At times, those who despair of Pakistan’s ability to extricate itself from its internal crises say, the only saving grace is that Pakistan is not sovereign and will be forced to listen to external advice. Iran, on the other hand, made sovereign by its oil-driven economy, enjoys more sovereignty and is, therefore, incapable of self-correction.
Insistence on sovereignty as avoidance of self-correction leads to isolation. In our day, isolation is another name for defeat.
Yet, sovereignty is the mantra of nationalism and other expressions of national pride, backed by the idea of the UN General Assembly where all member states are equal. However, it is at the UN Security Council where constraint is imposed through inequality.
When man attains consciousness he wants to be free as an individual. When men become a nation they want it to be sovereign. Later on, other things happen to curtail these concepts.
A man may not be free living inside a nation. A nation may not be sovereign living inside a comity of nations. All freedom comes with a condition of constraint.
Law gives freedom; law also imposes restraint by taking away absolute freedom. When there is no law, there is unhappiness because we don’t know where the line between freedom and obligation is drawn.
Freedom in English has a background feeling of pleasure. Human beings have equated freedom with their best sensations. Freedom is from the root ‘pri’ meaning ‘beloved’. It also exists in friend. This means that only a free man can be your friend.
In Arabic, freedom is ‘hurriyat’. We use it in Urdu quite a lot. The root ‘hrr’ means ‘warmth’. We use the word ‘hararat’ for temperature.
In many languages, affection is equated with temperature and warmth. When you want to express your liking you rely on the word warm. When you are unfriendly you are supposed to be cold.
The free man is ‘hurr’. The word is favoured in the Holy Quran and is applied to anything that is perfect in all aspects. The Holy Quran uses the word ‘tahrir’, when it orders us to free the slaves. Today, ‘tahrir’ is used in the sense of liberation. Hence, the Tahrir Square in Cairo.
But there is another very interesting association of the word. It also points to the importance of the written word. If you write something down, you achieve a kind of moral liberation. ‘Tahrir’, therefore, also means ‘writing’ or ‘script’.
In the Swahili-speaking Africa, a movement of liberation was called ‘uhuru’, which was a rather changed version of the original Arabic word. Swahili is dominated by Arabic vocabulary. Today, an international movement for the establishment of khilafat calls itself Hizbut Tahrir.
There is also the lower end of the usage. ‘Muharrar’ means ‘liberator’ as well as ‘writer’. But in our parts, ‘muharrar’ is simply a clerk in a thana who takes down your reports.
For sovereignty, we have the Persian-Arabic expression ‘khud-mukhtari’. ‘Mukhtar’ comes from the Arabic root ‘kher’. This root has given us the best expressions of good in life. ‘Khair/khairat’ is ‘welfare’. But the basic sense in the root is the right to choose.
In the Holy Quran, the chosen ones of God are called ‘khayaar’. The right to choose is ‘ikhtiaar’. The man who has the power to choose and make his own decisions is ‘mukhtaar’. At times it is taken as a ‘leader’ or a ‘ruler’.
The loudest slogan today is for ‘khud-mukhtari’, the freedom to choose one’s own policy. But in today’s interconnected world, no one is really completely sovereign, not even the United States. When it attacked Iraq outside the constraint of the UN, it was punished with isolation.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.