Declaring Independence…Again

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

In 1947, we gained independence from the British. Let us honour the memory of the courageous souls who secured our freedom by taking the moment of this anniversary of Independence Day to renew our independence by rejecting the poisonous mindset that has infected and divided our nation. Let us return to the promise of freedom described in Quaid-i-Azam’s speech of 11 August 1947 and his vision set forth at the first Constituent Assembly.

Jinnah’s speech, when read out loud in the National Assembly on the event of its anniversary earlier this week, gained desk-thumping cheers as the Quaid’s words echoed in the hallowed halls.

The only time desk-thumping cheers from both the treasury and opposition benches rang out in the house was when the speaker, while reading out a portion of the Quaid’s speech so lawmakers “seek inspiration and guidance from his wisdom”, finished that famous paragraph often seen as his unfulfilled wish to see Pakistan as a secular state:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

The scene must have been reminiscent of our leaders listening to these words sixty-four years ago whose chests swelled with pride and love for their fellow countrymen.

As we fly our flag with that same pride in our hearts today, let us remember what each part of the flag symbolises.

  • The green representing Muslims who founded this country so they would not be tyrannised as a minority
  • The white stripe representing the minorities who are promised a safe home here
  • The crescent moon representing progress
  • The star representing the light of knowledge that guides us

In 1947, we declared our independence from Britain. Today let us pay tribute by declaring independence from the violence, hatred, bigotry and sectarianism that threatens to divide us. Let us not only recall the words of Quaid-i-Azam, let us go forth and live them.


The Turkish Path


APP reports that Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to explore further economic cooperation. This is fantastic news, and provides a great opportunity to re-orient the country onto a productive and prosperous path. Actually, looking at Turkey, we may find an alternative way out of the mess that we currently find ourselves in.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir praised Turkey’s important role for bringing peace and stability in the region. And he is not the only one singing Turkey’s praises lately. On a visit to Istanbul last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the country high marks.

“I just want to see Turkey get stronger and more prosperous and have your democratic institutions be even more durable and be an example for so many of the countries that themselves are trying to figure out how to make political and economic reforms,” she told the coffeehouse audience.

Clinton went on to note that Turkey can serve as a role model for other new democracies.

“I think across the region, people from the Middle East and North Africa particularly are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey’s experience,” Clinton said. “It is vital that they learn the lessons that Turkey has learned and is putting into practice every single day. Turkey’s history serves as a reminder that democratic development depends on responsible leadership, and it’s important that that responsible leadership helps to mentor the next generation of leaders in these other countries.”

This is important to think about not because it was praise from an American official, but because the American official is RIGHT. Turkey can be a great role model for how to develop a successful democracy without giving up religion and culture. Irene Khan, Consulting Editor for The Daily Star, made this same observation recently.

Under nine years of AKP rule Turkey has changed radically, shedding its military past in favour of liberal democracy and combining strong economic growth and social development with Islamic conservatism and an assertive foreign policy.

Turkey’s economy is booming. A member of the G20 group of developed and emerging economies, last year its GDP grew by 9%. The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) predicts Turkey will have the fastest-growing economy in the OECD until 2017. Unemployment has fallen from 14.4% in 2009 to 11.5% this year, and social development programmes are beginning to tackle poverty in some of the more remote and troubled areas.

This economic miracle has spawned a new political class of Sunni Muslim businessmen from Anatolia, committed to global market principles but fiercely conservative and deeply religious. They form the backbone of support for AKP and have replaced the military-backed urban elite as the new ruling class of Turkey.

Notice however that the “Islamic conservatism” that Khan speaks about is not the same as backwards-looking calls for medieval kalipha systems or Talibani brutality. Rather Turkey takes an approach of tolerance for individual religious practice. AKP has been a voice for women who want to choose to wear hijab, but they stop well short of suggesting that the state should be making that choice for women.

This is the way of the future for Muslim democracies. Even in Egypt, which many Westerners feared the Muslim Brotherhood would turn the country into a new Iran, the MB is disovering that being in power means that they have to move beyond organising street protests and learn how to govern.

As the Arab Spring turns to blazing summer, Islamist movements have quickly formed political parties and mobilized national campaigns designed to unveil their new image before elections in the fall and winter. Paranoid rhetoric about threats to Muslim identity have given way to political messaging that could have been lifted from the party platforms of any Western democracy: It’s all about jobs, investments, inclusiveness. A new broom to sweep clean decades of corruption. A new dawn of can-do Islamism.

And governance is the key because people take responsibility for their own souls – from the government they expect results.

The group has long been feared in the West as the source and exporter of radical Islamist ideology: violent groups like the Palestinian Hamas are direct offshoots of the Brotherhood. Some scholars trace the origins of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to the Islamists. In Egypt, however, the group long ago rejected the rhetoric of violent jihad, and it is seen as a social movement as much as a political entity. Egypt’s poor have long associated the Brotherhood with its social services, like free clinics and schools.

Now the Brotherhood needs to broaden its base to include middle-class and affluent Egyptians. Many of the young men and women hanging out on the October 6 Bridge on a Thursday evening — enjoying a cool breeze off the Nile and the chance for some mild flirting — seem comfortable with the idea of an Islamist-led government. “We know these guys. We go to school with them, eat with them, play soccer with them,” says Fadel, a 20-year-old university student. “If they come to power, we’ll judge them by their results, not the size of their beards.”

President Zardari is meeting with regional leaders like Ahmedinejad as he should. After all, these are our neighbors whether for better or for worse. But it is our ties with nations like Muslim nations that are looking to the future – not the past – that has the most promise for improving our own path. Turkey and Egypt are giving a glimpse at the future of Muslim democracies in Europe and the Middle East. Pakistan should follow this path of democratisation and restore its place as an example for Muslim democracy in South Asia. This was the dream of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is up to us to make it real.

Now or Never

Over and over again I see my friends shake their heads and say, “Yes, Qadri is a terrorist and should hang for his crime. But we should not be in the streets because how do you think the fundos will react? It will mean more violence.”

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps a strong showing of solidarity with Salmaan Taseer’s vision for a compassionate and merciful justice system would so enrage these brainwashed fundamentalists that they would strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up in our mosques and our shrines. Perhaps they would be so outraged at our request for common decency and humanity that they would take to the streets with weapons and shoot down innocent women and children. Perhaps they would even be so bold as to make a direct attack against the state by gunning down government officials in broad daylight.

Oh, that’s right – they already are doing this.

I hear that supporters threw flowers to Mumtaz Qadri as he entered the courtroom. These jihadis are so brazen that they feel no shame, they fear no consequences for showing their allegiance to such evil in open public. Why would they? When was the last time a self-proclaimed compassionate liberal stood up for his principles?

Oh, that’s right – it was yesterday. And the jihadis shot him for it.

The difference between Salmaan Taseer and the rest of us wasn’t his famous glasses or his businesses or his political office. It was his willingness to live and die for his beliefs.

Jihadis are willing to die for their twisted perversion of religion. Do we not have the courage to stand up for ours?

This is when my more fundamentalist brothers ask me, “what, exactly, are your liberal principles.” This is a question liberals love to fight about, but I suggest that really its quite simple. Let’s start with the names of Allah…

الرحمن – The Compassionate

الرحيم – The Merciful

السلام – The Source of Peace

الغفور – The All Forgiving

الودود – The Loving

Salmaan Taseer died because he demanded compassion and mercy. Are these not two of the names of Allah? Are these not worth standing up for? I suggest that these are the principles worth standing up for openly, publicly, and without shame.

Dr Awab Alvi asks a good question in today’s Express Tribune: Have we given up on Pakistan? The good Doctor hopes that we have not. I share his hope, but the answer we must decide together.

Another question we must ask ourselves is: Are there more reasonable, right-thinking people than there are of brainwashed fundamentalist jihadi killers? If there are, we need to start acting like it.

I still believe in the goodness inherent in Pakistan. I still believe that inherent in the promise of Jinnah’s dream of an Islamic nation are those names of Allah – Compassion, Mercy, Peace, Forgiveness, Love.

I still believe that we are able to come together and sacrifice for the good of the nation. I have seen it only recently when we pulled together to help our countrymen who were devastated by the floods. Where is that same sense of loyalty and nationalism when it comes to defending our very sovereignty from violent attacks?

The 15 January protest against blasphemy laws has been canceled in light of yesterday’s events. While I sympathize with the thinking, I cannot help but wonder if this is the right decision. If we stand down every time the jihadis make a noise, we will be herded like sheep to our doom.

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseeer’s security was infiltrated and he was gunned down by a brainwashed jihadi in the streets of Islamabad. The killer and his supporters have been openly unapologetic, even celebratory about this attack. This was more than simply an attack against one man for daring to demand compassion and mercy, this was an act of war on reason and on the state. Will we defend our homeland or will we lay down in our beds as the dream of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is murdered in the streets?

Pakistan Zindabad.