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Dec 16 & Muslim nationalism

Published Dec 16, 2012 12:20am


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WE mark this day in 2012 with inconsolable sadness. Even the new dawn brings the melancholia of twilight. Will a brief reflection on Muslim nationalism in South Asia lessen the gloom?

Perhaps Aug 14, 1947, actually marked the birth of un-identical twins pretending to be a single nation-state. This is not to subscribe to the cynical view about the country’s birth expressed at its very advent to the effect that the new entity was doomed to fail, sooner rather than later. This is to speculate as to whether the only nation-state to be created with two parts separated by 1,000 miles of hostile territory represented, from the very start, two variable expressions of Muslim nationalism in South Asia.

One strand in West Pakistan represented a Muslim nationalism claiming to comprise a wide diversity of ethnic, linguistic, tribal, regional and political identities. Some of them freely chose to join the new arrangement. Some of them were absorbed by gentle as well as coercive persuasion.

Another strand, as in East Pakistan, represented a Muslim nationalism further reinforced by being simultaneously rooted in a strong, singular ethnic, linguistic Bengali identity.

The un-identical twins coexisted politically under a shared name for 24 uneasy years. On Dec 16, 1971, the people of East Pakistan rejected the concept, practice and even the name of an inequitable, discriminatory, overly centralised state structure super-imposed by force. They did not reject their fundamental Muslim identity while being more truly Muslim and secular in their pluralist respect for a large non-Muslim, Hindu part of their population.

In the former western wing, the struggle to come to terms with religion as a corner-stone of nationalism has become far more violent and destructive than in the former eastern wing. But in both the two former wings, for Muslims in particular, being Muslim and separate from India remains as important as being Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

For those who assail the two-nation theory and say that it perished in 1971, there is an inconvenient truth to consider. Despite the break with West Pakistan, the old East Bengal (now Bangladesh) does not wish to be reunited with the old West Bengal in India. Neither does the old West Punjab (now Punjab in Pakistan) wish to be reunited with East Punjab in India.

To the extent that religion is often one of the potent factors that shapes national or sub-national identity, even the Muslims of India — despite their own rich diversity of ethnicities, languages and cultures — are a distinct nation that prefers to live in a predominantly Hindu India which officially describes itself as a secular state.

Thus, on Dec 16, 1971, the two-nation, two-state theory simply, though tragically and violently became a two-nation, three-state theory.

Unlike historical nationalisms like the Han-Chinese or the Arab-Egyptian or the Persian-Iranian nationalisms which have grown over several centuries, the full-fledged Muslim nationalisms of Bangladesh and Pakistan and the Muslim sub-nationalism within India are comparatively young processes of identity formation, well less than a century old. Over the decades and centuries ahead they are likely to mature and change in a more rational direction: to become more inclusive and respectful of other religions and internal sects.

Pakistani Muslim nationalism will hopefully benefit by learning from the more balanced and secular orientations of Bangladeshi Muslim nationalism and Indian Muslim sub-nationalism particularly to prevent extremists in parts of both society and state from controlling the direction.

Far from the two-nation theory going up in smoke on Dec 16, 1971, it has deepened and strengthened its roots in the soil and the soul of South Asia.

The writer is a former senator and federal minister and author of Pakistan: Unique Origins; Unique Destiny?


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

Comments (25) Closed

Does not matter Dec 17, 2012 05:17pm
I don't understand what do you mean by hindu accepting the Muslim identity of the people following Islam.If you look at India, the Hindus have already accepted the fellow Muslim brothers long time back even before the partition. India is not a "Hindu" country. It has a secular constitution. It does not follow thousands years old books to run the modern society.The leaders of India knew that Hindus and Muslims can live together peacefully and so they were against a separate nation for Muslims.And now if you think Hindus and Muslims can live together then don't you think Muslims league and Jinnah were wrong in asking for Pakistan?
amik99 Dec 16, 2012 04:28pm
Really! If religion does not have impact on nation, then Austrains should have been Germans.
umair khan Dec 16, 2012 09:56pm
A well written article, JJ proved everything with logic and facts on ground, not the wishful thinking and hopes of few defeated ones. Pakistan / Bangladesh and Islam are a reality and an independent identity and i would request my hindu brothers to please accept it with open heart so that we can progress as a region without any conflict,hate and fear.this region has tremendous potential and in past was the most thriving region of entire planet.we can attain that lost ground again provided we start respecting each other, rather then talking the fanciful dream of united subcontenent or trying to point score on each other by proving the other party wrong.the divide between us is so evident from the undermentioned sharp and teasing comments of my friends.we are different in our thoughts, in our living habbits and all other aspects, but this does not diminish the possiblity of peaceful co-existance and progressing together.
Shayan Dec 16, 2012 10:31pm
@anwar kamal, Sure you are!
Raj Dec 16, 2012 05:02pm
I guess sky is the limit for such kind of adventure :)
dkg Dec 16, 2012 09:50am
A divisive politics which led to partition based on religion, not only brought problems to millions of people but also brought dis-reputation about the loyalty of muslims towards their country despite living there for 1000s of yrs. The same divisive politics led to further partition, now on different ground because religion was same. Unfortunately, the same divisive politics is still being practiced proudly without learning its devastating outcomes in the history. you can wake up the one who is sleeping but not the one who is pretending to sleep!! Mr. Author, I cannot say to you - "Wake Up".
rich Dec 17, 2012 07:47am
comments are being posted selectively a shame
rakeshvora Dec 18, 2012 03:28pm
you are right.. imran, very well said.. but how many will buy your logic.. i doubt.
honest Babe Dec 16, 2012 03:38am
What a meandering illogical article!
Virkaul Dec 16, 2012 03:46am
The column started well but was lost towards the end. The conclusion was irrational. Nations are built either on single ethnicity or pluralism in case of multi ethnic, multi religious societies. This is how India and Bangladesh flourish.
Raag Dec 17, 2012 12:22am
Dear Author Please read Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen's book, "Identity and Violence". He spends a lot of time debating whether one is a Man/Women, Hindu/Muslim, Tamil/Panjabi/Bengali, young/old, white/brown/black, religious/atheist and the hundreds of identities we all have. He also talks about how a narrow view of oneself or one's identity leads to the sort of problems we have today. Whether you like it or not, merely being a Muslim does not constitute a nation as Pakistan has proved it. Lastly, you seem to have missed a major point, there still are as nearly many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan. Hope this will help you in widening your identity of yourself. -- Raag (born Hindu/Indian but an Atheist/American, Tamil speaking but a ployglot, middle aged, husband, father, programmer, espousing liberal views and so many more identities)
JAY RAMAN Dec 16, 2012 04:27am
The writer missed the basic point. Religion does not make nations. Arab nationalism is not Islamic, Persian nationalism is not Islamic. Religion forms only a minor factor in building nationalism. The fundamental mistake in the partition of India was, religion was used to overwhelm nationalsm which was neither Hindu nor Muslim.In a rich multicultural nation like our sub continent only a secular system will survive. The markedly different political development of India and Pakistan proves this point.
Imran Dec 17, 2012 11:57am
It is really amazing how Pakistanis live in continuous self denial mode and give foolish logics to legitimize creation of pakistan They need to understand the history of Pakistan, which is India prior to 1947 starts much more beyond the attack of Muhammad Bin Kasim attck of Sind and defeat or King Dahir. They need to understand that the same blood is running in Pakistanis as Indians. 90 % of their ancestors are the same as that of the Indians. The sooner Pakistan realizes this fact and start behaving accordingly the better it will be for it. Why don
Cynical Dec 17, 2012 11:58am
Please explain. I thought both Austrians and German are mostly christians. Also I do not know of any religion called 'Austrian' or 'German'.
Imran Dec 16, 2012 04:46pm
India and Bangladesh are flourishing? Wow.
hitesh Dec 16, 2012 05:07am
Each and every Muslim is Nation in itself. How many Nation will you create ?
Muhammad Abul Hossain, PhD Dec 16, 2012 07:09pm
Pakistan was a geographical anomaly- a country divided by 1000 miles. Apart from geographjical distance, ethnicity, culture, language, mutual hatred kept us further apart. During my stay in Pakistan, I was treated by Pakistanis as a Bangali and they never treated me as their equal as a Muslim. After independence of Bangladesh, I visit Kolkata, my birth place every year where people own me and adore me and with whom I can easily connect. No body bothers whether I go to Shia or Sunni Mosque. My grandma, a Pakistani was a Shia. It is the noncommunal environment which is more important for people to live in peace. Pakiostanis can try for a noncommunal society to ensure its integrity and peace for its people.
Ali Dec 16, 2012 05:37am
What? What did he say?
Shoaib Dec 16, 2012 05:56am
finally, an article that excites hope, flairs optimism and makes the imagining of dreams easy.
abbastoronto Dec 16, 2012 03:49pm
Bravo. Right on.
Cynical Dec 16, 2012 06:33am
Bangladesh breaking away from Pakistan is not a failure of two nation theory, but Bangladesh not reuniting with India is considered as a triumph of two nation theory. Talk about inverted logic.
anwar kamal Dec 16, 2012 06:47am
We are first Bangalee, then Muslim .
Zafar Dec 16, 2012 06:48am
A good piece of work
Mohammad Ali Khan Dec 16, 2012 07:02am
Pakistan has a mismatch.Secular articles but fanatic activities are increasing in the Pakistani society.
anon Dec 16, 2012 07:27am
Apparently Javed Jabbar has never bothered to read any proper critical approaches to culture or ethnicity and continues to subscribe to essentialist arguments for muslim exceptionalism. Sad to see that as the rest of the globe moves towards a gradually more cosmopolitan, interconnected world our elders are still stuck in outmoded ways of obsessing over partition. When will Pakistan ever grow up and move out of its fantasies?