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Hagia Sophia And Islamabad Temple: Journey From Modern To Retrogressive Political Ideas

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How come both Pakistan and Turkey reached a point where those in possession of religious revivalist ideology came to dominate the power structure in Ankara and Islamabad, Umer Farooq discusses.

Converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque and blocking the construction of Hindu mandir in Islamabad can’t be more distinct optically—respectively the first related to conversion of a relics of Christian Byzantine empire into Muslim religious place, while the second related to blocking of construction of the religious place of a minority in a Muslim country, where since 1970s the political Islam has been a dominant social and political ideology.

At the same time both these incidents could be summed up as broadly representing the same political trends in Muslim lands—the rise of political Islam as the state policy or dominant political attitude in the society at the social and political level.

The first incident happened in economically and politically assertive Turkey, where a Tayyib Erdogan, a nationalist leader under the influence of revivalist ideology is trying to consolidate the vote bank of conservative voters with tactics that could be described as socially conservative and appealing to the religious devout lower middle classes. Presentation of warrior heroes from the past in mega drama serials is the key to attracting conservative voters from lower classes in Turkish society. A society, which is witnessing a resurgence of economic vitality and affluence, could afford to recreate its past with the presentation of their heroes in mega drama serial.

In Pakistani society, where recent vandalistic act of blocking the government sponsored construction of a Hindu mandir made headlines, what we are witnessing is another example of retrogressive social and political ideologies at play. Construction of a mandir was part of original master plan of Islamabad city—this master plan was conceived at a time in early 1960s, when Pakistan was under the sway of modernist social and political ideas.

Nawaz Sharif government revived this idea and Imran Khan government didn’t object to it and so foundation stone was laid only a month ago. Religious clergy came out in the open to oppose it and the Imran Khan government had to succumb to the pressure and referred the matter to equally retrogressive Islamic Ideology Council.

Blocking the mandir and converting Hagia Sophia into mosque are outcomes of similar politics of opportunism—opportunism that wants continuation of rule of those who have reach the helm of affairs in their respective countries and who see parochial religious policies and enactment of high-profile acts of vandalism that could satisfy the hate driver social urges of lower middle classes in their respective societies, as the right policies for their governments. There is, however, slight difference of career paths of two leaders—Erdogan in Turkey and Imran Khan in Pakistan. Erdogan is primarily a product of long and arduous journey on the path of religious revivalist politics in secular Turkey, where the power Turkish military projects itself as a champion and defender of secular identity of the state. On the other hand Imran Khan public career as a cricketer and political career is defined by opportunism of neo-liberal economic and social policies of Pakistan state in an era of deep military and strategic alliance with the west. Although he started to increasingly show tendency of associating himself with the revivalist causes over the years.

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If Islamabad’s original master plan conceived construction of a Hindu mandir as essential for the social life of city than there must be an underlying political consensus in the power corridors at that time that accepted the religious diversity of Pakistani society that existed in United Pakistan’s society. If Hagia Sophia was allowed to continue to exist as a relic of Byzantine Christianity during Kemalist period in Turkey then there must be a thought that existed in power elite of secular Turkey of Kemalist period that retaining the diverse religious heritage of their country was necessary for preserving the essence of Turkish culture.

How did the thinking about preserving the religious diversity in the society and idea about retaining the Christian identity of past relics evaporate into thin air over the years?  After First World War Turkey started its life as a secular nation-state with state policy clearly aimed at de-emphasizing the role of religion in Turkish society, whereas Pakistan started its political and social life as a modernist project of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We inherited parliamentary form of government from the British colonial regime, a modern constitution in the form of 1935 government of India Act, a committed modernist elite in the driving seat in Karachi and later in Islamabad and last but not the least a modern military to reinforce the state structure and its legitimacy. Ideologically Turkey was under the influence of young Turk who advocated a form of parliamentary government. Modern constitution was there, modern military was there and Attaturk introduced social and religious reforms which instilled modern ideas into the head of populous.

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Then how come both Pakistan and Turkey reached a point where those in possession of religious revivalist ideology came to dominate the power structure in Ankara and Islamabad? How come the populous in both the countries drifted towards a situation where they started to vote parties with revivalist and right wing ideologies into power? Were the modernism and secularism of Jinnah and Kemal Ataturk, respectively, failures in their respective countries? In Pakistan modernism started gradually to give way to Islamism when under zulifiqar Ali Bhutto Pakistani parliament amended the constitution to de-seat Pakistan’s Ahmediya community from full citizenship. In Turkey Islamism started to creep into power corridors in late 1990s. Before Bhutto, those with modern ideas continued to dominate the power structure of Pakistan—the first nine years rule of oligarchics was deeply modern and equally modern was the 11 years military rule of General Ayub Khan. In Turkey the guardians of secularism the military top brass continued to dominate the politics of the country till late 1990s.

Political Islam that crept into power corridors in Anakara and Islamabad in 1990s and 1970s respectively, was itself product of modernity. Political Islam, as many experts say, doesn’t represent any medieval practices or beliefs, but is a product of interaction with traditional religiosity with the modern education and modern western political and social ideologies. Political Islam, which as far as its ideological aspect is concerned is a synthesis of modern-western political ideas and traditional religiosity

. Therefore both in Turkey and Pakistan the Islamist wasted no time in embracing parliamentary democracy as an ideal form to do politics in their respective societies. They, however, it must be remembered, that they came to power in Anakara and Islamabad however defeat of modernism and secularism in these two Muslim lands.

Therefore these Islamist ideologies may be modern in forms but they remain retrogressive in their essence—denial of minority rights is part of being an Islamist. In twisting the democratic principles they have turned majority rule (which is always qualified by a firm commitment to protect minority rights in a liberal democracy) into majoritarian rule that believes in turning religious places of minorities communities into mosque as a fair game.

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