Here’s Why Pakistanis Need To Rewrite Their Confused Identity
UT Jamil argues that it’s time for Pakistanis to get over their need to associate with the Arabic and Turkish descent of Muslim identity while missing out on the rich, cultural roots of our South Asian history, just because it associates with the now hated Hindu identity.
What does it mean to be Pakistani? Are we a progeny of Arab Muslims, Indian Hindus, or both? Should we accept any Hindu influence on our culture and heritage? And what of the British and their enduring effect on our language, education and law? Does the nation’s obsession with light skin tones stem from our colonizers’ vanity that has seamlessly seeped into our terracotta culture? These questions barely scratch the surface of the swamp that is our national identity.
Culture is a complex, progressive entity that is always in the making and never fully made because the day any nation’s culture is ‘complete’ it is, in essence, dead. Yet we have tried to squeeze ours into a tiny, myopic box with simplistic ‘Us vs. Them’ binaries that keep us culturally, intellectually, and artistically arrested in a comatose dream of some imagined glorious past.
The cultural narrative of our current predicament borrows from the reactionary pre-partition nationalism that has refused to change over half a century later despite the vicissitudes in the fate of our nation – including the loss of the Eastern wing. During the Islamisation of the 80s, religious dogma became constitution, words were thrown together in a cauldron of hegemony to create a concoction of absurdities that flouted basic Civil Rights of Pakistani citizens. The product was a rigid, moralistic, and pseudo-Islamic narrative that would come back to haunt us decades later – right about now.
Fast forward to the present, it has ballooned into a many-headed hydra chopping off the heads of reason, pluralism, and progress. It is now a cocktail of confusing contradictions shaped through deliberate misinformation and propaganda. Reiterated vociferously by the religious right, it has impregnated the national psyche with irrational claims intolerant towards dialogue and debate.
The most prominent claims of the narrative – Pakistan was made for the Muslims of India hence it is an Islamic State – is debatable and there is enough evidence in favor of the opposing point of view. Assertions like these are now considered a fact rather than a fallacy, where correlation is equated with causation. There should be enough room for dialogue on the matter that is appropriated completely by right-wing rhetoric that is why religious supremacist ideology has dug its claws deep into the sinews of our country.
Furthering this ideology is the misconception that Pakistanis are of Arab-Persian-Turkish descent who ruled over Indian ‘Hindus’ for a millennium. Textbooks have been rewritten to include blatant lies that glorify pillaging conquerors, vilify Hindus and arrest our history at 8th Century C.E. when the Arab conqueror Mohammad Bin Qasim invaded India. Such thinking is a product of supremacism – the desire for one’s ideology to conquer, dominate, and pervade over others.
This return to a glorious dominant past is shared by the Prime Minister Imran Khan himself who is self-styled as some kind of a pan-Islamic savior. This is the reason why he ordered the national television channel to broadcast a Turkish television show about the founder of the Ottoman Empire, recommended another show on a Turkish Sufi, and endorsed a book on the glory days of Islam. There is nothing wrong recommending Turkish content, and Arab-Muslim history – it is certainly a part of our past as people of the subcontinent and earthlings as a whole. But the omission of South Asian history relevant to our own anthropological connections betrays the clearly Islam-centric narrative that continues to be propagated at the detriment of our own muddled identity –we have simply replaced British masters for Turkish/Arab ones.
The truth is that our ancestors include all the richness that history has to offer to a continent encompassing a myriad of ancient religions, dynasties, cultures, and legends.
It is this truth that will free us of a constructed narrative for a more inclusive and colorful one. Here lived the Indus Valley Civilisation – descendants of hunter-gatherer sapiens who ventured out of Africa thousands of years ago – where the Dravidians dwelled, where the Aryans invaded and settled, and were cultural as well as genetic influences of nomads of the Central Asian Steppe and farmers from what is now Iran intermingled.
This is the land of the Buddha, Ashoka, and Akbar; this is where the great Alexander died after conquering half the world; this is where Chanakaya dealt his worldly pearls of wisdom and Amir Khusrau enchanted with transcendental poetry. All the myths and legends, arts and philosophies, wars, and loves of this subcontinent is a part of our DNA, and a recent study assures that we are all, indeed, children of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
The impetus behind doctoring history comes from a historical aversion of our unspeakable shared past with what is now India which is associated with Hinduism and idolatry – something our celebrated conquering heroes of the past like Mehmood of Ghazni came to destroy. According to the narrative, India is the ‘eternal enemy’, it is a constant in our chaos, and much of this hatred stems from post-partition paranoia – a hysteria we haven’t been able to overcome.
In India, something similar has taken root – a puritanical Hindu supremacist ideology that doesn’t bode well for the country. They too hark for a glorious past and deny the historical intermingling of people across the subcontinent that gives it its colorful vibrancy. But you can’t change your DNA, and religio-nationalistic supremacists on both sides need to accept that they are, in fact, family.
Where India’s supremacist narrative is flexing its muscles in the face of severe opposition, Pakistan’s national narrative has perfected itself over the years to successfully lure us further into the quagmire of inertia. Our cultural nuances have been arm-twisted into the shadow of whispers and the casualties of this cull en masse include progressive art and literature, pluralism, and freedom of expression.
It’s time to pen a new story for Pakistan, one that is tolerant and inclusive regardless of ethnicity or religion. Only then can we move towards more wondrous ventures of peace and collaboration. Imagine a South Asian nation: a tolerant, egalitarian, and transparent region where our true heritage is preserved as South Asians of this vivacious subcontinent and sapiens of this wonderful Earth. With one eye on our collective past, and the other on our cooperative future, it’s time to trade accusation with self-reflection and stagnation with evolution – our future generations depend on it.