• A choatic, bleeding nation: Belief in compatibility of Islam and tolerance, writ large

    Child protesting massacre of Shiite Muslims in Pakistan

    Pakistan is a failed state. This is not an exaggeration. From the central government losing control over large parts of its nominal territories, to futile armed struggle between the state and various militant groups, to massacres of civilians going on and on even in major cities. Hardly the utopia an “Islamic republic” is supposed to represent.

    But Pakistan is far from an ordinary failed state. It is the only failed state with nuclear weapons. (As an aside, the hypocrite Noam Chomsky would claim the US is the other one, but he is just nuts.) So, unfortunately, Pakistan’s woes are not a problem for Pakistanis alone. They affect everyone on this planet, including (particularly?) for us in the states.

    So how did the young nation of Pakistan become so hopelessly submerged in confessional violence? Part of the answer has to do with the cash inflow from oil-rich theocracies that played followers of different denominations off against one another, in a war by proxy. Another reason is the rise to power of the Islamist dictator Zia ul-Haq, with the blessing of western nations. But reality runs far deeper than this: the seeds of division and violence were sewn even before the birth of Pakistan. Secular Pakistani columnist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid explains how.

    The founder of modern Pakistan is a man named Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah, a Muslim but by no means a strict one, fought for, and made possible, a separate country made up of Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent, at the time of independence from Great Britain. But what exactly was his view for the nation he founded? No one really knows. Americans used to hearing the fabrications of the Religious Right in trying to rewrite history to replace reality with a christianized version will be amused to learn that the debate in Pakistan is even more dramatic. Because while Jeffeson and Madison made their views crystal clear on entanglement of religion and politics and making it look otherwise requires impressive mental gymnastics from the likes of Glenn Beck and David Barton, Jinnah left matters (intentionally) ambiguous.

    Musing on what kind of a state our founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted, decades after the country’s inception is almost exclusively a Pakistani sport. And the primary reason behind this of course is twofold: a) Jinnah’s massive anthology of contradictory speeches and acts; and b) Pakistan’s paradoxical identity crisis and the ensuing dearth of nationalism.

    The Pakistan of 2013 is the mirror image – albeit prodigiously enlarged and tarnished – of Jinnah’s own contradictions.

    How so?

    At times he was proud of introducing religion into politics, “When we say ‘This flag is the flag of Islam’ they think we are introducing religion into politics – a fact of which we are proud”, “(Pakistan) will be an Islamic state on the pattern of the Medina state…”, “The Muslims demand Pakistan where they could rule according to their own code of life and according to their own cultural growth, traditions, and Islamic Laws” [etc.]

    But then he would say things like this:

    “There will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities, which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life”, “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”.

    (Shahid goes on to showcase how Jinnah’s actions, and not just his words, projected such schizophrenia.)

    But why did Jinnah do all this?

    Jinnah was a lawyer. Pakistan was the biggest case of his life. Most of his quotes for religious freedom are from his speeches when he addressed a foreign audience or had a significant proportion of minorities in the crowd. And most of his quotes envisioning the establishment of an Islamic state are from speeches where he was addressing the Indian Muslims and the Islamic clergy. Jinnah said what was needed, when it was needed, to strengthen the prospects of an independent state called Pakistan.

    So does this all boil down to the hypocrisy of one unprincipled man? As it happens, the answer is no. There are plenty of people who, to this day, make the claim that Islam is consistent with modernism, which means they understand neither. And while it is possible that Jinnah was a hypocrite, the other possibility is that he was simply a member of this group, wooed by the brilliance of Enlightenment values but unable to acknowledge their incompatibility with their inherited system of belief.

    Jinnah was an oxymoronic “liberal Muslim”, the creed of which can be found among the Pakistani “intelligentsia”, who believe that Islamic ideals and secular ideals do not contradict one another. An example of this can be found in a statement during his July 17, 1947 press conference: “When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen centuries ago.”

    How amusing. But as silly as this sounds, it is quite likely that Jinnah was speaking for many when he said that. And hence while it is easy to say that Islam is compatible with  modernism, this statement does not take into consideration the practical problems that will inevitably arises out of trying to reconcile the two.

    My assertion that Islam (without significant reform) is not compatible with tolerance of free speech and recognition of rights of minorities has been frowned on by my fellow freethinkers, on the grounds that there are some Muslims who are tolerant. In addition to counterexamples already provided (drinking Mormons, humanitarian Nazis and so on) I will let biologist Jerry Coyne speak here for me. At a debate about compatibility of science and religion, he said that to say science and religion are compatible because there are some scientists who are religious is like saying that catholicism and pedophilia are compatible because there are some catholics who are pedophiles. I would add that the same thing can be said about Islam and tolerance. And evidenced by Jinnah and his brainchild Pakistan, the idea doesn’t work so well in practice either.

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    Article by: No Such Thing As Blasphemy

    I was raised in the Islamic world. By accident of history, the plague that is entanglement of religion and government affects most Muslim majority nations a lot worse the many Christian majority (or post-Christian majority) nations. Hence, I am quite familiar with this plague. I started doubting the faith I was raised in during my teen years. After becoming familiar with the works of enlightenment philosophers, I identified myself as a deist. But it was not until a long time later, after I learned about evolutionary science, that I came to identify myself as an atheist. And only then, I came to know the religious right in the US. No need to say, that made me much more passionate about what I believe in and what I stand for. Read more...