Pakistan’s historical narrative and its education system
Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery has a great post linking Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman convicted and jailed in the United States, and Mohammad bin Qasim, who first brought Islam to South Asia by conquering Sind in the 8th century.
The common thread is the historical narrative Pakistan has created for itself; and Shahzad’s own explicit reference to bin Qasim in a 2006 email to friends published last month.
“17 year old Mohammad bin Qasam attacked the Sub-continent Pak-o-Hind and defeated infidel ruler Raja Dahir because there came to him news of a Muslim women who was raped!!! and today our beloved Prophet (Katimun Nabieen Mohammad al-Ameen) PBUH has been disrespected and disgraced in the whole world and we just sit and watch with shame and sorrow and most of us don’t even care,” reads the email published by the New York Times.
According to Manan Ahmed, this view of bin Qasim – that he invaded then Hindu-ruled Sind in defence of a Muslim woman – has found itself a symbolic torchbearer in Aafia Siddiqui, a Muslim woman seen as unfairly convicted by American “infidels”. Not only had she been taken up as a rallying cry by religious parties and not only had politicians pledged to fight her case, her sister, Fauzia, had been quoted as saying “we are waiting for a Muhammad bin Qasim to come and rescue Aafiya.”
“This particular brand of national machismo projected onto a woman’s body is neither new nor unique, yet it is a potent mixture in the oppressive, patriarchal Pakistani middle class. The mullahs can safely rage about the nation’s daughter, and the street urchins can eagerly vow to invade Manhattan,” he writes.
“Yet, until we dismantle the whole edifice underpinning this construction, there is little one can do to fight the narrative. Aafiya Siddiqui may well have caught the nation’s attention without the literary linkage to Pakistan’s originary past – her story is fabulous enough. But it is that very link which sustains it now, gives it immediate historical resonance and, most importantly, predicts the future – an armed struggle to free Aafiya. Such is the power of historical memory, such is the reach of state-sanctioned hegemonic accounts. And this is exactly why we need new histories of Pakistan.”
There’s more. In an earlier post, Manan Ahmed assesses how Pakistan’s own view of bin Qasim changed after the loss of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971, which deprived it of its original justification as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. To make up for the defeat, and find a reason to bind its different ethnic groups together, it stressed its much older Islamic heritage.
“From the mid 1970s, a dominant theme of unification and Islam arose in all the discourse of the state. Even the secularist (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto, sought to rally the people around the twin green flags (Pakistan and Islam),” he writes. “A particular history of the nation was disseminated in official discourse, school textbooks, nationalist novels, and public commemorations to explain the ancestral and ideological formation of the citizenry.”
“That this was a practice started after 1971 is clear when one examines school textbooks from the 50s and 60s. In the higher grades, those textbooks mention Hindus in a neutral tone. In fact, they were critical of Muhammad b. Qasim. Under Zia, the process of “Islamization” eliminated all doubts from the curriculum. As a result, MbQ became the first model citizen of the state of Pakistan. The compulsory textbook for 9th & 10th grade proclaimed: