Pakistan and pre-revolution France

Published: October 26, 2010
The writer is a PML-Q MNA

The writer is a PML-Q MNA

After a long time, I have settled down to read a book in the middle of my mad political schedule. Passionate Minds by David Bodanis, is about “the great love affair of the Enlightenment featuring the scientist Emilie du Chatelet and the poet Voltaire”.

Perhaps I decided to read the book because of my childhood in France. I grew up with the concepts of liberte, egalite, fraternite and a very clear concept of my Pakistaniat.

It is with this background that I picked up the book. And I would like to share my thoughts about the clash between science and religion and the path to progress — a concept Islam gave all the answers to, ensuring that we were the most enlightened religion, creating the ultimate partnership with science.

Yet the similarities between 18th century feudal France and 21st century feudal Pakistan, where women are treated as second-class citizens, were startling. Perhaps more startling since, because of Islam’s teachings, we should have overcome this barrier and won the human rights race. The extent of women discrimination hit me when I entered the real world out of my family’s sheltered cocoon. And even then I was able to deal with it. Something most women in Pakistan are not often given any facilitation for. The fact that women were discouraged from education in 18th century France reminds me of the state of our current villages.

Another interesting comparison was that religious minorities were discriminated against. The reforms in England at the time were significantly higher despite them having no access to a religion like Islam. Again, it is a pity that whilst Islam eliminated divisions of class and religion much before the French, Pakistan today has not progressed at the same speed.

Last but not least, the culture of central control from the court of Versailles can be compared to our issues of federation and provincial autonomy. Back then they used methodologies for control which included giving of favours and a culture of corruption: make the notables so rich that they are beholden to the courts and under their control. There was also censorship and associated human rights abuses meted out to political prisoners. Whether it is the Bastille or Adiala jail, the methods used by our military and civilian dictators compared those of pre-revolution France are very similar.

Has Pakistan’s society transformed, considering all the jumpstarts Islam gave it? Have we transformed into the enlightened Muslims that Islam instructs us to be? And if not, then is revolution not around the corner in some new format? What struck me most is the consistency of human nature over the centuries. Whenever accepted rotten norms are challenged, there will be an attempt to attack and destroy. Old politics is at war with new politics. And just like there was Enlightenment and then revolution in France, there will be success in Pakistan too.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Oct 27, 2010 - 1:36AM




    sledgehammer blows more like it:)Recommend

  • A Naheed
    Oct 27, 2010 - 10:07AM

    Pray tell, who are the Enlightened ones and who will revolt?
    –and what was the Old politics and which is the New? —and who is raging this war again? didn’t quiet get it?Recommend

  • IZ
    Oct 27, 2010 - 10:39AM

    Not a particularly articulate or insightful article this time. What is most important to note about the French Revolution is that it happened AFTER the French Enlightenment. People talk about a Revolution in Pakistan, but there is no sign or mention of a Pakistani Enlightenment.

    Also note that the French Revolution led to massacres, 3 constitutions in the space of 5 years, rule by Terror, civil war, the banning of religion and closing down of places of worship and religious instruction, several foreign wars that left millions of Frenchmen dead and, umm… a military dictatorship which would last 15 years, and leave many millions more dead and inspire the growth of nationalism and unification of France’s nemesis for the next hundred and fifty years – Germany.Recommend

  • Zain
    Oct 27, 2010 - 11:26AM

    Excellent article Ms.Memon.

    I was talking to my friends earlier and they were less than optimistic about anything changing, they agreed that only a grassroots level revolution will cause a change, however they were less than optimistic about it happening because of the division amongst the people.

    I though to myself, muslims in the subcontinent also probably had the same pessimistic thoughts when Jinnah stood up for the cause of creating a new homeland for the muslims. In the context of Islam, even The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) went through hardships to spread his message, but it was a handful of people who stood beside both these men and women, who stood beside both these inspiring figures and helo them achieve their purpose, by uniting a people who wanted change.

    It saddens me, to see my country in a state like this. When people abuse it and its potential, especially after the sacrifices our forefathers made in achieving it, and then people leaving the country at the first chance they get.

    You are in a position of power, to actually influence people through a political platform, as you have more say in the NA. A revolution will come because like in Economics there is a limit to what the human soul can with stand before it breaks. It is people like yourself who should come back down to grassroots levels, visit schools, businesses, establish a relation with the frustrated masses.

    I myself have no political experience except for the fact that I was a comittee member of the Pakistan Soceity in my University. Even there, disunity existed when we started, but we overcame it because we needed the Pakistan society to perform at its best level and move away from the image people had established about it. We achieved our purpose, albeit a small example it is an example none the less.

    I have seen you on TV, rather than degrading yourself down to the level of the politicians who have nothing better to do than to blame each other and put allegations on one another you should be using that airtime to talk to the people, and enlightning them on their rights. You are after all an LSE graduate, use that education.

    A single grain of rice can be the difference between full and empty.

    You and your party can kick start a revolution, unite a broken people and work with each other. I think its time you and your party put aside YOUR interests aside and work with those who really want to help the country, trust me there alot more of us who want this country to be a rising power like China than those who want to rob it.

    If you can do that, you have my support.

    Sincerest regards and I hope you read this message.Recommend

  • Arifq
    Oct 27, 2010 - 1:49PM

    Guillotines’ galore! Are we already not there yet in the form of mob vigilantism? Please, that was the 17th century, try living in the present world. Recommend

  • IZ
    Oct 27, 2010 - 2:35PM

    @Arifq Please, that was the 17th century, try living in the present world.
    Actually the 18th century (1789)Recommend

  • MAD
    Oct 27, 2010 - 2:57PM

    You do realize that the author and most of those posting here are percieved as elite and were a french style revolution to take place we would all eventually either be forced to run for our lives or face the chopping block ourselves. (well now that I think about it it would be a permanent cure for my migraine)Recommend

  • Zain
    Oct 27, 2010 - 4:24PM

    Yes, we can be percieved as elite, but so can anyone who is not poverty stricken. In the eyes of poor farmers and rural areas even the middle class here would be percieved as elite. It is important to note that the revolution came against a corrupt monarchy who was ruling the country.

    There is a difference in the perception of elite, the ruling elite and the upper class. If a revolution does happen it will be against the ruling elite, not all well to do people are corrupt. I think most people know that, or not.

    It could be an Iranian revolt as well, that was against a corrupt monarchy. As much as I think about it, we are also living in a system resembling a monarchy.

    Unfortunately, the dilemma for all Pakistani’s is, if some one is trying to do the right thing, people here are always trying to put them down or get some dirt on them. This goes, not only for politicians who are slating each other daily on TV, even the citizens are like that.

    Who is good, well for one I personally like Imran Khan or Mustafa Kamal, hardworking and in your face. Now I know some body will come up in the next couple of comments and can criticize both of them for what ever, but if we sit on forums like this and think pessimistic thoughts, nothing is going to change, and this cycle of sitting here and criticizing and just wishing some how things get better will continue for centuries, because Pakistan won’t drown or break up because these issues have been rising up for the past 50 years and still nothing has happened. For how long though, will we “educated” people let feudals run the country, they are a handful of people, I am sure if we get together we can put up a fight. Recommend

  • Oct 27, 2010 - 5:33PM

    Marvi, you are a smart parliamentarian. But this analogy made no sense. You are comparing apples and oranges.Recommend

  • Oct 27, 2010 - 7:04PM

    I’m afraid the basis of comparison used here is paradoxical since you are not only contrasting two very distinct periods in history, but are also drawing parallels between two different systems of government. Recommend

  • Oct 27, 2010 - 8:35PM

    The article by Ms Marvi Memon is based on facts. Affairs in Pakistan are deteriorating day-by-day. People now have started taking that a French-like revolution in Pakistan is now inevitable. But it will not happen. Because current situation in Pakistan is going in favour of United States, Israel and India because a economically weak government, bad governance, demoralised people and yes-man type and docile leadership will be a soft target. If revolution takes place and Pakistan the only nuclear armed Muslim country reemerged as a real Pakistan it will not be possible for any big power to look towards it for its vested interested. Recommend

  • Oct 27, 2010 - 9:36PM

    May I request Marvi to answer the following questions:

    Which class does she represent? Revolutionaries or…?

    How did she become member of Parliament?

    Can she win an election from a constituency anywhere in Pakistan?

    In a country where even Movements for Change are repeatedly hijacked by intellectuals with the covert and overt help of media how can one expect a French Revolution like revolution?
    (See second of my three comments:

    People are represented in assemblies by those who do not represent anyone but themselves. If you do not believe that look at the constitutional clauses which provide them unlawful protection even if they are globally acknowledged criminals. She must first convince her colleagues in the Assembly to change the constitution and then write about French Revolution which historically has nothing to do with her class.Recommend

  • saher
    Oct 28, 2010 - 12:28AM

    agree with the ‘the only normal person here’ .. seriously u cannot compare the conditions of france with pakistan… france went like this… absolute monarchy–>constitutional monarchy–>republic—>monarchy! hehe.. sorry but seriously napoleon was an emperor… and the real revolution only took France to constituional monarchy and those who guillotined the king also guillotined the real players of that revolution reason for the reign of terror in the republic period… that is why it all went back to monarchy with public welcoming it with open arms.

    yes the power of that revolution was that emperor could no longer act like previous kings as the threat of revolution was always there… But France took a very long time to come to terms with real democracy,…

    problem with pakistan is that we are like french wen they were republic.. we have short phases of reign of terror.. basically ehtesab of everyone we feel is aginst the country. and then are on the pike next.. and later wen we cant do the ehtesab properly we welcome the emperors from the army.. and they cycle repeats… i just wish we learn from France that there is no need for experimenting the same agian.. let time filter it and liberty is yours. Recommend

  • Omar Saboor
    Oct 28, 2010 - 2:45AM

    Bravo Marvi :)Recommend

  • Mehreen
    Oct 28, 2010 - 5:24AM

    One cannot compare pre-revolutionary France to modern Pakistani society today and expect a revolution “around the corner.” Both may be corrupt societies, but a revolution needs something to aspire to: a concrete view of a better society that is possible. There has been no enlightenment in Pakistan. No Voltaire or Rousseau has laid down a Social Contract here. When one revolts, one has a vision of what society ought to be. Furthermore, the people who march in the streets may be from the middle and lower classes, but a revolution is started and set in motion by the upper class. History has shown us this many times. Who in the Pakistani upper class is putting life and limb in danger to do this? I don’t regard the various contributors of the Express Tribune as revolutionaries, as much as I may agree with many of their views.Recommend

  • Zain
    Oct 28, 2010 - 1:01PM

    We need to look only at the vision of our founding fathers. Follow their examples, Allama Iqbal inspired a whole generation to wake up with his poetry and writings. You can jump around to his work when Junoon use to sing it, but can’t believe in it.

    Why can’t we compare Pakistan with Pre Revolt France, Jinnah woke up the masses with his vision of a seperate homeland, him and his supporters enlightned a people that a change could come. He was a revolutionary, he gave us this homeland, the vision is there.

    The vision is simple, a society where one can earn an honest living without fearing for their life. A simple yet beautiful vision, I believe we don’t need people who can enlighten us, we need to look only at our history and take inspiration from those who inspired our forefathers to get us this homeland.

    This is very common, I know for a fact that muslims in the sub-continent thought the same way, that a revolt won’t come and we will live this way only. However it was only a matter of time before a revolutionary leader came. If Allama Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah could inspire the masses then, their example and their work can inspire a masses now. All we need to do is believe and spread their message.Recommend

  • Zain
    Oct 28, 2010 - 1:14PM

    I know to many of you I may sound overly optimistic, or a Marvi Memon supporter but that isn’t the case. I believe in the cause of changing Pakistan, for the better and letting it stand up on its own feet. I think that is a cause we all believe in, but only find it had to accept and make public.

    For that we all need to believe in the honest and noble cause. If we all stand united no one can stop us. America our “ally” couldn’t stop us from becoming a Nuclear Power, then they can’t stop us now.

    Pakistan was built on an honest cause, if we rally for the land reforms bill the one MQM has passed, the same one JUI declared unIslamic we can start changing the country. It was us the masses who got the judges reinstated. Although this is coming back to bite us because now we found out they have their own vested interests and are equally corrupt, I am sure you read the plot allotment news yesterday.

    We can cause a change, all we need to do is triumph over our fears.Recommend

  • Oct 28, 2010 - 1:46PM

    @Mehreen has rightly pointed out the pre-revolutionary France cannot be compared with modern (!) Pakistan. The genuine problems confronted by people of pre-revolutionary France had enraged them to launch a reign of terror. Contrary to that in Pakistan the problems are artificially created by a bunch of inactive former and presently active known crooks in the corporate, social, economic and political circles. Knowledgeable people know them well and the way they are making life of people miserable. What are the major problems?

    Illiteracy and Ignorance is an outcome of structural fault in global education system that can be taken care of through LEGISLATION.

    Unemployment is rising due to lack of focus on work integrated learning and equal access to quality education. This problem has been addressed by Germany with remarkable results.

    Poverty is a direct outcome of illiteracy and unemployment and results in deprivation. Deprivation causes psychological and physical illness which prepares ground for corruption and crime at a very small scale among the low-income and no-income groups. Crime and corruption in high-income groups according to a corrupt rich bureaucrat is because “the money has its own charm.”

    Crime and corruption make the life of socially unprivileged people victim of injustice and violation of human rights which agitates them and gives way to political, ethnic and religious prejudices leading to sectarianism and ultimately terrorism.

    This in a nutshell is a cycle of nine social and economic evils that needs to be addressed. I do not think for this kind of an artificially created cycle of evils a country needs to go through a French Revolution like process to eradicate evils.


    Introduce Work Integrated Learning for “early learning and more earning” to reduce the percentage of illiteracy and ignorance within a short time-frame developing a wide human resource base capable of creating opportunities for themselves and others instead of looking for them by depending on an externally supported economy through foreign aid in social and economic sectors.

    This single step will automatically and significantly address the problems of unemployment, poverty, deprivation, psychological and physical illness, corruption and crime, injustice and violation of human rights, political, ethnic and religious prejudices and sectarianism and terrorism.

    In addition to that constitution and legal framework needs a serious review to block all those loop holes which help the privileged few to take advantage of legal and constitutional protection such as entitlement to acquire land at concessional rates, legal immunity, official protection provided to parallel parasite black economy and an atmosphere of corporate fear.

    @Ms. Marvi instead of showing your talking skills on TV shows and writing on French revolution it will be advisable for you to see what can be done about the cycle of nine social and economic evils and how? If you need help there is plenty of help around.Recommend

  • Hamid Khawaja
    Oct 28, 2010 - 9:16PM

    May I suggest a quick refresher of the French Revolution on the web for Ms Memon. Please look up–part-1?playlist=History Recommend

  • asif raja
    Oct 30, 2010 - 2:13AM

    A superficial article – read up on your history. Recommend

  • Masroor
    Nov 16, 2010 - 12:38PM

    I don’t get it what kind of rights do women want for them. they are definitely enjoying more rights than men. When we are said to respect women we do that, when said ladies first we do that or most of us do that. when in a bus we do leave our seats to the women. But what we get in return is the same old whining and complaining that men don’t respect us. Most of us do jobs where men are the sacrificial lambs where as the women enjoy. Its no offense but I am speaking on a true perspective. No one even gives how a man earns his livelyhood in this age of competition and for whom he do it!!! but when a man starts to take offence for anything bad said then the women unite together to create noise. we know that that men do have extreme but not everyone. when man assaults a woman it is highlighted in all corners and where is the other side of the story. if men are cruel and abusive then women are too. But it never gets anyone’s attention. Furthermore women are now more free than ever before but still the same old grudge against men. My point is not all fingers are equal. We as a gender are always abused for what we don’t even do. Recommend

  • Masroor
    Nov 16, 2010 - 12:41PM

    Women are more powerful than ever before in Pakistan or any other part of the world. What happened to the leadership in French Revolution. Do we expect the same with our peopleRecommend

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