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Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity - Book review

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    Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity - Book review

    Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity - Akbar Ahmed

    Much of the historical discourse and social analysis in Pakistan is based on negative methodologies which seek to justify Pakistan's failures and shortcomings by pointing out similar problems that also exist in neighboring India. Instead of focusing their academic lens on the Pakistani situation, and be the view positive or negative, analyzing what is seen within their nation, scholars repeatedly use the tact of dismissing problems in Pakistan by discussions of parallel problems in India. Within this paradigm, Pakistani scholarship is defined by placing the country's problems in a less negative light in comparison to India's problems. This could be called the theory of self justification, but more aptly results in self negation. A vivid example of this methodology can be found in the book by Akbar S. Ahmed, "Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin". It is one of a great number of books published in Pakistan during 1997. Many of these books published in honor of Pakistan's fiftieth anniversary, such as Feroz Ahmed's "Ethnicity and Politics in Pakistan," and others such as the work by the linguist, Dr. Tariq Rehman, represent an effort to look objectively at topics such as Pakistani nation-building, society, cultural myths, domestic and foreign policy. Prior to this golden jubilee moment of self analysis, most books that graced the OUP or Vanguard shelves were basically biased and very much situated in the straight jacket of the two nation theory. This is not to criticize their nationalist orientation, all nations write nationalist histories, but an observation that historical discourse in Pakistan is dominated by negative images of India and Hinduism. In general, the majority of books in the field of the social sciences written in Pakistan have lacked theoretical basis and are short on angst and verve. Dr. Rahat, an intellectual in Karachi joked, "In Pakistan social scientists are more social than scientific!" However, since 1997, there have been several books written about the Bangladesh experience and other previously taboo and controversial issue, such as the recent book by Ahmad Saleem, "Blood Beaten Track", which does not lay the blame squarely in Indira Gandhi's lap, for conspiring to "Sink the Two Nation theory in the Bay of Bengal".

    In Akbar S. Ahmed's book, "Search for Saladin", if judged by its cover, the fairly post modern title gives the impression that perhaps the book would be theoretically based and hopefully less biased than the standard fare offered up as state sponsored Pakistani scholarship. In this regard the book was a disappointment. Ahmed is a well know Pakistani scholar, and though a civil servant and therefore perhaps prone to rubbery research results stretching to accommodate the reigning regime, he is a fellow at Selwyn College, Cambridge and would probably get a wider reading audience in the West. Unfortunately, in this book he has fallen once again into the prevailing discourse of Pakistani historians who define their nation in the negative, in terms of what it is not. "We are not Hindus. We are not Indians. We will not be ruled by the Hindus. We do not practice the evil caste system. We do not mistreat our minorities. We do not attack our neighbors." Through the decades Pakistani writers have used this discourse of negation consistently describing their nation in contrast to Hindu India's other. There have been far too few examples of reflexivity, inward looking analysis.

    In this book by Ahmed much of the discussion centers on communalism in India. He refers to books by Veena Das, Asghar Ali Engineer, Sarvepalli Gopal, Kumari Jayawardena, T.N. Madan, Ashish Nandy, Khushwant Singh, etc. He uses these Indian authors' work to prove his points about the sufferings of minorities in India, couched in the usual anti-Indian Pakistani-centric rhetoric. He never pauses to question why there are so many open and frank books about the plight of minorities in India and there are very few such books about the problems faced by minorities in Pakistan. He doesn't mention the bishop who blew his brains out on the city hall steps to protest continuing officially sanctioned harassment of the Christian community in Pakistan and the death sentence handed down to a young Christian boy. He fails to mention that Hindus and other minorities are delegated to second class citizens through their prejudicial voting system and blasphemy laws. Or that women are also second class citizens living under the burden of Hudood laws. He can not see the problems in his own nation, for he is too busy looking for problems in India. Once again, Pakistan is not looking at Pakistan for its own meaning, it is looking to India to justify its own failings. Akbar dwells extensively on rape during the Bombay riots of 1993, citing the suffering in several pages, but he dismisses rape by Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh with less than one sentence. These types of examples are to be found throughout the book. It must be said that some of the most exciting and theoretically based and insightful scholarship in Pakistan is coming from the small group of feminist intellectuals associated with such centers as Simorgh, ASR, and Sahe in Lahore. In books purporting to be more objective and intellectual, such as, "Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin," the author though appearing to be sympathetic to the Bengalis and regretting the racism dealt out to them during their 24 years under West Pakistani domination, still does not mask his inherent bias, as can be seen in the following quote in which he relates a conversation he had with General Yaqub Khan, who "summed up the situation he faced before the military crackdown. Pakistan is like a Ming vase, priceless and delicate, he said. Mujib-ur-Rehman, leading the Bengali nationalist party the Awami League and later President of Bangladesh, is like a fly sitting on it. We have to smack the fly but make sure the vase does not break [said Yaqub]. Only a few months later his colleagues would use a hammer to swat the fly; they would smash the vase and the fly would be unharmed." (end quote)

    Bangladesh's most famous hero of their liberation struggle, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, is unapologetically reduced to an insect in this 1997 Pakistani account.

    In the entire narrative as presented by Akbar S. Ahmed, there is only one passing mention of the general elections called by Yahya Khan, but nothing about the cancellation of the National Assembly; nothing about Bhutto's political machinations. The creation of Bangladesh is blamed on Indian cunning and a incipient Bengali irredentialism. Ahmed ends his discussion of Bangladesh with numerous excerpts from newspapers about crime and violence in Dhaka and notes from Bengalis who complain about RAW's influence and the failure of the state. . . as if to say that the problems of East Pakistan were not solved by the creation of Bangladesh. This book is a good example of typical Pakistani apologist scholarship, where M.A. Jinnah is standing near the gates of heaven. . . it is the same old story with a fancy title.

    I have not reviewed this book. THis was a review from Yvette Rosser from University of Texas at Austin. Here's another review by Barbara Crosette from New York Times.

    The New York Times Book Review, Barbara Crossette
    The spleen vented in this book is one of its problems. So is its disorganization.... These drawbacks aside, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity virtually explodes with provocative ideas and new ways of looking at partition, at Jinnah, at Pakistan and at South Asia as a whole.

    Four men shaped the end of British rule in India: Nehru, Gandhi, Mountbatten and Jinnah. We know a great deal about the first three, but Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, has mostly either been ignored or in the case of Richard Attenborough's hugely successful film, Gandhi, portrayed as a cold megalomaniac, bent on the bloody partition of India. Akbar Ahmed's major study tells a different story of heroism and tragedy and of backstage manoeuvering among the governing elite of the Raj, and argues for Jinnah's continuing relevance as contemporary Islam debates its future direction. --