Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It has become something of a personality cult in Pakistan. Nowhere is this cognitive dissonance more visible than amongst the educated who refuse to accept facts and logic, clinging instead to a neurotic persecution complex.Columnist Khaled Ahmed says: “The vast majority of literate Pakistanis take comfort in ignorance, skepticism and conspiracy theories. The self-glorification of an imagined past matched by habits of national denial have assumed crisis proportions today when Pakistan’s existence is under far more serious threat from fellow Muslims than it was in 1947 from rival non Muslim communities.” What lies beneath this inability to critique and lack of intelligent analysis? Undoubtedly, one’s education influences views on politics and society. As Robert Frost aptly puts it: “education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
To sift the chaff from the grain, let us consider a ubiquitous slogan about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. A staple of our school textbooks, it echoed in massive public rallies as well as debates on secularism. Pakistan ka matlab kiya? La illaha il lallah (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah) has become the rallying cry of the campaign to Islamise Pakistani society. Ironically, it is a slogan that was coined long after the creation of Pakistan, but it is now being falsely ascribed to the leaders of the Pakistan movement in 1947.
Religion has often proved to be a powerful binding factor which has merged heterogeneous groups into a distinct nationality. Through appeal to supernatural authority, religion promotes national unity as a divine command. Examples abound in contemporary history: the Greek church as a source for Greek nationalism, the Catholic church as a factor in Irish separatism, Judaism and the state of Israel, Islam and Pakistan.
Soon after he seized power in 1977, General Zia ul-Haq sought to create a nation based on religion rather than on secular principles. An important part of the Islamisation agenda was defining the Islamic ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. In stark contrast to modern textbooks, no textbook written prior to 1977 mentions the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’.
Since education was a key factor in Zia’s Machiavellian manoeuvrings, a presidential order was issued that all Pakistan Studies textbooks must “demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularise it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a completely Islamised State.”
Instead of being a Muslim state as envisaged by its founders, Pakistan was recast in the mould of an Islamic state, where Islamic law would reign supreme. A state sponsored and systematic purging of liberal and secular values of future generations of Pakistan ensued.
History was rewritten to redefine Pakistani as an Islamic society, and no research on ancient India, the medieval period or the colonial era. Our history was linked with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, thus alienating it from ancient Indian history. This interpretation creates a Muslim consciousness that seeks it’s identity outside India. Historian Mubarak Ali cautions “History should not be influenced by religious beliefs since history has no religion. Pakistan came into being in 1947, but our history existed before this which cannot be deleted.”
History textbooks written soon after Partition - a time when the grief of shattered families who experienced communal killings was at its peak – show a more liberal mindset. The history of the subcontinent was taken to start with the ancient Indus valley civilisations rather than with the conquest of India by the first Muslim invader, Mohammad bin Qasim, in 712. In contrast to today’s history books, these books contained discussions of the empires of Emperor Ashoka and the Maurya dynasty. Has there has been a deliberate revival of communal antagonism over 30 years after Partition? Undoubtedly, the permanent militarisation of society requires a permanent enemy.
Although Edward Everett may state that “education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army”, the task of defending Pakistan’s ideological borders has been entrusted to the military as they are defenders of the ‘faith.’ Textbooks extol the achievements of Muslim conquering heroes, as well as those of the Armed Forces. In sharp contrast, no contributions by any heroes in fields like education, medicine, law or social work are highlighted. September 6 commemorates the defense of the country against an Indian attack in 1965. According to our textbooks, it was India which attacked Lahore in the middle of the night, without any provocation, but our army won this war. The reality is that Pakistan started the 1965 war on August 5 by sending soldiers into Kashmir and India retaliated the following day.