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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Pakistan sees its face in the mirror and doesn’t like what it sees

Stalin fought against fascism but then created an ideological state, which was not much different from Hitler’s Germany. Pakistan is like Caliban. It sees its face in the mirror and doesn’t like what it sees.

Written by Khaled Ahmed |
Updated: September 12, 2020 9:20:49 am
pakistan, pakistan sharia law, islam, pakistan islam, soviet union, communist regimes, khaled ahmed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. (Reuters Photo/File)

Pratap Bhanu Mehta recently (‘Simply Vishwas’, IE, August 26) wrote: “Politics of belief (vishwas) is different from one based on fact and interest. It has an underlying cultural nihilism.” In Pakistan, it has an association with “ideology” serving as the foundation of the Islamic State.

The word “ideologie” came into use during the French Revolution and postulated a sure and encyclopaedic form of knowledge upon which social engineering could be based. Ideology came on the scene as a champion of Enlightenment and rival of religion, but it soon acquired the status of a dogma. The principal voice of the ideologues and author of Elements d’Ideologie, Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), spoke frankly of “regulating society”.

Most ideologues possess a kind of certitude, not just that utopia can be built but that it is destined to be built. Nothing promotes aggression more than certitude. Yet, a fatalistic trust in the tide of history and the ideological frame of mind go together. However, history cannot be left alone to unfold — the “passionate intensity” (W B Yeats) of ideology craves movement and deeds. It has been said that “ideology is the transformation of ideas into social levers”. During the month of fasting this year, “ideology” and its “certitude” once again threaten Pakistan with violence. Mehta’s “vishwas” may be linked to “certitude” and consequent aggression”.

The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, did use the word ideology once or twice during the Pakistan Movement, but it was in the Western liberal sense. The USSR had an ideology which was fixed. If you opposed Soviet ideology you could go to jail. In Iran, there is an ideology which no one can oppose. The only difference is that in Iran it can be done in the detail but not in principle.

In the USSR, the Communist Party looked after ideology. In Iran, the clergy appointed by the constitution does the same job. In Pakistan, ideology gained respect after 1947 and some of it, it must be confessed, came from the USSR and its great economic achievement. India was democratic. Pakistan was ideological. India was an ordinary concept as a state. Pakistan was something special. The Left thought ideological meant socialism. The Right thought it meant Islam. The utopia of the Right was “falahi” (welfare) state, somewhat akin to the communist utopia. Today, Imran Khan calls it the State of Madina.

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All politicians in Pakistan proudly claim to be “nazriati” (ideological). It can mean “principled”, but it also points to an Islamic utopia. Pakistan has tried to define this utopia. But under General Ziaul Haq, a committee called Ansari Commission said Islam “did not allow opposition”. So, the general had a non-party election and there was no opposition in parliament. It was clear that Pakistan did not equate ideology with democracy. There is a Federal Shariat Court in Islamabad to make sure everything happens in Pakistan according to Islam. That is very much like ideology.

The clerical view is that the Pakistani utopia should be recreated in the light of the “sharia”, which also includes the “fiqh” (case law) of the medieval jurists of Islam. Alas, in the eyes of the clergy, the state remains “incompletely ideological” and, therefore, an unhappy state. It is a small island on which the non-clerical Right and a minuscule Left are surviving in Pakistan. Needless to say, the clerics are unhappy and denounce the state.

Muslims who want to be “modern-Islamic” are unhappy because the state can’t move quickly enough to assimilate the new universalism. Muslims who want the state to be perfectly Islamic are unhappy with it for being tardy in rejecting modernity. You have to be a good Pakistani. That means you have to love the idea of Pakistan as a state that lives separated from India.

If you imply that Pakistan is not separate from India or that it should re-join it, you go in for rigorous imprisonment. This is a special shibboleth. An American can say America should join China and still be free. But in Pakistan, you can be hauled up for implying Pakistan’s “un-separateness”.

Ideology interfaces with nationalism. Ideology remains Islam, but don’t ask to go into details. Pakistan is unhappy because of the “inclusive” constitutional principle of “nothing repugnant to Islam”. Pakistan is liveable today for some because it is “insufficiently” ideological. For some, this incompleteness is a source of unhappiness. Its constitution seems to promise two contradictory things at the same time. No one is really reconciled to the state as it is. Those not reconciled are all good Pakistanis or Muslims, but they may not consider each other good Pakistanis or Muslims.

The acme of nationalism is fascism, which then becomes ideology. Ideology, because of its “utopian” control, also aspires to fascism. Stalin fought against fascism but then created an ideological state, which was not much different from Hitler’s Germany. Pakistan is like Caliban. It sees its face in the mirror and doesn’t like what it sees.

This article first appeared in the print edition on September 12, 2020 under the title ‘Divided by ideology’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.

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