Our putrid national narrative

There is no running away from the ground reality: Pakistan is a terribly majoritarian and fascist society at its core

Our putrid national narrative

My article last week received more than average attention from the readers. There was one elderly gentleman who lives in Canada who wrote in to declare that a person like me could not be happy in Switzerland either. It is unfortunate that such readers completely missed the point. I chose to live in Pakistan at a time when I could have chosen to live anywhere, including Canada. It is not a question of me being unhappy here or elsewhere but what we have done to this poor country.

There is very little consensus on what Pakistan ought to have become. However we can all agree on the things it was not supposed to become. It was not supposed to be a veritable hellhole for its citizens. It was not supposed to be a place where citizens would be kept in check by brandishing a long stick of religion. It was not supposed to a backward country where women and minorities are treated as second-class citizens, which they are. I do not see any point in making ourselves feel better by pointing to the many real and imagined failures of India. There is absolutely no reason why the plight of Muslims in India should make us sleep better thinking all is well in Pakistan. For every failure of India, we can count two in Pakistan. Minorities are treated badly in India perhaps, but in Pakistan we take away their right to exist as free and independent citizens of the country. Not only can they never aspire to the highest offices in the land such as President or Prime Minister but most of them are forced to hide their identity for their own protection. Equal citizenship is a hollow promise that the constitution makes to the citizens of Pakistan. Muslim citizens of Pakistan are more equal than Non-Muslims and the more you can sell religious piety the more equal you become. There is no running away from the ground reality: Pakistan is a terribly majoritarian and fascist society at its core.

Pakistani territory has been blessed with a diverse geography, abundance of natural resources and a rich cultural heritage. If its leaders had any vision, the country would have been a magnet for both business and tourism

Much of this has to do with our obsession with religion. This is true of any Muslim country but particularly true in Pakistan where since the 1980s at least we have been selling the clever fiction that it was created in the name of Islam. Well Islam, that I know of at least, teaches moderation and tolerance. The Holy Book tells us “there is no compulsion in religion”. This one verse can be the basis of any modern society that forwards individual rights and liberties. Unfortunately this is the one verse Muslims refuse to follow. Look at our Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance. This law has no basis in Islamic history or jurisprudence. Instead it is reminiscent of the “blue” and Sabbath laws that the predominantly Christian nations have given up long ago.

Here in Pakistan however Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance, like the blasphemy law, has been equated with the word of God. Fasting in Islam is a personal act of worship between man and God. An individual can choose not to fast. That is a matter best left to God. Who has given the state the authority to persecute those who choose not to fast? Individual businesses, such as restaurants and eateries, can choose to remain closed during Ramzan. Why must this be mandatorily imposed by the state? Ask yourselves this: were Pakistanis any less Muslim before a military dictator imposed this law upon us? And what of the legitimate exceptions? The sick, the elderly, the pregnant women, or women in their menstrual cycle etc are not required to fast under Islamic law. Why are they forced to go on hungry for the sake of those who have chosen to fast? Logic is in short supply in Pakistan and most of the Muslim world. This is why Muslims are the laughing stock of the world.

We have all pinned our hopes on the CPEC and the coming of the Chinese. With the Chinese will come their culture and values, some of which are inevitably going to be antithetical to the religious and cultural values of the people here. For example will we enforce Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance on the Chinese as well? Indeed are we ready to embrace multiculturalism in the name of economic progress? Not if you go by the statements from our inferior minister who continues to berate imaginary secular foes. Who then is going to stop clerics from issuing fatwas against our Chinese friends or to kidnap them as the Lal Masjid cleric did in 2007? 10 years later the Lal Masjid cleric is still around and enjoys state’s protection.

Now imagine a Pakistan that would have embraced its diversity instead of treating it with fear and loathing. Imagine a Pakistan that would give equal rights to all its citizens without considerations of religion or gender. Imagine a Pakistan that would not be held hostage by its religious clergy and where the rulers would refuse to be blackmailed by these contractors of faith. Pakistan as a territory blessed with geography, relief, natural resources and a rich cultural heritage.

If its leaders had any vision it would be the magnet for the world both for business and for tourism. The tourism potential alone should have been enough to transform us rapidly into a rich and prosperous nation. Instead we have concentrated on all the wrong things. Regionally we are isolated, with unsettled borders. These are problems that we have created for ourselves by promoting a particularly putrid narrative for our national identity. It is this pungent narrative that needs to change.

What Pakistan needs is leadership that is ready to put its foot down and do what is necessary for progress. Unfortunately going by our history our leadership, be they civilian or military, cares enough for the country to show any backbone.


The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at hhtp://globallegalforum.blogspot.com and his twitter handle is @therealylh