South Asian politics and culture
“Muhammad Ali Jinnah had no vision of what Pakistan should become,” says Professor Hoodbhoy
This conversation with Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy is presented as a three-part series. Part 1 covers the Pakistani education system. The second part deals with the linguistic conundrum of Pakistan. Part three includes a conversation about South Asian politics and culture.
South Asian politics and culture
Hassan Mirza (HM): Has India ever been a real democracy?
Pervez Hoodbhoy (PH): India was a secular democracy in its early decades but, like Pakistan, is emerging as a majority democracy. It is very dangerous for minorities. There is a real danger that the two countries will become mirror copies. For example, last year I hosted a lecture by Indian liberal anti-Modi politician Mani Shankar Aiyar at Forman Christian College in Lahore. I was amazed that within minutes there was a strongly negative response from India. This confirmed to me that the madness has reached very high levels there. I’ve received a lot of mail from Hindutva junkies (all polite so far, luckily) telling me how wrong I am about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi. India is diving quickly, but it is still much more liberal and open than Pakistan.
HM: Many Indians at home and abroad support Modi and his version of Hindutva politics. His support seems absolute. What is your opinion ?
PH: It’s true that Modi took India by storm. But there is a fairly large section of enlightened Hindus in India and abroad who have spoken out loud against the majority tyranny of the Saffron Brigade. Some risked their lives and did their utmost to defend Muslims and their rights. It is heartwarming to see that, for example, they recently managed to defeat the BJP in Delhi. There is nothing comparable in the case of Pakistan, where religious minorities are truly isolated with only a handful of Muslims to defend them.
HM: What do you have to say about the friction between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia? The differences between Pakistan and India so far appear irreconcilable, and Indian Muslims face problems at the hands of Hindutva supporters.
PH: Cause and effect, action-reaction can get confused endlessly. Two groups of people each defined by a conserved quantum number can coexist or fight until either one stays. It seems to me that you are perhaps suggesting that Hindus and Muslims can never live in peace together. Would you say the same about Sunni-Shiites? White black? Protestant-Catholic? Jewish-Christian? If you are right then mankind is on the way to hell and all hope of peace must be given up. I don’t dispute that Modi is a monster. But what’s new in there? One can easily cling to the wrongs committed by those who are possessed by any religious or political ideology. Who was the meanest to the others? Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Nazis, Communists? Not yet Hindus; unless they somehow manage to take over the world, which thankfully is unlikely.
HM: For thousands of years, upper cast Hindus have persecuted lower castes in the name of religion, despite their claims to be completely peaceful. Now the Indian Supreme Court has delivered a bad verdict regarding the Babri Mosque issue.
PH: Caste is definitely a terrible thing, but modern Indians are increasingly able to recover from it. With Hindutva, the pace slowed down. But let us remember that caste-ism also exists elsewhere. The Arabs focus on the tribe, which is just as unchanging as the caste. And they are just as racist. Just see how they despise Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. You are right about the Babri Masjid judgment – it is a crying shame. The Indian Supreme Court also cleared a crime by approving the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA). These are sad times for India.
HM: I think Hindus in general are much more superstitious and anti-science than the Muslim world. Most Muslims are not very superstitious. South Asian Muslims yes, because we share a common culture with Hindus. The vast majority of the Indian population is still steeped in Hindu myths. Al-Biruni observed Indian superstition about a thousand years ago.
PH: Agree that the traditional Hindu is more superstitious than the traditional Muslim, but all religions depend on unverifiable beliefs. The more people cling to it, the slower their intellectual progression. Note that despite the recent Modi phenomenon, modernity has imposed itself much more quickly in India. Jawaharlal Nehru accelerated it enormously. All the great civilizations have contributed to the development of science. No one has a monopoly.
HM: There is also superstition in developed countries. Japan, the USA, Europe have it but much less than the subcontinent.
PH: Except that, unlike Pakistan, the superstitious lunatics of these countries are kept away from positions of power. Donald Trump is an exception, and the United States is falling apart. However, his institutions are so strong that unless Trump succeeds in destroying them, they will impose severe constraints on his behavior even if he wins a second term.
HM: What is the state of Pakistani society and the economy in general?
PH: Our society is a very conformist society, attached to things that we imagined to have happened in the past. Our Prime Minister tells us to dream of Riyasat-e-Madina and believes in jinn and spirits. Benazir Bhutto was equally superstitious. As for the economy: Pakistan has had a begging bowl since 1947. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had no vision of what Pakistan should become and the Muslim League was a mishmash of big landowners salivating for ever more power . He self-destructed shortly after Jinnah’s death. But don’t let that be a reason to despair. Societies and social values ââchange … history is proof of this. Many Pakistanis have realized the futility of the current course. Today’s enlightened minority can become tomorrow’s majority if we keep trying.
HM: Jinnah was the smartest Muslim politician in British India. Better than Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in my opinion. He had to have a vision?
PH: Maulana Azad was secular and open-minded. But he was an exception (like Syed Ahmad Khan). Azad went from fundamentalist to secular under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi. Jinnah has moved from a clear secular position to a mixed position. Jinnah wanted only one thing: to be the best dog. Nothing else mattered.
HM: What is the situation of minority rights in Pakistan?
PH: Minorities in Pakistan want to hide, not to confront each other. Very wise, I think. They have to keep their heads down.
HM: Some Pakistani âliberalsâ seem to be insincere because they don’t pay taxes, have a feudal mindset, and will support any political actor for their short-term gains.
PH: Okay. We must not confuse liberal thinking with a liberal lifestyle. Bhuttos, for example, have a liberal lifestyle but a feudal mindset and don’t think corruption is too bad a thing.
HM: What is your opinion on Benazir Bhutto? She is a hero to many liberal Pakistanis.
PH: She was never one of my heroes. At Karachi Grammar School (KGS), she was a year younger than me. We knew she was arrogant as hell. She always thought she was born to rule – and she made it clear to all the students. A courageous woman, yes, but courageous only by protecting her personal and feudal interests. His corruption in government was legendary, although Asif Ali Zardari went further. So many current senators and acolytes owe their positions of power to him.
HM: Pakistani Islamic scholars like Javed Ghamdi have made efforts to modernize the South Asian Muslim mind. Muslims can and always have reformed Islam despite the propaganda of opponents. But reformers still face threats from traditionalists and radicals. What do you think about this?
PH: Islam is what Muslims make it, and Islam will modernize if Muslims modernize. I love Ghamdi. He pushes the limits of Islam in the direction of liberality and takes personal risks. They are killing reformers in Muslim countries. Look at Fazlur Rehman. He was like Ghamdi but perhaps a better scholar. He also had to live outside Pakistan. In some ways, Ghamdi is not much different from others, and his rationalism is limited. For example, in a televised debate we had shortly after the 2005 earthquake, he accepted that earthquakes happen because Allah wants to scare people into following the true path. It’s totally unscientific.
HM: My observations on religious reform among European Muslims are that there is now an effort to create a European version of Islam. Could South Asian Muslims learn from this new version of Islam?
PH: You may be right about the new European Islam and it will be interesting to see what forms it takes. Allama Iqbal also tried to create his own version, but in the end it was no different from the old one. Ijtihad has limits.
HM: What are your observations on the Pakistani diaspora in Europe?
PH: On a short visit to London, what hit me in the face was the number of burqas and beards and the arrogance of Pakistani immigrants who think Britain should adapt to their needs rather than them to Great Britain. If this is the attitude, then the rise of the euro-right should come as no surprise.
HM: Many of the current problems in the world, like the Trump phenomenon, seem to be the result of tensions between localists and globalists. Many believe that all of this is due to communitarianism or tribalism and can be overcome by scientific thought, cosmopolitanism and liberalism. Is it possible?
PH: Absolutely! There is simply no other way. Tell me if you see an alternative. But, we need a happy synthesis of the global with the local. The intelligent liberal will insist on this. Having a certain sense of self-pride and cultural attachment can be a good thing. But communitarianism is a negative trait because it denigrates the other. Ultimately, we all have to learn to live with each other.
HM: What is the future of the subcontinent? Is Is Pakistan working to solve the problems posed by overpopulation and global warming?
PH: The problems of the subcontinent are typical of much of the world but on a larger scale. The globe as a whole is threatened. Our best bet for survival is to aim for renewable energy, cut plastics and pollution, lower consumption levels, and work for a world government with teeth. I don’t see Pakistani institutions doing meaningful work on an important issue – climate change, population, water, etc. Nothing is visible so far.
HM: I read your article “Who is enemy number one?“ several times. Frankly, it seems most Pakistanis don’t care about population control and instead choose to stick their heads in the sand.
PH: Indeed, you have described the attitude of people well. Water, land, clean air and forests are disappearing. But religious restrictions on contraception trump common sense. Ours is a drunken drive towards oblivion: “Aye kuch abr kuch sharab aye, we kay baad aye jo azab aye “.