By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Devising and furthering ‘suitable’ national narratives is a much recommended culturally and intellectually highbrow activity for the awed and awesome amongst us.

Speaking as one at the receiving end of proliferating narratives I cannot but feel that, important as constructing an appropriate narrative may be, it is even more important to deconstruct some existing ones. The more so when they crystallise as one-liners, slogans that are accepted unthinkingly and allowed to be unquestionable. Take just one to begin with: Pakistan was founded as a Muslim homeland.

Indeed it was or was it indeed?

Quite possibly, Pakistan was founded as a political powerbase for the Muslims who could not demographically dominate an undivided India’s politics. Then, perhaps, Pakistan was founded as a necessary safe house for Muslims in Hindu-majority dominated spaces– suppressed, harassed, frightened or at best overlooked and ignored. Whichever the case, the founding motive for Pakistan was primarily reactive.  And once that desired overwhelmingly Muslim political powerbase was delineated and became part of the comity of nations, the founding spirit became corporal. Paradoxically, having been realized, the pristine spirit could not but cease to be in that it became open to further evolution: Distortion; digression; diversion; growth; adaptation; mutation.  So let us stop citing a founding spirit as if it were sacrosanct and inviolable, whatever it was it is a fossil. Any narrative to remain healthy– to escape stagnation– to shun brainwashing propaganda– cannot be ubiquitous. Pakistan is the country to which we belong and we regard and experience life in it as Pakistani citizens in our own ways. It is unwise and incorrect to put a patent on what makes another Pakistani a true blue patriot or a suspect/secondary Pakistani in terms of limited personal values and preferences. Sometimes, when we presume to construct all-pervasive popular national narratives, or officialize them, we are doing just that.

To deconstruct the ‘homeland for the Muslims’ premise: The increasing discomfort of religious minorities or their secondary social and civic standing is reinforced by an underlying assumption that non-Muslims are ‘guests’, outsiders, probationers, in what should be kept/made the ‘truly’ Muslim home by zealous house-keepers. That narrowly self-righteous orientation has seeded narratives that actually harm Muslim religious sentiment and expression in a self-declared founding homeland. Bigotry, fanaticism, religious inquisition are aberrations. And the way politics have been and are played in Pakistan has made unscrupulous as well as shortsighted use of them. It is hard to think of any positive consequences that emerged from sanctioning, let alone fanning, these sentiments. Pre partition they underwrote communal massacres. Post partition they disunite and injure the body politic as is manifest in violently intolerant sectarianism and the noxious equation of demagogic proclamations of heresy and blasphemy as validating capital offences both officially and non-officially on the streets. Fear has induced general moral cowardice. The majority cocoons itself in silence.

Misconceiving and misapplying religion has become a base not just in terms of formulating and affecting domestic direction but also in steering foreign policy– alas more often into shoals than out of them. We have allowed it to be misused by non-Muslim states as well. The Mujahideen were good fellas unfailingly in the Cold War anti-Soviet context. But presently we have a legacy of symbiotic confusion with good Taliban and bad Taliban. Human rights can be grist for the political windmill and Muslim freedom fighters are potentially assumed terroristic especially in Kashmir and Palestine. A sect is ‘good’ for one political context and demonized in another. This hand is currently so over-played by President Trump’s America and its proxies and clients that it will outplay itself: but at the prime cost of the apolitical Muslim civil populace.

Domestically, political rhetoric and projections involve the entire polity: the Pakistanis who buy into a narrative; and the purveyors and sponsors of it within the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Narratives cut across the civil and military divide whether the variously notarized and attested pages have been certified by civil or military authority or– most dangerously of all– underwritten by demagogic, cultist populism.

The ‘Objectives Resolution’ was formally phrased post the concretized object; years passed before it attained status as constitutional preamble or amended incorporation. Yet, it now verges on national heresy to question the narrative behind its progress or reinterpret it.

It has had corollaries.

Can citizens frankly critique the discriminatory civil attitude to sects and faiths that has been furthered under the rubric of safeguarding Islam for the rest of us in our Muslim homeland? It is become comparatively easy to wrest and endanger religiously excluded citizens’ temporal and spiritual rights. And cold hard cynical historical context as to the political motivations, vested interests, and sundry personae in moves that culminated in requiring citizens in certain matters of official process to affirm tenets of faith, is glossed over and whitewashed. Is there a contrapuntal public narrative that religious judgment is a divine right it may be heretical or blasphemous for mere humans to appropriate, howsoever they may be empowered by state and society and learning?

We need look no further for the pragmatic civic and political effects of social protection-ism than the 2017 threats and dharnas at Faizabad and elsewhere that had parliament cringe in submission to incendiary religious bigotry, while a minority within it and a grouping outside it gained political heft. More recently: Does it suffice to have vandals charged for damages to public property? Are hate speech, murder, insurgency, treason, spades we do not call spades when popularly and sentimentally camouflaged? It is these variously linked narratives that permit power-play and political manipulation and civil distortions in the name of faith we urgently need to deconstruct: in the supreme national interest.