiple identities and shared sovereignty, the folly of South Asian leadership, including Jinnah till at least 1937, was that they sought the national conception prevalent in the industrialised world which was generally limited to a few million people at a time in one nation state and tried to apply it to India which was one of the most populous and diverse countries of the world. It was the failure of the Congress leadership to move beyond this idea of the nation state that made it impossible for them to come to an arrangement with the Muslim League on the basis of the Cabinet Mission Plan, a plan that would have preserved both Indian unity, the good that British had done, and which would have restored to India its original concept of shared sovereignty, thoroughly structured on modern lines. Critics of this scheme allege that this would have been a negation of a “one-man one-vote” democracy. In reality the Cabinet Mission Plan would have been a very reasonable and logical negation of the centralised nation state but not one person one vote democracy. The one person one vote democracy would have been perfectly served within individual nations that co-existed in one India.

The failure to conceptualise such a situation in 1947 on the part of the Congress Party is forgivable; given that they were not witness to the increasing trend world over of voluntarily ceding sovereignty to larger multi-national groups i.e. the European Union. Failure to envisage communities as nations, a nationhood which at least one party had already claimed in 1940, on part of the Congress rendered its own political discourse useless. For all its claims of being inclusive and representative, by failing to accommodate an alternative understanding of the national discourse in India, the Congress ultimately laid the seeds of partition. While post-partition continuity of a “Secular Democratic India” has masked many of the problems that exist on the ground level, even today the majority of smaller regional and communal groups remain marginalised from the mainstream.

Being officially secular with uninterrupted democracy no doubt has given India an edge but it remains for the most part a Hindu-dominated nation state. Nevertheless the erosion of the Congress Party however and the rise of smaller regional and other ideological alliances has made it possible for smaller groups to play a greater role in the destiny of their homeland. In comparison Pakistan’s dilemma has been even more pronounced. Even though in pre-1947 the theory of South Asian or Indian Muslim nationalism was much more accommodating of various multiple identities (as evidenced by Muslim League’s willingness to accommodate an independent and united Bengal as well as its concerted opposition to Punjab), since 1947 the official discourse has become increasingly hostile to any alternative notion to it. Furthermore outside the all-India situation, the vague conception of South Asian Muslim nationalism has proved to be an inadequate unifier.

Pakistan’s inability to learn from the mistakes made by the Congress Party led to the ultimate dissolution of the erstwhile Union which included the Eastern wing. Given that after 1971, there were many more South Asian Muslims outside Pakistani borders (as in Bangladesh and India) than inside it, has forced the Pakistani establishment to seek Islamic ideology as a possible replacement for South Asian Muslim nationalism as the basis of the state. Instead had Pakistanis focused on understanding the complex nature of events that had resulted in the creation of Pakistan, it would have been much easier to understand and appreciate the vision laid down by Mahomed Ali Jinnah on August 11, 1947.

Contrary to suggestions, Jinnah was not reversing or retiring the conception of identity that had resulted into partition but rather was expounding the secular principle of citizenship which should be the essential feature of any modern state. His hope that religious and ethnic political identities would lose importance in Pakistan was not a denial of their importance but rather an appeal to work towards an inclusive and pluralistic future mindful of the multiple identities that existed within Pakistan. The clearest example of this is that having considered the idea of converting the Muslim League into a Pakistan League open to all citizens of Pakistan and realising that public opinion was not ready for it at that point in time, Jinnah resigned from the Muslim League on 17th December, 1947 declaring that as governor general he could not remain the head of a self avowed communal organisation. This was an indication of his conception of the state above identity, community and nation. Nor did Jinnah close the door on the idea of re-establishing Muslim League as a non-communal party. He told Roger Stimson that the decision to have a purely Muslim organisation was not irrevocable and that it all depended on progress Pakistan would make. He was hoping that Pakistan would gradually integrate and move beyond politics of identity to politics of issues. Having been lost forever between militarist statism and pseudo-democratic centrism, it is about time that Pakistan re-imagined, re-cast, re-drew and re-organised as a state along these lines.

It is not enough to state this however and not give a solution. First and foremost it would require Pakistan and Pakistanis to accept that Pakistan is a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and even a multi-national state, that a Pakistani citizen has multiple identities encompassing multiple situations and multiple classes, that there is no hard and fast distinction between majority and minority but rather an accommodation between the various identities and classes that contribute to making Pakistan one whole.


Filed under Citizens, History