Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Of Islam, Accountable Governments, Patriotism and Unpleasant Truths

There's a article on the Internet by an academic at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, titled "Should Pakistan Be Broken Up?" and dated January 1, 2002. You can read it directly (google it if the link here doesn't work) or go to and follow the link from there.

Every once in a while, or should I say at least once in the life cycle of each mailing list related to Pakistan, this piece comes up and is discussed. This happened recently on a list I am on. Of course, the discussion of that list took an arc that is now often very familiar: some took the position that it was anti-Pakistan; others discussed the greviances of various groups that were mentioned in the article--or not; inevitably the Civil War came up. And then one person chimed in with the "why are we discussing this; why don't we discuss real issues?" I think the words "negative attitude" came up, too."

Here's part of what I posted in reply. I am posting a part of it here because I think it has parts that might be educational to a wider audience on how a Pakistani can think--and because it speaks to issues of patriotism, and of how Islam relates to a government being accountable to the governed and their issues.

"Closing one's eyes to unpleasant truths OR lies that are circulating out there is not good for anybody--whether you want to defend your country or fight injustice that you think is being done.

I just pray that more of us would try to understand what grievances, misigivings, and impressions some of our fellow countryfolk--or people in other countries--have, so we can discuss them, address them, and either dispel them as not necessary or remedy them, if they are based on reality. Outsiders being able to divide a nation, a group, or a community--or fanatics being able to carry the day--only works when they can use/exploit people within, who have grievances that are not being addressed. That's how Bangladesh was born. That's why we had another civil war we seldom talk about in the 70s in Balochistan. And, if I may say so, that's how Pakistan itself was born: because--justifiably or not--the community felt they would not be able get a fair shake in a united South Asian state after the British left.

I consider myself a very patriotic Pakistani and a believing Muslim, but as far as I am concerned, the interests or continued existence of a given country/nation-state/geo-political entity is not more important than the basic rights and well-being of individual humans and communities of citizens. If a citizen or a community feels that a government or state has become oppressive, people have not just a right, but a responsibility to try to correct that: working within the system where at all possible, but not ruling out more extreme measures. That's the understanding of Islam I was brought up with (see Abu Bakar's "Acceptance Speech" as first Caliph, for example, with his asking for support, but also feedback on bad decisions; and Ayesha, wife of The Prophet, for example, going to the extent of taking up arms when she thought the government was not doing the right thing; and then, of course, we have the example of the Hasnain, the grandsons of The Prophet, challenging a government they thought illegitimate--in one case coming to a peaceful agreement with it and in the other fighting to the last...); that's the understanding of the ideal of Pakistan I was brought up with (see the Objectives Resolution or any number of documents); and that's the understanding of good governance and democracy I was brought up with (see the American Declaration of Independence, the preamble to any of the various constitutions Pakistan has had...)."

[NB: I have posted a version of this entry on the Pakistan Futures blog.]

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