May 23, 2013
Dreams of His Father
Posted on Dec 5, 2012
By Rayyan Al-Shawaf
Salmaan’s idea of being Muslim consists in large part of membership in a perceived civilizational bloc, and the adoption of political causes championed by segments of that bloc. It reminds one of a prediction made by the late Samuel P. Huntington in his sensationalistic yet periodically insightful book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.” Huntington opines that in future conflicts, people will align themselves with the faith-based civilizations of which they are ancestrally a part, even if they, on an individual level, lack faith. In a judgment that appears a bit too harsh, Taseer determines that his father’s culturally Muslim identity is merely an ideological cover for his bigoted views of India, Hindus, Jews and Americans.
The problem for Salmaan was that his culturally Muslim identity was not good enough for most Pakistanis. Zia and others considered the paradox of Pakistan, a country for Muslims but not an Islamic state, an absurdity. Had Zia been asked about cultural Muslims, he probably would have similarly dismissed them. And paradoxes are difficult to defend. Taseer exaggerates when he pronounces gravely that “after everything else had been allowed to fall away, the men who believed that Pakistan was created for faith would always have the force of logic on their side,” but he is partially correct.
Taseer’s father admittedly opposed Zia, though it remains unclear how he felt about the dictator’s Islamization program. (Salmaan was a supporter of Zulfikar Bhutto, whom Zia ousted in a military coup and sent to the gallows after a sham trial.) What comes through clearly, however, is Salmaan’s obliviousness to the growing danger around him. Zia’s Islamization program was not rolled back after his death in an airplane crash in 1988, even under the civilian rule of Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar, who promised but failed to repeal certain of his ordinances. And on a popular level, people increasingly gravitated to religion. As Pakistan became more Islamic, Salmaan remained much the same. Worse, he failed to realize that he and the other cultural Muslims of the country would not be forgiven their lack of faith, however much they hated India or supported the Palestinians and Iraqis. Still worse, the truculent aspects of Islam were now as important, if not more so, than praying and fasting.
Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands
By Aatish Taseer
Graywolf Press, 352 pages
Although Taseer grasps his father’s brand of Muslim identity, he remains too focused on its peculiarities to register the presence of similar phenomena around the world. Confessional solidarity born of something other than religious faith is not exclusive to Muslims. For example, the belief among many Jews that they share a specifically cultural bond has little to do with adherence to Judaism, and nonobservant Jews have historically driven Jewish political causes such as Zionism and Israel advocacy. (A year after Pakistan was created for Indian Muslims, Israel was founded on the notion that Jews constitute a nation.) Additionally, it is not just Muslims in the Indian subcontinent who collapse their lineage into their religion’s history; the descendants of converts to Judaism have historically adopted the Israelite and Jewish past as their own. It would also have behooved Taseer to further explore the differences between Pakistan and Iran’s break with history on one hand, and Turkey’s on the other. Turkey can be faulted for many things, but there is no question that, after a long and winding journey, it has emerged as a viable and economically powerful democracy. Why, then, do prospects look so dim for Pakistan and Iran in their current state? Is it perhaps not the rejection of one’s history per se that proves injurious, but the nature of that history, and whether or not the reorientation tends toward secularism or ever-increasing religiosity?
Nevertheless, Taseer succeeds in crystallizing Pakistan’s plight. Over the decades, Pakistan has come full circle, and the picture is depressing, if not ominous. A de facto secular state founded as a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent ended up as an Islamic state. A country born out of India—which is mostly Hindu, to be sure, but of which Muslims, Sikhs and many others are an integral component—discarded cultural elements associated with that land in pursuit of the fundamentalist fantasy of a cultureless avatar of pure Islam. Undoing the historical paradox that was Pakistan, a country intended to be majority Muslim but not governed by Shariah, and creating an Islamic state in its stead, may have satisfied those yearning for the simple and deceptively reassuring logic of a one-dimensional identity. But the endeavor has impoverished cultural expression while unleashing puritanical interpretations of Islam, curbed freedoms of all kinds, violated the rights of women and religious minorities, and generally made life miserable for most Pakistanis. In Salmaan Taseer’s case, it proved fatal.
Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and book critic in Beirut.
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