10 August 2009

"Making sense of Pakistan" by Farzana Shaikh

Dr Farzana Shaikh (a Ph D from Columbia University and a visitor at Princeton) provides an excellent insight into the evolution of Pakistan as a state and a nation.

Pakistan was born when the minority Muslim community in British India was unified by concerns (about potential oppression in the electoral politics of a democracy) and morphed into a nation with political aspirations. The community had several challenges: lack of territorial contiguity, lack of ethnic homogeneity, differences in culture, differences in language and even differences in the way they practiced Islam. Once the unifying cause of threat from a majority was eliminated, the divisive factors played a bigger role in shaping the identity and future of Pakistan. Pakistan has morphed from the higher ideal of a “homeland for Muslims” to a “frontline state for jehad by the Wahabi Muslims”.

Pakistan, in its attempt to define itself, has disenfranchised to various levels its religious minorities; its sectarian minorities (Ahmediyas, Shias); its ethnic minorities (Bengali Muslims, Sindhi Muslims, Mohajirs); and even segments of its Sunni population (Sufi Muslims and more importantly all women who are no more equal to men under law) veering away from the Universalist message of peaceful Islam. Political leaders and the Army have been eager to legitimize their tenure by whipping up fervor for puritanical Islam or fervor against neighboring India to serve their political causes and have damaged the social fabric of this great community that was once the compassionate and tolerant jewel of the Moghul empire.

However, there are winds of change blowing through the land. There is an increasing emphasis on representative politics, rule of law.

In Farzana Shaikh’s view, Pakistan has to "recast its quest for religious consensus in terms of a cultural heritage rooted in the discourse of Indian Islam to salvage a pluralist alternative consistent with democratic citizenship".

Pakistan may very well find its "identity based on reconciliation of Islam's Universalist message with respect for the rich diversity of its peoples".

A truly remarkable book by this daughter of Pakistan. I wish someone writes about India likewise with equal measures of love and honesty.

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