Subramanian Swamy, a BJP leader, says Muslims are not equal citizens since they pose a threat to the world and “On this issue, the country is with us and most people like our hardline approach to solving pending problems”. He added: “Where the Muslim population is large, there is always trouble.”
Not long ago a Pakistani poet (now late) Fahmida Riaz, on the run from General Zia ul Haq’s Islamisation, lived in India for a time and realised that religion, as opposed to India’s constitutionally-ordained secularism, was on the rise. She wrote her now-famous poem whose title conveyed the message: “You turned out to be just like us.” Many years later, Hindutva may change India forever.
M A Jinnah began as a “Muslim” leader by owning the “Islamic state”. His Eid message in 1945 encapsulated what Pakistan was to become two years later: “Everyone, except those who are ignorant, knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims and our Prophet has enjoined on us that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest.” But Jinnah also admired Kamal Ataturk, who secularised Turkey after banishing the Islamic system of Khilafat over which Muslims staged public demonstrations in India but from which Jinnah absented himself, as did the national poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Today, Turkey has followed the path of Pakistan — “just like us” —making it three states that have gone back to religion in the 21st century. The only difference is that, while India and Turkey are doing well, Pakistan is belly-up economically.
Turkey went secular in 1937 when its constitution declared it so, but in 2016, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) speaker in the elected parliament declared that the new constitution “should be a religious constitution”. The parliament, however, did not vote in favour of his “religious” vision. But with the empowerment of Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Islamisation went ahead, and the state wanted “that under Islamic law girls as young as nine could marry” while the Turkish law prohibited marriage under the age of 16. AKP ideologues even wanted left-handed eaters to be punished.
Just as Pakistan went for the textbooks to ground Islamisation, Turkey too has revised schoolbooks celebrating the founders of the Turkish Republic. Instead, Ottoman, Arabic and Quranic subjects have been inserted and, “evolution” banished to “protect national values”. In Pakistan, Imran Khan has decided to create a “uniform curriculum” for the ideological state of Pakistan, aimed indirectly at the English-medium schools carrying a “liberal-secular” worldview in their textbooks.
Saudi Arabia, once the bastion of conservative Islam, is trying to liberalise a faith that has become dehumanised through “compulsory jihad”, getting together with Egypt to oppose Turkey’s “Ottomanism” that once enslaved the Arabs. Pakistan has been the cradle of this “experimental” jihad and has come to grief in our times. Pakistan has evolved under an “ideology”, which it borrowed as a utopian concept from the Soviet Union, ignoring the fact that in a utopia there can be no opposition.
Are we going to have two opposed religious utopias sitting next to each other in South Asia? Pakistan has tried warlike “revisionism” and has come to grief twice, once in 1971 and again at Kargil, where it was defeated in 1999. As the soldiers of Hindutva strong-arm their way to utopia, the nuclearised dystopia of Pakistan is still nursing its Ghazwa-e-Hind dream, in which the Prophet PBUH himself will fight the infidels.
Can we roll back the religious state and the utopia of violent suppression of the variant point of view? Pakistan and India can prosper by becoming good trading partners, linking up with China and Iran and Central Asia where India still enjoys a lot of goodwill. Ideological Pakistan is learning its lessons the hard way, but India has an intellectual elite recognised the world over that can help an overpopulated South Asia evolve into a region of peace and prosperity.
This article first appeared in the print edition under the title ‘Backsliding states’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.
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