The stripe on the flag

Published: March 20, 2011

Tucked away, last month, in the nether region of one of our leading daily press publications was a news item regarding a debate in the not-so-honourable national assembly on the subject of our non-existent law and order which had taken place on February 23, undoubtedly under-attended as the deputy speaker was presiding.

People’s representative Nadeem Afzal Gondal of the PPP, elected from Sargodha-I, stood up and stated the obvious: “Our leaders will have to give thought to separating religion from politics for the good of the country.” We are all surely unfamiliar with Gondal and his name, as we are with the vast majority of those propelled by the ballot box to sit in the 342-seats of the assembly. How many of these members think like Gondal? We have no idea. But we could hazard a guess, familiar as we are with the national mindset, and say that there could be but a mere handful.

What this honourable representative is advocating is a state of secularism. But then the word ‘secular’ in this country is regarded as a four-letter word — unmentionable (‘liberal’ has become another). Secular, as far as our learned divines and non-divines are concerned, denotes the negation of religion, whereas in actual fact it means quite the opposite. In secular states, all religions are accorded equal respect in the eye of the law and in the national mindset; no religion takes precedence over another and all are protected by law. But, secularism has to mean that there is no such thing as a majority or a minority based on religion.

The fatal mistake made by this state was the division made at its very birth, when its flag was so designed with green to represent the vast majority and a slip of white for the minorities. Once the differentiation is made and established, doom must follow. Then came Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s now famous address to his constituent assembly when he invoked the majority-minority factor. A division of India had to take place, he asserted, because one community was in the majority and the other in the minority. So, all was not well. Then why, did the new break-away country start off with majorities and minorities? Said Jinnah, “in this division it was impossible to avoid the question of minorities … ”.

He then urged his legislators to “change your past” so that every person regardless of caste, creed or colour is “first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligation …”. He assured them that in the course of time the “angularities of the majority and minority communities… will vanish.” They did not, they multiplied to such an extent that they now prevail over all else in a highly deadly fashion.

Well, once you are dealing with a majority-minority situation, how on earth is equality to be assured? Equality does not recognise such a division — in equality there can be no majority or minority as there cannot be in a democracy. Equal means equal and nothing else. Jinnah did of course, also famously, state in that August 11, 1947 address that religion “is not the business of the state”, and MNA Gondal is merely standing by that statement when he told the miserably attended assembly that his leadership should do good for his country and follow the line of the country’s founder.

But the leadership will not without a revolution — a revolution of the national mindset which has to be turned completely upside down if this country is to ever be free of strife, of militant religiosity, of bigotry and intolerance. There cannot be minorities if it is to progress into the 21st century. The word ‘minority’ should be stricken from the Constitution, from the statute books, from the national mindset — and there should not be a stripe on the flag.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • ani
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:51AM

    So the flag should be all green with the white crescent moon and star only – all symbols of Muslim culture only? Yet you call for inclusion of all and an end to bigotry and intolerance. Recommend

  • Amna
    Mar 20, 2011 - 2:49AM

    The word minorities or the white stripe is not the problem. If the white stripe were taken off, then so called “secular liberals” would again have a problem with the flag because it would be “representing Islam” and hence not Pakistan’s religious minorities.

    what Muslim Pakistanis need to do is to accept religious minorities as full citizens of the country and look into the Khalifa Rashida’s rule, to understand how we need to treat them. Thats all being “secular” and changing flags is not going to do anything.Recommend

  • sandy
    Mar 20, 2011 - 3:15AM

    Perhaps one good thing that has come out of all the turmoil that Pakistan has gone through since 2001 is that some of you have now finally realised the poison that comes out when you define yourself and your country in communal majority-minority terms. If all pakistanis can realise that it is more important to define and judge people only as human beings, rather than as hindus or muslims or christians or jews, and treat everyone equally without any discrimination, you will find indians and others of all religions, castes and creeds welcome you with open arms, and all the hatred and misgivings between our two nations will dissolve away. Most of us don’t want to undo partition any more (why should we), but we do want to undo the mindset of hatred and narrow-mindedness that led to it. That remains as unacceptable today as it was in 1947. But if you continue with your traditional thinking that muslims are somehow superior and better than everyone else, then you will continue to remain trapped in the bigotry that has led you to where you are today. In any case, I welcome your article and hope other pakistanis will see wisdom in it.Recommend

  • pl/sql
    Mar 20, 2011 - 3:44AM

    I see no hope for Pakistan till the time you can separate religion from the state. I don’t think that will happen without bloodshed.Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2011 - 6:51AM

    Unfortunatley they are so many people who want to see just that. The white strip removed and a “pure” unadulterated Islamic state symbolized by an all green flag. If only symbolic changes could actually make people better Muslims, or for that matter better human beings. The path to heaven is surely not paved in green and white.Recommend

  • Saima Rizvi
    Mar 20, 2011 - 7:08AM

    In secular states, all religions are accorded equal respect in the eye of the law and in the national mindset; no religion takes precedence over another and all are protected by law. But, secularism has to mean that there is no such thing as a majority or a minority based on religion.
    Yes and that is exactly why Sarkozy banned niqab, Turkey does it too, thats why Marwa was brutally murdered and and and…
    Yes secularism gives equal respect!Recommend

  • John
    Mar 20, 2011 - 8:34AM

    The spirit and the context of the article is understood.

    What the NA member and the author of this article are saying is against the Pakistan constitution.

    The NA member who swore to protect the constitution is advocating sedition of national identity, and what the author is saying about the flag is Blasphemy, as per the law. Recommend

  • Rahul Singh
    Mar 20, 2011 - 11:03AM

    It’s really nice that debate over secularism is taking place in Pakistan even after the murder of two of their prominent leaders. I agree with the author that there is need of a revolution to change the status quo in Pakistan but the revolution should take place first to change the concept of Islam. Islam is intrinsically theocratic and undemocratic. Even in those Islamic countries where parliaments are set up, they are allowed only to take decisions within the boundaries laid down by scripture. Religion cannot remain a dogmatic religion based on irrational beliefs. It is time for a religiosity that is in tune with science and mental freedom. Unless that is done mere addition of word ‘secular’ in the constitution will be of no use.Recommend

  • yusuf dadabhoy
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:14PM

    Ask Raymond the meaning of Thirteen Red Stripes on the American Star Spangled banner. The Likes of Raymond does not represent democracy, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam or the freedom loving Democratic ideals. Raymond is no lover of Humanity and Humility for mankind. Bandaghee is Pakistaniyat and Chairty also begins in American homes. Raymond is an intolerant who choose to acquire “Badness,” which we human despise. The likes of Raymond would be put in slammer in any country as well as his own for his inhuman action’s.’ Raymond has come to symmolize the double standards that are rife in this uni-polar world. Raymond dishonored his own thirteen red stripes as well as our white stripe, a bastion for freedom loving people. Long live White Stripe on the green flag of Pakistan And the thirteen Red Stripes on the American flag representing Declaration of Independence from taxing repressors.
    Yes, We are proud of our White Stripe on the Pakistan flag which means peace on earth. Pakistan Panindabad.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:45PM

    “A division of India had to take place, he asserted, because one community was in the majority and the other in the minority.”

    –> What an idiotic argument. What about respect and unity and tolerance?

    Since, Sikhs form a minority should they break off from India?

    On what basis will you decide a bunch are different from another set? Religion? How about ethnicity? Or Language? Or Skin Colour?

    When will you stop?

    Pakistan was created in the name of Religion. Disguise it all you want but this is what happened. Jinnah created a monster by saying 2 set of people cant live together and creation of a new Country is a MUST. He based a country on a theory of division, not unity.

    Look at Pakistan now. Muslims are killing Muslims based on Sects(Shia-Sunni clash), ethnicity(Pashtun and Mohajir clash) and language(Punjabi and non-Punjabi clash).

    Look at the other side of the border, now. Muslims are united, they have been presidents, rule India’s 2 biggest past-times: Bollywood and Cricket, some of the richest men in India are Muslim and they have occupied plenty of seats of power over the years. They decide who comes to power in India and currently pro-Muslim Congress is in power with a Sikh Prime Minister. Jinnah was way off when he thought Muslims will not get power in India.

    Jinnah has created a monster and the present state of Pakistan was inevitable.Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Mar 20, 2011 - 2:01PM

    The First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    Our legislators should also adopt this and revise the constitution.Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2011 - 2:31PM

    After indoctrination of two generations with Pakistan Studies, and after making non-muslims ineligible for constitutional posts, this whole debate about secularism is meaningless.
    A National Assembly that is afraid of condemning the murder of a member and a minister,
    A Senate that bans a Fatiha for a slain Governor,
    A Government whose Minister for Interior endorses murder by saying that he would have done the same under similar circumstances,
    A PM who goes out on a limb assuring the bloodthirsty crowds that he is in no hurry to amend the life taking ‘Divine Laws’
    A judiciary whose chief is revolted at the possibility of the Legislature adopting ‘Secularism’ as state policy
    do not inspire any hope of the word ‘minority’ being struck off the constitution any time soon.
    Yes striking minorities off the land of Pakistan altogether is more likely.Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2011 - 3:12PM

    Word ‘minority’ should be removed from constitution, all Pakistanis should be treated equally. What’s the point in treating minorities like minorities. Why can’t they be like me, you or any other Pakistani ?Recommend

  • Ali
    Mar 20, 2011 - 5:49PM

    there are 98% muslim in this state, why we have allocated 1/4 portion of our flag to represent the minorties??? in a state the queston of minorities and majorties should not be consider, every one should have equal rights……State should be secular!!Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2011 - 6:31PM


    What’s the point in treating minorities like minorities.

    In case you did not notice, blasting the ‘minorities’ assures a place in heaven with 72 doe eyed damsels in attendance for the true believers.
    Had there been no ‘minorities’ , you would have to invent them.In fact in the case of Ahmadis that is precisely what happened, they were relegated from ‘majority’ to ‘minority’ at the insistence of some, and since then they have been fair game in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ron(Indian)
    Mar 20, 2011 - 9:33PM

    It took 63 years to reduce minority population percentage from 15% to 3%. Now next 63 years will be enough to removing 3%.. Forget about secularism.. It hurts when a pakistani talks about secularism.. Thanks.Recommend

  • Desi Lawyer
    Mar 20, 2011 - 9:40PM

    @Anoop: your words haunt me. Recommend

  • parvez
    Mar 20, 2011 - 11:08PM

    Out of the box thinking. Good point for drawing room debates and blog chatter. Recommend

  • Vicram Singh
    Mar 21, 2011 - 3:15AM

    Yep, I think the stripe can be removed from the Pakistani Flag now – there are only a minuscule number of minorities left. Recommend

  • Mar 22, 2011 - 1:37AM

    O.K., Ms. Amina Jilani, you called for a revolution.

    Now do it.

    Don’t shrink. Somebody has to step forward and be a leader. Otherwise why shouldn’t people, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike, respond to such a call with contempt for its author?Recommend

  • SD
    Mar 22, 2011 - 10:22AM

    SD: –

    Pakistanis are clearly in a minority on this issue in the world. Then how how should the majority treat the Pakistanis. Bomb them to the Stone Age ???? This will clearly happen unless the Pakis change their behaviour 360 degrees. Recommend

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