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Fabricating history

Published Jul 24, 2013 06:48am


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THE SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) holds interesting forums periodically where renowned scholars are invited to address the members. Since ethics is a wide-ranging subject the thought-provoking speeches on a variety of subjects delivered there provide the audience some issues to chew upon.

In July, Dr Arifa Syeda Zahra, who teaches history in a Lahore college, was a guest of the CBEC and the point she drove home very forcefully and convincingly was that those who destroy history do it with the purpose of erasing the collective memory of a people. The idea behind this act of vandalism is to pre-empt change, which Dr Arifa Zahra describes as the most difficult process in individuals and societies.

Her hypothesis very appropriately articulated in chaste Urdu laced with pun and humour was that history is the tool that allows us to distinguish between good and evil in the past lives of a nation. This process of analysing past successes and failures is essential to facilitating changes in the present.

This is not happening in our case because those controlling the destiny of Pakistan will not allow it to happen. They are so focused on religion that they distort past records and entangle people in frivolous debates on rituals to divert their attention from substantive issues.

Thus a big lie exposed by Dr Arifa Zahra concerns the so-called ideology of Pakistan that has been used by many an unscrupulous leadership to enable it to exercise control via religion. The conventional belief that has been relentlessly promoted is that the slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La illaha il-Allah’ (What does Pakistan mean? There is only one God) was the battle cry of the Pakistan movement. Dr Arifa Zahra’s contention is that research into history has conclusively proved that this slogan was an invention of the Ayub era in 1968 and has ever since been presented as a fact of Pakistan’s history.

When all laws are supposedly based on religion, such leaders come to enjoy unlimited powers by virtue of their becoming judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one by arrogating to themselves the power of interpretation and implementation.

They create a kind of comfort zone for themselves into which they trap the simple people. Nobody wants to step out of it to face an uncertain future. Who has not seen the blatant misuse of religion for committing the most heinous acts? They go unchallenged.

This falsification of history has provided the right-wing orthodox champions of Islam sufficient ground to build their ideological castles that are actually like castles on the sand.

Accordingly, the belief was fabricated that Pakistan was created to enable Muslims of South Asia to build a separate state for themselves in which they could create a theological structure with an Islamic system in vogue.

Dr Mubarak Ali, another historian who mourns the wrongs done to history, holds a similar point of view as Dr Arifa Zahra. He writes: “Our state uses the subject (history) for its own political and ideological interests. It is claimed that Pakistan came into being as a result of an ideological struggle. Therefore, the official purpose of history in Pakistan is to legitimise the state’s ideology and write history within a framework that suits the ruling classes.”

That would explain why we are not able to find solutions to our numerous problems. It makes us resist new technology — vide the moon-sighting debate that has become an annual feature of our lives and the Council of Islamic Ideology’s refusal to accept DNA testing as primary evidence in rape cases.

We refuse to show tolerance and compassion to ‘others’ because our view of religion has to be conformist. It is not inclusive and pluralistic. We do not inculcate the spirit of inquiry in our children who are discouraged from thinking lest that causes them to ask the wrong kind of questions that could ‘weaken’ their faith.

Another role of history, as identified by Dr Arifa Zahra, is in preserving our socio-cultural values and norms. People’s collective memories help them to distinguish between good and evil in society. The process of sifting wheat from chaff determines our preferences and forms the basis of our moral heritage. If collective memories are erased or distorted people are deprived of a tool to measure the good and bad experiences of their past.

In such circumstances, ethics faces a tough challenge. In numerous discussions at the CBEC, sensitive issues, especially those pertaining to medicine, have come under debate such as life and death, organ sale and transplantation and palliative medicine. With technology making rapid strides and communication injecting new ideas into society instantaneously, new ethical codes need to be devised.

One still remembers the struggle the Transplantation Society of Pakistan had to wage against some unscrupulous urologists promoting the organ trade in the country. They took their case to the Federal Shariat Court taking the plea that the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance violated the tenets of Islam. It was the enlightened judge, Justice Haziqul Khairi, who ruled against the organ traders.

History can provide guidelines, but only if it is honestly researched and written with integrity. It is difficult to devise any ethical code without reference to the past especially the culture, moral values and beliefs prevalent in a society during different eras.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

lugamdin Jul 24, 2013 08:22am

Finally an article that makes sense, it is unfortunate that people of Pakistan have not yet decided to be Pakistanis, after 60 years we have mohair, punjabi, pathan, Allama Iqbal dreamt of Pakistan while he died in 1938 before Pakistan movement started... falsehoods like Pakistan was built to build a welfare Islamic state... well which one? Khilafat a Rashida is cried about so m much while the Arabs do not regard Pakistanis with respect... It is about time for people of Pakistan to start thinking, debating, challenging and understanding what makes a nation... we first have to be one nation indivisible before we make any progress on electricity, rishwat etc.

sanjay saksena Jul 24, 2013 09:55am

I think falsification of history for bonding togetther a community, a nation or even a family. In India, for instance, we have been brought up on the fiction that Hindus and Muslims lived in peacce and harmony and that it was the evil British who soed discord between the two communities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hindus and Muslims hated each others guts with a loathsomeness which found manifestation in the senseless violence at the time of the Partition.It woudl be difficult for India to remain a secular country if the atrocities committed by the invading muslims, particularly the destruction of temples and large scale forced conversions to Islam, were not removed from our history books. Secularism and a pluralistic society can survive only be falsification of history.

shahid Jul 24, 2013 10:50am

The reality is that it is academics such as Dr. Arifa Zahra and Dr. Mubarik Ali who have been trying for years to create a new history by careful selection of facts and quoting them out of context and with out proper historical reference. To suggest that the "Pakistan Ka Matlab Kiya .." was an invention of the Ayub regime in 1968 is simply ridiculous and laughable. There are plenty of people who are still alive who part of the Pakistan movement and can testify quite to the contrary. To suggest that the problems of moonsighting debate exist only in Pakistan simply shows how uninformed such people are. Have they ever checked out the scene in European or North American Muslim communities or for that matter in the middle east? SO far as the notion of Pakistan's ideology is concerned, please talk to Justice javed iqbal who wrote a long article about this issues in the fifties. If we are to believe this new invented history Qaid-e-Azam did not say a word about Pakistan or his thoughts about Pakistan throughout the movement; he kept his mouth shut except on August 11th when he spoke in the national assembly - even that quote is used without reference to the context in the speech and what was happening outside on the streets in India and Pakistan - and then closed his mouth again and never uttered a word about these issues till he died. They keep on trying to make us believe that black is white and white is black contrary to all the evidence that exists. A simple look at the Pakistani flag and the symbolism contained in its design and choice of its colors is sufficient to show how important Islam was to Pakistan's future identity in Qaid-e-Azam's mind; he personally approved it.

Irfaan Jul 24, 2013 12:22pm

no getaway from historical lies which are institutionalize very much into the pakistani society...i would say all the islamic country suffering from these kinds of distortion of wonder those country are closed society and no new thoughts could be encouraged.

jawed sheikh Jul 24, 2013 01:09pm

Jawed/Karachi: Its very true and very unfortunate that history is no longer taught in our schools/colleges. We are made tro believe that the worl did not exist prior to the advent of Islam in 600AD. Its such a pity to see and speak to people who know nothing of world history. Pakistan is now being made out to be a religious state with everyone giving their own version of history. When will we start progressing....... definiely not in the near future as long as we have scared politicians lacking knowledge

Feroz Jul 24, 2013 01:31pm

When every country has faced up to its history, it finds ways of evolving and progressing, bypassing the pitfalls encountered. Americans did not get enslaved by their history of slavery, they went on right a Constitution that unparalleled rights and freedom to citizens. Colonial Powers faced up to all the excesses committed and looting they indulged in among their colonies, with some apologizing. Falsifying history will compound problems of the past by repeating mistakes, ensuring a bleak future for that country.

M. Umar Jul 24, 2013 01:35pm

great article zubeida. on a similar note, get your hands on k.k Aziz's "the murder of history".

Dixit Jul 24, 2013 02:46pm

WOW !!! Bitter truth in plain words. Very well summed up. Excellent writing.

aslam minhas Jul 24, 2013 03:05pm

This is a country that lost its raison d'etre in the mist of a twisted history. History they say is writ by the victors, in Pakistan it is written by the losers. If enlightened persons who wrested this country out of the Brits were allowed to continue in the same vein, we would not have the dangerously armed groups ransacking the country. The chronicle of events that our textbooks churn out is plain trash. Our country is still in stoneage inspite of all the modern gadgetry. Education can bring the emancipation but our stress is elsewhe!

gangadin Jul 24, 2013 03:25pm

Great fabrication of history.

oriental philosopher Jul 24, 2013 04:05pm

@lugamdin: chauvinism also a major reason for catastrophy. So need to stike a balance between being pakistani and being punjabi or sindhi.. one can be rightfully proud of his ethnicity-region-language thats not a bad thing in any the sametime he shoud be proud of being pakistani. Naturally nothing is homogenous in the world. and wishing for homogenity is totaly unnatural. We have to respect all the colors all the divercity of this world. .!

K G Surendran Jul 24, 2013 04:48pm

Sad that the people of Pakistan have moved away from their original Indus culture. Any society which turns its back on its own culture eventually becomes rootless and then in a human context starts seeking new identities by adopting a alien way of life which can lead to internal social conflict. As Goethe has said that hatred is the strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture. History has been distorted by leaders across continents to fool the gullible masses and Pakistan may not be an exception.

pathanoo Jul 24, 2013 05:46pm

@shahid: And what has Islam got you so far, Shahid?

pathanoo Jul 24, 2013 05:54pm

An astoundingly true and courageous article from Zubeida. But then, as a regular reader of her articles and admirer, I did not expect any less. It gives hope to read people like her. Unfortunately, few, if any, are listening in Pakistan and fewer yet would do any thing about the destructive bent of the Pakistani ideology.

zahid Jul 24, 2013 06:04pm

@Dixit: you indian hindu fanatics u appreciate everything that goes against pakistan and muslims.the article has some facts but a bitter truth is also that u endians have changed whole history of freedom struggle wiping out the names of all muslim freedom fighters who sacrificed their every thing for that. hypocrite shouting excellent."plain truth" look who talking. those who live in glass houses do not throw stones on others abode.

Khanzada Jul 24, 2013 06:14pm

Winner write the history, History does not matter . Everybody interpret the History with their own bias lens. History is total useless subject. Also History never repeat itself, another lie. Only relevant history, to make decisions may be last 20-25 years . anything older than that, is totally useless, it increase only divisions and animosity.

C. M. Naim Jul 24, 2013 07:06pm

While I entirely agree with the general tenure of the essay, I must add that Dr. Zahra's contention about the slogan contradicts my own experience. As a teenager taking part in Muslim League's processions and meeting in Barabanki, U.P. in 1946, I shouted the exact same slogan along with hundreds of other people. Much to my regret now. The same for another equally mischievous slogan: Muslim hai to Muslim League men aa.

Tanvir Jul 24, 2013 07:47pm

OK, if the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan was not based on some religious ideology and religious differences, then why in the hell they separated? Why were millions of people migrated to their relgiouly defined new homelands and got killed on the way? So now what is this fuss about the religious outloooks of the two countries if the masses are really expressing their basic religious roots. You can't expect Pakistan to look like a Western secular country by simply excluding the core religious values of its people, like or not. After all general masses make a nation, not the liberal elites ruling them. India has its own Hindu-religious fervor going on in many states -Moody in Gujrat?

Dré Dé Prithipaul Jul 24, 2013 08:33pm

It is a paradox that there is so much inadequacy in research and publication of a historical span of about four decades. None of the historians mentioned i the article seem to have taken note of the historical worth of the texts prescribed for public school use.

JP Singh Jul 24, 2013 09:28pm

Well Zubeida has raised a very pertinent issue. Let

raw is war Jul 24, 2013 09:31pm

sensible article.

Murthy Jul 24, 2013 09:43pm

Jinnah was after power, which, he knew he wouldn't get with the secular character of India under popular Hindu leaders like Nehru, Gandhi, Patel etc. So, Muslims broke away to have a separate country, where Hindus will have no role. The irony is that in India, Muslims play 'the victim card' and are enjoying more freedom than those who left it decades ago. If Jinnah had indeed wanted a 'secular' Pakistan, what problem did he have in remaining in the undivided secular India? Everybody is trying to hide the real reason (POWER) why Pakistan was created. The truth is shrouded in the ideology of religion!

Raja Islam Jul 24, 2013 09:49pm

Here is a link to an article published in DAWN some time ago that touches on the same theme.

V. C. Bhutani Jul 24, 2013 10:08pm

I As a student, researcher, teacher, and writer of history since 1960 I have formed some ideas which I beg to share with readers here. What is history? History is explanation of the past for the proper understanding of the present as preparation for the future. It

V. C. Bhutani Jul 24, 2013 10:12pm

II In the context of the Partition and the making of Pakistan, we need to understand a few facts. There may have been Hindu

Murthy Jul 24, 2013 10:14pm

After more than six decades since separation, I wonder what is it that Muslims have gained that they assumed they would lose if they remained in a united India!

True Blue Bihari Jul 24, 2013 10:40pm

@M. Umar: The murder of history... please Read it... it's must read for every IIndian and Pakistani...

True Blue Bihari Jul 24, 2013 10:47pm

@zahid: Name SOME of the leaders whose name has been removed from history books and people's memory...

Pankaj Jul 24, 2013 11:21pm

@K G Surendran: It is difficult to differentiate between culture and religion, specially in comparatively younger abrahmic religions like Islam .......... These religion tried to overpower the cultural aspect of human life also alongwith socio-political life......The whole crisis of Indus valley masses of current day Pakistan is this..... These were the people who tasted very highly advanced liberal, cultural aspects during their peak in pre-islamic period and gave many unique inventions to humanity......... It is really difficult to accept dictatorial, chauvinism on alien imposition easily.

Karachi Wala Jul 25, 2013 12:23am

@shahid: "A simple look at the Pakistani flag and the symbolism contained in its design and choice of its colors is sufficient to show how important Islam was to Pakistan's future identity in Qaid-e-Azam's mind; he personally approved it".

Shahid you have a point but I think it is time that pole position in the flag should be switched. It should now be inserted into the Green instead the white side!!!!

M Jul 25, 2013 01:21am

@Feroz: I wish that were completely true Feroz.

The historical fact is that Americans did not face the evil of slavery when the Constitution was written.There were "compromises" and amoral equivocations written in. It was "four score and seven" years later that Civil War forced the issue.

We are still working towards equality and justice. There are many who loudly and violently resist, but there are even more who are demanding progess. Wish us luck.

If you want Pakistan to someday be free of hunger, preventable diseases, and corruption; to have opportunities for education for any who want it; to have the expectation of the right to free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances - then you MUST work together with those who share your values and hopes.

As rural Americans say "It's a tough row to hoe" but the fruit of the soil is delicious.

Keep your eye on the prize.

Rashid Jul 25, 2013 02:44am

@zahid: There is hardly any Muslim contribution in the freedom struggle of undivided India, baring some honourable exceptions among the likes of Bacha Khan, Maulana Azad, M A Ansari etc. If anything they (muslims) have contributed in partition of India. For Muslims it was merely an issue of property dispute i.e. having a share of family estate.The Muslims knew that independence of India would become a reality with or without their contribution and as such they were patiently waiting for the fruit to be ripen and fall at their lap. No Muslim league leader were ever killed, arrested, jailed by the British for asking for independence.

Razi Jul 25, 2013 03:05am

Ms ZM is trying to undermine creation of Pakistan. It was created on the ideology of Islam. How come DAWN publishes such blatant denial of facts. Everybody in Pak, BD and India knows that Pak was created in the name of Islam. Once all settled these anti-forces try to undermine the progress of the masses. If not Islam then what was the dividing factor. BD was language. East Timor was religion. South Sudan was religion. Was India divided for some unknown reason known to ZM and Dr Arifa Zehra? can they tell us why was India divided. Is Muslim League, Lahore Resolution and 14-Aug all fabricated history. I was in Dhaka and old men still cry on creation of BD. There are millions of young Bengalis who still cherish Pakistan as an ideology. Masjids pray for Pakistan every Friday.

Vinod Jul 25, 2013 06:07am

@zahid: I think you are right. However I am aware of only couple of Muslims who fought British for independence of India. Please enlighten.

eagelctl Jul 25, 2013 08:08pm

Assalam O Alaikum This is in response to Fabricating History by Zubaida Mustafa published on 24 July 13 in your paper. She is partially right in putting forward the facts. " When all laws are supposedly based on religion, such leaders come to enjoy unlimited powers by virtue of their becoming judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one by arrogating to themselves the power of interpretation and implementation," as she mentions in her article may be her opinion but it is not the fact. There is not even a single state in the world today which can be termed as completely secular having clear distinction between religion and state affairs. If it would have been the case then president of USA or to mention any other country would not be taking oath on Bible or other religious scripture. The problem with us today is that we ourselves have made few people guardian of of our religion and have left interpretation and explanation of religion on their mercy. We have never endeavored to learn our religion in true letter and spirit. We are so unfortunate and desperate people that despite knowing the fact that our religion has solution to all problems, we always neglect it and blame others for our faults.

BISWAJIT ROY Jul 26, 2013 10:47am

@Razi: what i know young bengalis hate pakistan for the atrocities they committed on their previous generations, i dont know where did u get that bangladeshi cherish pakistan may be some rajakars still operate in bangladesh but their number is little