The mirror image of the man’s own contradictions
It is in the ethos of every nation to mull over its ideological raison d’etre as the Independence Day of their state approaches. One of the most common ways for a people to commemorate the day is to ponder over what the founding fathers were thinking when they came up with the idea to create their nation. The Egyptians think about Saad Zaghloul’s desires; The Indians try to figure out what Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wanted out of India; The Israelis deliberate over David Ben-Gurion’s aspirations;the Germans wonder what Otto von Bismarck had in mind for a United Germany; the Chinese debate over how Mao Zedong perceived China; the French try and figure out how Charles de Gaulle saw France’s future; while Americans collectively fight over the underlying principle behind the creation of their nation and what their founding fathers really wanted. Except that none of this ever happens.
Musing on what kind of a state our founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted, decades after the country’s inception is almost exclusively a Pakistani sport. And the primary reason behind this of course is twofold: a) Jinnah’s massive anthology of contradictory speeches and acts; and b) Pakistan’s paradoxical identity crisis and the ensuing dearth of nationalism.
There are those who believe that Jinnah wanted an Islamic state and then there are those who claim that he wanted a secular one. The former quote his March 22, 1940 speech, among many others, while the latter quote two lines from his August 11, 1947 speech, which is their holy gospel. The former highlight the illogicality behind creating a state for Muslims where Islam wouldn’t be the ruling authority while the latter use subplots like economic safeguard of the Muslim community as the justification for a separatist movement; the former cite Jinnah’s endeavour to earmark Muslims as a separate nation, while the latter present his personal lifestyle to elaborate what kind of a Pakistan he actually wanted. And while both sides are relentlessly at daggers drawn, neither of the two camps pauses for a moment to think that merely the existence of the opposing camp and the evidence they provide for their case, should suffice in ascertaining Jinnah’s contradictions.
Therefore, only one man can be blamed for the fact that even after 65 years since he died Pakistanis still can’t reach a consensus over what kind of a Pakistan Jinnah struggled for: Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself.
115 years after his death, no one has an inkling of doubt about what kind of a Germany Bismarck wanted. 86 years following Zaghloul’s death no one questions his perception of Egypt. 65 years after Gandhi was murdered there’s a general consensus over what he wanted out of India. Similarly there is almost unanimous agreement over what Mao, De Gaulle, Ben-Gurion and pretty much every founding father wanted their states to function like. And this is because either their actions had no contradictions, or their contradictions have been identified and acknowledged by the generations that followed them. None of them is above criticism, and none of them is perceived as an angel moulded out of perfection.
Again, it’s not really a question of what Jinnah wanted, more a question of what his actions resulted in. Modern-day Pakistan, the crowning achievement of Jinnah’s political career, might not be what he desired, but it sure as hell is the bona fide corollary of his struggles. This is Jinnah’s Pakistan; not because the clergy rules the roost or because we still have flag-bearers of secularism in this country. But because it is the hub of conflicting ideas that are constantly at loggerheads, and forcing them to coexist results in the mess Pakistan finds itself in. The Pakistan of 2013 is the mirror image – albeit prodigiously enlarged and tarnished – of Jinnah’s own contradictions.
Why would the proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity defend Ilam Din in court, even though he did not support death penalty for blasphemy and had warned against misusing Section 295-A? Why would someone who believed in religious coexistence marry a Parsi woman who had to convert just so she could marry him, and then go onto scream bloody murder when his own daughter married a non-Muslim? Why would the person who had distanced himself from Islamic obligations and didn’t share anything with the historically revered custodians of Islam, launch a movement to safeguard Islam? Why would he expect the minorities in Pakistan to play a positive role in the newly formed state’s unity, when he had failed to do so himself by leading a separatist movement in United India?
At times he was proud of introducing religion into politics, “When we say ‘This flag is the flag of Islam’ they think we are introducing religion into politics – a fact of which we are proud” (Gaya Muslim League Conference, January 1938); categorically stating that Pakistan would be an Islamic state, “(Pakistan) will be an Islamic state on the pattern of the Medina state…” (Muslim League session Allahabad, 1942); showcasing a state which would be governed by Islamic laws, “The Muslims demand Pakistan where they could rule according to their own code of life and according to their own cultural growth, traditions, and Islamic Laws” (Frontier Muslim League Conference November 21, 1945) and portraying Pakistan as “the Premier Islamic State” (February 1948).
And then he would epitomise secularity, “There will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities, which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life;” (Interview with Doon Campbell of May 21, 1947) and clearly rebuffing the idea of a theocratic state, “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission” (USA broadcast, February 1948).
There can only be two possible justifications for Jinnah’s contradictions. The first one is that Jinnah was an oxymoronic “liberal Muslim”, the creed of which can be found among the Pakistani “intelligentsia”, who believe that Islamic ideals and secular ideals do not contradict one another. An example of this can be found in a statement during his July 17, 1947 press conference: “When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen centuries ago.”
Even so, despite all the clamour of Jinnah extrovertly vying to make Pakistan a secular state, one can’t find one quote where he used the term “secular” for Pakistan. Even when he was directly posed the question, in the aforementioned press conference, “Will Pakistan be a secular or theocratic state?”, his answer was as wooly as they get: “You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”
If Jinnah believed that by stating that Pakistan would be secular he wouldn’t be contradicting almost every single one of his speeches post-1937 elections, why would he hesitate in saying so? And why despite mentioning most of the ideals of secularity in several speeches after Pakistan’s creation, he never categorically used the term “secular Pakistan”? These questions are answered by the second, and quite possibly the more accurate, of the two aforementioned justifications for Jinnah’s contradictions.
Jinnah was a lawyer. Pakistan was the biggest case of his life. Most of his quotes for religious freedom are from his speeches when he addressed a foreign audience or had a significant proportion of minorities in the crowd. And most of his quotes envisioning the establishment of an Islamic state are from speeches where he was addressing the Indian Muslims and the Islamic clergy. Jinnah said what was needed, when it was needed, to strengthen the prospects of an independent state called Pakistan.
A lawyer isn’t too concerned if he contradicts himself during a trial as long he wins the case. And Jinnah won his case on August 14, 1947.
The writer is a financial journalist and a cultural critic. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @khuldune