Book review: The State of Islam - Red, green and white

The State of Islam is a seminal study on cultural war that took place in Pakistan following its independence.


Sher Khan January 22, 2012

The State of Islam is a seminal study on the cultural war that took place in Pakistan following the country’s independence. In this book Toor attempts to change the narrowly defined popular perceptions regarding nationalism, Islam and the concept of the state.

In modern-day academics, the concept of the ideological state has been widely discussed and debated, and in the information age, media and propaganda have become a central method of control for a state. Thus, the Pakistani state’s control of media and information throughout its history plays an important role in the modern day conception of the Pakistani state and nation.

Saadia Toor’s book discusses how the Pakistani establishment and state apparatus has always been at odds with progressive politics in the country. As a result, the author maintains that the rise of Islam in the political and social structures of Pakistan was “engineered both directly, by inducting them into state institutions as Zia did, and indirectly by ‘cleansing’ the political sphere of their only effective nemesis/counter, the Left.”

Set in the backdrop of the Cold War’s ‘Red Scares’, the book explores the underlying debate in Urdu literature that took place between the Marxist members of the Progressive Writers Association and the liberal anti-Communist writers for the ‘very soul of the new nation-state’. The fallout would culminate during General Ayub Khan’s ‘decade of development’ where a proactive cultural policy was made to curb the ‘hegemony of the socialist vision of the Progressive writers in the literary milieu of the late 1940’s’.

As a result, discourse became state controlled and the concept of the ‘establishment writer’ was born. This system of patronage and perks for journalists and scholars to spread the state views and other interests was created to sustain a ruling elite in the country. It is under this umbrella that state policies leading up to the Zia era, to curb the left, makes way for the Islamic state to be institutionalised in the country.

The State of Islam is an important read to get an alternative view on the ideological conception of Pakistan. The perspective is an enriching one as it tries to connect with the mass and grass-root struggles that never quite make it to mainstream media.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 22nd, 2012.

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