Green unfurled

Published: August 13, 2011
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The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore 
saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (40)

  • Aug 13, 2011 - 10:17PM

    America is overrun with fundamentalists – Rick Perry stands with ‘prophets’ at ‘Response to God’. Yet they do not bring up such issues on Independence Day.

    Israel is being bogged down with fundamentalists. Yet, no one raises this issue.

    Well done Pakistan-haters. August 14 is not for such articles – even if it is genuine criticism. Leave the country – and if you have already – stop thinking about it. Or, else have the common decency to celebrate independence day and spend the rest of the 364 days criticising.

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  • muhammad imran
    Aug 13, 2011 - 11:08PM

    we shouldn’t mix our national identity with religion.they are two separate things.We are Pakistanis first and foremost.

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  • Nadir
    Aug 13, 2011 - 11:30PM

    “Howard Zinn, arguably the greatest historian of the last century.” THANK you!!!!
    Awesome article – and valid points – by the way. Hats off!!!

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  • Ayesha
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:00AM

    Brilliant Article. Intellectual honesty like this is a very rare commodity in today’s Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sajid
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:26AM

    @Akber Choudhry: bravo.
    Wonder why all such genius head were recruited by ET.

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  • Ashok
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:38AM

    Another good article by Mr. Saroop Ijaz.

    It is easy to be born and brought up in a democratic society thinking that the message Mr. Ijaz is trying to convey is one based on common sense and common knowledge. However, what needs to be appreciated is that Pakistan is an ideological state (this applies to other countries as well to different degrees – China, Saudi Arabia, N. Korea, Iran, Israel), and someone brought up in such a country would need to have a very sharp and logical mind to sort through what is rational and what is irrational. Mr. Ijaz’s articles consistently reveal that he possesses such a mind.

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  • muhammad bashir
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:39AM

    @Akber Choudhry:

    Rick perry doesn’ represent the majority of the american people.the stadium where he did his prayer stunt has a capacity of 60,000 and only 30,000 ppl showed up.if it was pakistan it would have been overcapacity,that’s the difference and the american media has gone all nuts over it,they’ve given it prime time coverage for they know the dangers of having a religious fanatic who relies on prayer rather than his efforts and abilities in the white house,whereas our tv channels never criticise the bigotry and intolerance of our mazhabi tabka.ijaz has a valid point ,we seem to still be confused,pakistan and islam are separate things,desperately trying to combine them into one will help no one.

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  • Aug 14, 2011 - 1:41AM

    Mr. Ejaz has a point! A strong one. But still it gives me a pang in my heart to be reading all this on the 14th of august itself!

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  • Fayez Shah
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:47AM

    Mr. Ijaz needs a lesson in nation building. This is a nation-state comprising people from all walks of life. He thinks that people are confused over whether to celebrate this day in the name of religion or simply the creation of this country. Seems like he needs a lesson in history too so that he can understand why this country was built and what the struggle was for all this while. Read two-nation theory, for starters.

    Then he tries to make an issue out of the flag’s two distinctive colors and points it out as if its a contradiction. Well, in fact, it further reaffirms that this country was built in the name of Islam but minorities have their due rights and there is the emphasis of the white color in the flag. Where he sees contradiction, others see confirmation.

    Furhter below in the piece, it gets about sectarian and religious divide. He rightly points out the problems and the scale of them but only to tell you that they are not going to get better and hope is one of the emotions you should not cling onto even if it be on this auspicious day.

    “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”

    Really? Then how do you learn about the past (history)? Do you have people from ancient times alive and still teaching you?

    Taken your rhetoric, my history teacher should be a young politician, destructive by nature, with no insight and political skills. This guy will guide me the way to a brighter future. Cheers on that idea!

    Mr. Ijaz, I know you try to put light on things but as a friend, take this opinion in good faith and cheer up. Specially on a day like this when so many sacrificed for whatever they had faith in and mark my words, independence and freedom is not a one-time deal. Its a continuous struggle!

    And for the pessimism, keep hope alive no matter which kind of muslim you are, from the list that you mentioned above! Allah is one and listens to them all!

    Happy Independence day, you all!

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  • Max
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:05AM

    @Akber Choudhry:
    Self assessment or reviewing your inventory every year is not an aberration but a norm. The examples that you cite are nothing but your own personal judgments. The religious right in both countries is criticized more than one can think.
    By the way, why do you (religious right) celebrate the “Independence Day? Did not you oppose the genesis and creation of Pakistan and once it was established you and your leader/s jumped on the band-wagon, claimed it be your and only yours? Look how you treat the minorities?
    Also is celebrating a national day not against the value system that you cherish most? It is a national day which means the people who love this land and not for the people who allegiances are tied to a far-flung religious ideology.

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  • Khan
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:20AM

    Great article, more people need to highlight the fact that the tribal area, baluchistan and pakhtun homeland is burning at a fast pace. Income inequality, global warming and a Punjab dominated civil service and military has used us all as pawns to enjoy a materially rewarding life.

    Great work Mr. Ijaz, we need more visionaries like you to wake us up.

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  • Jamel
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:32AM

    @Akber Choudhry:

    What are you talking about? America has already decided that it will be a country with equal rights for all. They have no conflict on this at state level. We on the other hand have not even begun to make an open and candid discussion on this issue. What better occasion to have this discussion of national interest than on our national day?

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  • Irfan
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:33AM

    Assalamo alaikum,

    Our muslimhood and Pakistani identity are one and the same. Perhaps you are projecting your confusion on others.

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  • Meera Ghani
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:56AM

    Excellent piece!!!

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  • Babloo
    Aug 14, 2011 - 3:40AM

    There is a basic contradiction in Pakistan.
    Pakistan is located in south Asia , thats home of what is referred to as Indian civilization , beginning with Harappan Mohenjadaro civilization, the vedic civilization, the Mauryas to the Mughals. It gave rise to Hinduism and offshoots from Hinduism like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. The state of Pakistan does not want to be associated with the predominant civilization of South Asia or any of its offshoots. It has denounced the native civilization of South Asia. It looks like it wants to be part of the Arab world and be a flag holder for the civilization that comes from Arabia. Can you deny that ?

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  • Cynical
    Aug 14, 2011 - 3:48AM

    @Ayesha

    ‘Intelectual honesty’ that’s the key word.A rare commodity these days.

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  • haidy
    Aug 14, 2011 - 4:01AM

    To be honest, i’m tired of you stating the obvious. At best this is benign criticism with little or none constructive input.

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  • kailashsethy
    Aug 14, 2011 - 5:01AM

    Its time for us to move on and Indian and Pakistan heads visit each other on independence day

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  • Arifq
    Aug 14, 2011 - 5:14AM

    Mr. Saroop Ijaz, excellent piece.

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  • billo
    Aug 14, 2011 - 6:35AM

    @Fayez Shah – you’re clearly missing the point of an article that begins with respect for history. Where Mr. Ijaz writes “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” he urges us to learn from history but not be encompassed by it. The UK will not solve its current predicament by wondering what William of Normandy would have done in 1066. Pakistan will not get out of its current impasse by wondering what Jinnah would have done, but by reflecting on what Pakistanis ought to in the here and now given our current set of problems.

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  • Aug 14, 2011 - 6:40AM

    The article reminds me of a crude but telling joke. Upon partition a prominent minority leader well settled in Pakistan opts to leave. A Muslim leader asks him why he feels he should leave, saying “Humara aakhir wahid mulk hai jis kay jhuday par he minorities wazay hain.” The minority leader replies, “Bilkul theek baat hai. Magar jhunday ka dunda bhi to wahin parta hai.”

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  • Aug 14, 2011 - 7:25AM

    Mr. Ijaz has raised issues publically what we all unashamedly discuss in private. Well done! Pakistanis need serious introspection and accept that various schools of thought can all be correct.

    Diversity in a society is a strength while promotion of monotheism is our biggest weakness. We forget that Pakistan as it was created on 14 August 1947 is no more. Its borders have changed and history tells are that borders are not static. The currect state cannot continue.

    There may still be a little time left to recover our lost sense of direction. Deeds of our rulers speak louder than their televised speeches from the no go bastions of power.

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  • Realist.
    Aug 14, 2011 - 7:58AM

    Akber Choudhry has NAILED IT!!

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  • Jamel
    Aug 14, 2011 - 9:37AM

    @Irfan:

    Our muslimhood and Pakistani identity
    are one and the same. Perhaps you are
    projecting your confusion on others.

    In that case Christians living in Pakistan are not of Pakistani identity; as, to be of Pakistani identity one must be Muslim? Correct? Please remove our confusion on this.

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  • saima khan
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:49AM

    @ irfan

    muslimhood and national identity are not the same.it’s regressive,bigoted people who are trying to erase the white from our flag.pakistan and islam are two completly different and separate things.pakistan does not equal islam.although we’ve tried our best to eliminate them,there are still 3% non-muslims in our population.

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  • Truth Seeker
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:49AM

    The mixing of Pakistani identity with Muslim faith is the greatest hurdle in the development and progress of Pakistan. As long as these are considered inseparable, Pakistan can’t claim to be a nation where all are treated equally.

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  • Irfan
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:20AM

    In February, the British PM said that Multiculturalism has failed. My comment is along those lines. There can only be one dominant culture for a society to function normally. It does not mean minorities cease to exist.

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  • Mirza
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:37AM

    Ijaz again you are right on target. Independence Day is a day to review and make pledges for the future, not to hide our head in the sand. It may be a bitter medicine but the prognosis is right.
    Thanks for your courage and telling like it is. Happy Independence Day to you and all!
    Regards,
    Mirza

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  • Frank
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:48AM

    I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Pakistani liberals a happy 15th August. Have a great one, guys!

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  • Fayez Shah
    Aug 14, 2011 - 12:59PM

    @ billo

    You seem to be missing the point too. Incidently, Mr Ijaz, himself, is a lawyer and one of the chief practices of law is precedents (An example that is used to justify similar occurrences at a later time). It is ironic!

    History is always relevant and at the back of a person’s mind while making any decision. People who follow and emulate great leaders’ decisions, are bound to succeed. As they say, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    Having said that, you also mentioned about UK riots to support your stance! In that case, another lesson in history for you! These are not the first riots and to learn to cope with these, you have to look at riots that happened there previously, such as:

    Riots of 1517 (Evil May day)
    Riots of 1668 (Bawdy House Riots)
    Riots of 1743 (London Gin Riots)

    and so on…

    What Pakistanis need to do as a nation is to remember what specific purpose this nation has to fulfill. Then form a strategy to work towards that purpose. Learn from history while doing that and take in consideration the great leaders that have done so before us. Its called following in the footsteps!

    Happy Independence day!

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  • parvez
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Excellent opinion piece. One must read it with an open mind to appreciate it, one may not completely agree with it but that is ones right.
    If not wrong three countries were formed with religion as their base Pakistan, Israel and East Timor – all three are in a mess. Something must be wrong with the formula.

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  • BruteForce
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:19PM

    How can it be Independence day for Pakistan? Pakistan was created on Aug 14 or came into existence. It never existed before and the matter of Independence doesn’t come into the picture.

    How sad 180 Million people are oblivious to this simple fact!

    Pakistan was born only to be ruled by dictators for more than half its existence.

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  • goggi
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:57PM

    The predominant majority of the people of Chaar/ab, Balochistan, Sindh, Pakhtunistan and Kashmir live in total poverty, hunger, thirst and darkness, dragging their soulless bodies which reminds the myth of Sisyphus. What religion and what national identity can these homo sapiens have as long as not imposed on them with arbitrariness? None, because in absence of food, drinking water and life security all these pseudo-religions and pseudo-nationalities have absolutely no validity. These are all man made miseries where deaths of millions of precious lives have absolutely no importance at all for the privileged elite. 14Th August 1947 is from a humanistic perspective a black day as millions of innocent humans lost their identities, their birth places, their families and till today their off springs have not recovered from this dreadful trauma. This is not a day of any freedom, rather a reminder that humanity, human precious life, human dignity stands above all these sick -isms and the protection of every single living soul and ecology is the divine law of nature! Today’s exorbitant violence, corruption, hate thy neighbour, bribery, exploitation of the masses etc etc etc etc etc is the reflection of such a traumatised state of collective mind! And this blind intellectualism, Islam paranoia, trillions of rupees expenditure on senseless war preparations, exploitation of resources e.g. with air-cons and all these stinking junk cars etc.. has lead the masses in the abyss, in a dog-eat-dog society.

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  • Hairaan
    Aug 14, 2011 - 3:29PM

    @saima khan:
    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.
    Besides this debate you should study the history of early Islamic states and their socio-political setup. Islam does not teach you to eliminate the fellow non-muslim citizens. This is a wrong perception being spread by liberals these days. Islamic history is full of examples where fellow jew and christian citizens were treated very much equally by various systems in place.
    There are very clear ahadees of our prophet advocating the sanctity of the life and property of non-muslims living in a muslim state. Islam does not prohibit or discourage co-existence of different religions in a country as long as the people follow the laws of the land and live peacefully.
    May Allah (SWT) guide us all to the right path and bring peace and prosperity to our beloved country.

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  • Jamel
    Aug 14, 2011 - 7:07PM

    @Irfan:

    In February, the British PM said that
    Multiculturalism has failed. My
    comment is along those lines. There
    can only be one dominant culture for a
    society to function normally. It does
    not mean minorities cease to exist.

    This is neither here nor there. You have not been able to explain what to do with the Christians in Pakistan and if they are indeed equal Pakistanis and included in Pakistan identity. You have now run away from the original argument, sensing the weak and discriminatory nature of it, and have gone on to the situation in UK; a completely irrelevant argument as rules, regulations and ideology in another country have nothing to do with Pakistan. In UK however everyone is an equal citizen and equally part of the UK identity. The chairperson of the ruling conservative party is a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent who often wears shalwar kameez to her 10 Downing street meetings without anyone raising even an eye brow. There is no legal restriction on any Muslim becoming even the prime minister of UK or for that matter achieving any other government post in the country. It is in fact illegal in UK to discriminate on, among other things, religion of a person, a crime punishable under law.

    So once again my question to you is are all Pakistanis equal citizens of Pakistan regardless of their religion? If so then what is with this Pakistani identity and Islam being one and the same, with the exclusion of the others?

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  • Jamel
    Aug 14, 2011 - 7:13PM

    @Hairaan:

    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.

    Two nation theory means as there are two nations, based on religion, so they should each get a separate country. Now that Pakistan is made, the ‘other’ nation ie the non-Muslims in Pakistan, who you agree can not be equal citizens in Pakistan, should get a separate homeland under the same two nation theory.

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  • Hairaan
    Aug 15, 2011 - 12:20AM

    @Jamel:
    Well it depends on the population ratio and the geographic concentration of the nation you are talking about.

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  • Jamel
    Aug 15, 2011 - 3:44AM

    @Hairaan:

    You failed at every other count and so now you brought in population ratio. In most western countries Muslims are minimal in numbers and yet when they wre even less in numbers years ago they were still counted equal citizens.

    So how many Christians need to be in Pakistan before you will consider not treating them as slaves?

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  • mind control
    Aug 16, 2011 - 4:11PM

    @Hairan

    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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  • Sep 5, 2011 - 9:57AM

    @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.

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