Green unfurled

Distinguishing mark of our celebrations is confusion of whether we cherish our Muslimhood or our Pakistani identity.

Saroop Ijaz August 13, 2011

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed,” wrote Howard Zinn, arguably the greatest historian of the last century. Zinn goes on to postulate the question, “Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?” Admittedly, the intention of Zinn was to be deliberately provocative since the abandonment of all nationalistic associations is neither possible nor desirable. Yet, his observation is instructive at some level, especially in the context of fragmented, fragile and constructed national identities.

Every 14th of August, there is an ostentatious display of our unique moral superiority, our status as divinely favoured and the reaffirmation of our oneness. Most of it is not peculiar to us and is common to most nation states. The distinguishing mark of our celebrations is the confusion which they might cause to a theoretical neutral observer on whether we are cherishing our Muslimhood or our Pakistani identity. In most cases, we do not care to make that distinction and to some it is impossible, since both identities are inextricably linked. Religious identities should be taken exceptionally seriously, however the question remains whether August 14 is the appropriate occasion to vociferously display them.

The 11th of August is sometimes marked as a ‘minority day’, in view of the speech made by Mr Jinnah of the same date. The white portion of our flag is meant to symbolise the minorities. There is insidious, hidden discrimination in that. In a democratic republic, with one person one vote, there are no minorities. Minority day is celebrated by liberals, driven by the noblest of intentions, but it cannot obscure the fact that it is unbelievably patronising. The fact that we have chosen to institutionalise the divide on something as visible and as symbolically significant as our flag is hardly a reason to gloat. The neatly demarcated flag is a manifestation of the non-fluid, impermeability which characterises the divide, hence betraying any slogans of oneness. The sharp divide is not an expression of harmony, it is exclusionary. As for the minorities, the grass (and the flag) on the other side is literally greener. The easy answer to this, however, remains that Pakistan is not a democratic republic, it is an Islamic republic and, as is customary, this should end the debate. This, at some level, is befitting for a nation whose official history begins with Muhammad bin Qasim and ends at Jinnah, pushing into oblivion Bhagat Singh and Raja Poros.

Equally problematic is the significantly larger, green portion of our flag. In theory, it is meant to represent the Muslim population. What remains vague is whose definition of a Muslim would be applicable? Exhibit A is the Qadiani community, which made the forcible transition from the green to the white. Now does the green represent the Sunni, the Shia, or the Wahabi, the Deobandi or the Barelvi and so on so forth. This, some may say, is nitpicking and hair-splitting, since all of them are Muslims. I agree, but some of the most influential and ostensibly learned leaders of the aforementioned sects would seriously and probably violently beg to differ. What is conspicuously absent from the flag are the Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pakhtun, Hazara, etc. To the uninitiated, a cursory glance at the Pakistani flag would reveal the existence of merely two identities, the Muslims and the minorities. Hence, the largely secular Baloch nationalists being murdered every day and the Shia in Kurram do not fit comfortably in either of the binary compartments on our flag. If the trajectory does not change soon, it seems that the third portion of our flag may well be red.

Another indispensable ritual of August 14 is a cliched discussion on ‘Is this Jinnah’s Pakistan?’. An aspect conveniently ignored is the glaring omission of Bangladesh from the map, which should make the whole exercise redundant. Nevertheless, admirable caution is exercised to keep the discourse within bounds so as to exactly replicate last year’s debate. All sides of the ideological divide claim Jinnah to be their own and articulate the belief that this is, in fact, not Jinnah’s Pakistan. For some, it is not Islamic enough, for others it is too Islamic, both sides quoting titbits and often out-of-context remarks to substantiate their particular version of Jinnah’s vision. The tacit agreement within the adversarial parties is to constrain themselves to Mr Jinnah’s debates, quotes etc and not allow distractions such as rationality and ground realities to interfere with the duel. There is no denying the fact that Mr Jinnah was a phenomenal statesman, and we owe a lot to him, yet to ascribe him timeless spiritual powers to guide us long after his demise is lazy and dogmatic. The social contract of Pakistan is not between ‘we, the people’ and the Pakistani state of 1947, but rather here and now. Even if it is possible to decipher what Mr Jinnah categorically believed about secularism or provincial autonomy, it is to be treated with respect as possible guiding principles and weighed on its relevance today. An inhibited ambivalence is to be found in any attempt to disagree with Mr Jinnah’s views on matters of policy and statecraft. Mr Jinnah himself would have detested any attempts at canonisation and deification. Furthermore, it is insulting to us, to rely solely on speculating on a dead man’s perspective, even if it is of a great dead man. Christopher Hitchens, once remarking about Kim II-sung and Kim Jong-il, said that the system of governance in North Korea can only be adequately described as a ‘necrocracy’. The false hysteria and the flag-waving on every August 14 alone can neither conceal our imploding state and identity nor stifle the process, at least not for long.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.


M. S. Khalil, | 12 years ago | Reply

@Truth Seeker:yes, mix-up of nationalism and faith/religion (pakistan and religion) is causing us, pakistanis, great harm and is a source of a very basic contradiction in our day-to-day life as a result of which, even after 65 years of independence, we could not becom,neither good pakistanis nor good muslims, good practicing muslims, as a result of which we are at the lowest level, in every sphere of life, socially, politically, economically, educationally and physical-mental health-wise, and we are a shamefuly degraded low-level country/nation, amongst the 200 states of the UN. In veiw of all this sorry state of our affairs, if we and our ruling elite, want to transform this country and its hard-pressed, poor people into a dignified glorious prosperous nation worthy to be a leading, rather leader nation for the rest of the world, we must follow the teachings and practices of the founder of PakistanQuaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In that case, no talented son of the soil would ever feel to have been deprived and ignored due to his faith/religion as was the painful case with Prof Dr. Abdus Salam, the only Nobel prized Physicist of Pakistan. Believe it that even after twenty years of his demise, Dr.Salam is still more known, respected and honoured in the Third World Countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America for his services in making his scientific knowledge serve the cause of the people of these poor countries to help them live a dignified life of peace and prosperity for all the time come. These noble views and aspirations of Pakistan's humane and humblest science genius will continue to inspire all those who want to become themselves, great as best of all nations of the world. Long live Pakistan and the golden ideals of the founder of our beloved motherland, beautiful Pakistan.

mind control | 12 years ago | Reply


I am afraid you are grossly mistaken. Pakistan came into being due to the TWO NATION THEORY and therefore the word PAKISTAN is equal to ISLAM.

You could have had a passable claim,

A.If, The 'other' of the two nations was purely Hindu or Sikh or Parsee or Jain or Budhist or Christian. Since the 'other nation' was not exclusive, your claim of exclusivity is bogus.

B.If, Bangladesh, which had more muslims and therefore more 'ISLAM', had supported your thesis in 1971.

C.If, you could explain to me why was the Pakistan Resolution moved by Zaffarullah Khan, who being Ahmadia, was declared constitutionally 'NON-ISLAMIC'.

Can you resolve my Hairani please.

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