States of Siege

What links the ideas of Pakistan and Israel,and their shared paranoia.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Published: December 7, 2013 5:35 am

Book: Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea

Author: Faisal Devji

Publication: Harvard University Press

288 pages

Price: Rs 895

Pakistan has been troubled through its 60-plus years of life and now stands on the cliff edge of a a failing state,and a government with shrinking writ. Many diagnoses are on offer but one advanced by the Taliban is that it is “incompletely” Islamic; and the common man in Pakistan seems to agree with this diagnosis.

One periodically hears Pakistanis say that only two states have been formed on the basis of religion: Pakistan and Israel. It is difficult to fathom why they say so because Israel never got to Judaise the state under an agreed “religious state” constitution,unless they are pointing to the rabbinic “divorce” courts in Israel that treat wives the same way as Pakistan does,or the way both states treat their minorities,despite staking their claim to new states on the basis of minority identities.

In Muslim Zion,Faisal Devji has dug deep into the Pakistan-Israel “birth binary” and thrown up interesting insights. He writes: “Pakistan and Israel emerged from situations in which minority populations dispersed across vast subcontinents sought to escape the majorities whose persecution they rightly or wrongly feared.”

It is clear from his investigation that the founders of Pakistan were aware that yet-to-be-formed Israel would be something like the country which they demanded. Both Jinnah and Theodor Herzl wanted no part of the past to intrude into the idea of the new nation. Maybe both saw Sharia and Halakha,the body of Jewish religious laws,looming large in the background and feared their stringencies. Israel’s first prime minister,Ben Gurion,stuck to the Declaration of Independence which said that Israel would be a secular-liberal democracy. Jinnah in 1947 proclaimed — in vain — that Pakistan would be a secular state. Today,Israel has no constitution because of the Ashkenazim-Sabra schism over it but Pakistan is a full-fledged religious state.

In August 2012,CNN host Christiane Amanpour spoke to former Israeli conservative foreign minister Tzipi Livni on Israel going religious. Livni had resigned from the centrist opposition Kadima Party and left Israeli parliament in May 2012. She accused Likud chief and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of kowtowing to the ultraorthodox,who believed that the sole source of authority was not the law or the Supreme Court but the Halakha,the Torah and the rabbi. She believed Israel “needed a constitution and a clear definition of what the Jewish state really is.” She said: “The meaning of a Jewish state is from a national perspective,not a religious one. And we need to define this in a constitution.”

Something similar happened to Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq Islamised it and now the Taliban will inject the next instalment of “hard-shell” Islam favoured by seminaries vehemently protesting “state incompleteness”. Judaism had no church in contrast with Christianity. Islam too plumped for a no-church system but is crawling with a clergy gone jihadi and opposed to the state in Pakistan. Israel too is crawling with rabbis. A religious state must have its church for minimal clerical discipline.

Jinnah was an Aga Khani Ismaili Shia turned Twelver Shia. There were other Shia leaders supporting Jinnah,who collectively wanted the Pakistan “imaginary” to stay clear of the narrative that had Emperor Aurangzeb declaring the Shia apostates. Today,Pakistan has constitutionally apostatised the Ahmadis whose leader Zafrullah Khan Jinnah had chosen as his foreign minister; and the Shia-killing Taliban will certainly apostatise their victims after coming to power.

Seceding Muslim leaders of India pledged a kind of Muslim Zion and the Arabs saw through it quickly enough. The Egyptian prime minister,Mustafa Nahas Pasha,refused to support the Pakistan movement,thereby rejecting Israel; Gandhi rejected the Jewish homeland,thereby rejecting Pakistan. And a very prescient Rajendra Prasad,later president of India,saw through the transnational concept of homeland contravening the idea of the nation-state. Today,the Chinese are scared what mischief this “homeland” will do next in its eastern province of Xinjiang. Devji’s forgivable hyperbole: “Israel and Pakistan share much more than these general features,so that it is even possible to say that the Jewish state might never have come into being without its Muslim twin.”

Is it irredentism based on retrieval of territory that propels the paranoia of the two states? “Both Muslim and Jewish states survive with the rhetorical fear of being divided or altogether extinguished by their enemies.”

Uncannily,Devji zeroes in on the tendency in Pakistan to translate the word “faith” (iman) in the Muslim League slogan of Unity-Faith-Discipline as “certitude” (yaqin). He must have noted also that in Urdu,“faith” is placed before “unity” since Pakistan thinks “unity will grow out of faith” (sic). It is “certitude” in one’s faith which removes all humane self-doubt,which then results in the violent extremism that is now haunting Pakistan as well as the entire Muslim world.

The writer is a consulting editor with Newsweek Pakistan

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