Archive for Islamisation

Book Review: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Posted in Books & Authors, International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Umer

by Yoginder Sikand

Name of the Book: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Author: Yvette Claire Roser

Publisher: Rupa & Co

Price Rs. 195

Pages: 109

ISBN: 81-291-0221-8

Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Contrary to what professional historians might claim, there is really nothing as an objective, unbiased and completely accurate writing of history. After all, not everything, even of significance, of what happened in the past can possibly be included in a text, and history book writers have to pick and choose from past events that they deem fit be recorded. The very process of picking and choosing from the past is determined, among other factors, by the subjective biases of the history writer as well as his or her own social and institutional location. Then, history writing is not simply about narrating the past but also involves a certain element of evaluating it. Here, again, this is strongly determined by the personal biases and preference of the individual historian.

The element of bias is greatly exacerbated when history textbooks are—as they are in almost every country today—commissioned by the state. The state wishes to mould its citizens in a particular way, to make them what it considers as ‘good’ and ‘law-abiding’ citizens, who have completely internalized the underlying logic and ideology of the state. The state, in its capacity of representative of a country’s ruling class, seeks to impose through state-sponsored history texts the hegemonic ideas of this class upon its citizenry. It is thus not surprising that such texts generally parrot the state-centric view of history that seeks to bestow legitimacy on the state and the country’s ruling class and ‘normalise’ their logic and world-view.

This incisive critique of state-sponsored social science textbooks in Pakistan highlights the convoluted politics of historiography and what this means for the production of a ‘social commonsense’ for a state’s citizenry. Although Roser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned, and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.

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Few thoughts on debate over relgious extremism

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by Umer

Over the past many months, the Left in Pakistan has discussed the issue of Taliban over and over particularly in the context of the extremist escalation in Frontier province and following military operation. The difference between members of the Left, with two sides, who are contending over the aforesaid issues is very apparent: one side is pushing a consistent military operation against the religious extremist operations while the other is demanding an immediate halt to the military operations and its roll back from affected areas in the Frontier. The polarity of opinions is known well to any observer and the Left in particular for they have read and heard the detailed arguments from both sides on more than a dozen occasions. Therefore, I don’t intend to present my approach to the question again. My stance, proposing a demand of military operation against Taliban and an opposition to surrender or cease-fire, is known well and shall be clear from the offset.

I want to talk about something different in this email. My intention shall not be construed to create further divide in the already small and dispersed Left of our country, but only a humble call for clarification. It shall be my greatest pleasure to be corrected. As a humble student of Marxism-Leninism, I am always willing to welcome criticism with firmness and my motivation behind the instant article is the desire for a higher unity built through consensus rather than further divisions.

The recent turn in the debate over the Taliban suggests that the difference between the leftists in Pakistan exist at a more fundamental level than we understand the case to be. There is a disagreement, though I am not sure about its sharpness, at the most basic level of the debate. There is usually little utility, in terms of strengthening unity through dialogue, in clashing over the conclusions where there is a difference over premises of the discussion. We have a disagreement over the premises and let’s recognize that to be the case. Unless we form a consensus over the premises, stand assured that an agreement over the conclusions will not result.

I shall be clearer. I sense that there is a difference between the leftists in Pakistan over the form of the political activism that we as a movement want to adopt. In the context of the debate over religious extremism, there is a difference over whether we want our struggle to take up an anti-fundamentalist political posture or not. This is where the disagreement lies. Should we openly adopt an anti-fundamentalist stance or not? I hold that we must. Others in essence are saying, I will follow by how they say this, is that we should not take an overtly anti-fundamentalist stand.

We all agree that the broad policy of the Left is governed by four broad guiding principles: anti-military, anti-imperialism, opposition to pre-capitalist remnants, and anti-fundamentalism. These principles are not mere words for our satisfaction but the foundations of our political activism. We follow these principles not only in our rhetoric but also in practice.

However, some comrades think that we should not be very openly taking a stand against religious extremism and fundamentalism, that we should not criticize Taliban in the workers’ quarters, that there is no use in finding allies and be building a campaign which targets Taliban or in combining an explicitly anti-Taliban agenda with other issues or, may be, that such an effort will result in unnecessary loss of our energy and resources. In essence, this boils down to the assertion that we should be anti-fundamentalist in words but not in practice. We should tackle them covertly and not overtly. Some even go the extent that an alliance between overtly religious parties is also possible or necessary for the Left. If that is the case, my dear comrades, than let me first request you to please give an end to your hypocrisy and say very honestly that you are no longer anti-fundamentalist. Be steadfast in saying that you don’t consider the issue of anti-fundamentalism to be at par with other three guiding principles of our struggle. Please, for the basic moral requirement of sincerity, give an end to this two-faced talk.

Various grounds are often given regarding why we must not criticize fundamentalism openly. Let me get to them briefly. The first contention against bringing the anti-fundamentalism to the forefront with other main principles and issues is that working class people, the constituency for socialism, will find no relevance in the debate over extremism. This is only based on an assumption that working class does not find any relevance in the political issues of the country. That is not the case. Even if that is the point, then we must struggle to engage the working class in the political struggle. How are we to do this while ignoring this flood of right-wing political and social propaganda and without emphasizing the issue and need of secularism? Any political activism in Pakistan that ignores the right-wing fundamentalism and extremism is not worthy of being termed as progressive. If we agree that political struggle needs to be taken to the working class, than criticism of fundamentalism has to be a vital part of our message that shall identify us from the right-wing. And when we criticize the religious right-wing, we must start with the Taliban for they are the most extreme manifestation of the religious right.

The second argument is that the anti-fundamentalist activism will be highly unpopular. There is a level of truth to this argument and this should be entertained to reach the correct strategy and tactics to tackle the menace of extremism. There is general orientation towards fundamentalism in Pakistan particularly in the province of Punjab. However, this should not deter us. The Left does not test its argument on the touchstone of popularity alone, lest they are like other double-faced politicians. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels stood alone but did not compromise into appeasement. The Bolshevik Party took an immensely difficult position of demanding peace in 1914 at risk of complete isolation from all political trends. The Left in Pakistan has stood bravely at many occasions for peace in the region and has been humiliated for doing so. There are countless examples and one can go on and on. Instead of following popularity, our positions must emanate from an analysis of objective situation and shall seek the promotion of the interest of the working class.

Another point that greatly troubles our friends is that we might find allies in the liberal ‘civil society’ if we explicitly push the agenda of anti-fundamentalism. I am greatly perturbed to say that our friends think that these “low-character-elitist-women”, as they are known by the ordinary people for these ‘civil society’ women refuse to cover their heads, can make us even more unpopular. This is highly disturbing. Firstly, the popular morality is not a lamppost for us to take our activism forward. We want to change this popular morality, which is under the hegemony of religious patriarchs, and for this we have to take issue with them rather than stay silent about them. Secondly, this argument completely ignores the rightwing NGOS that have continuously received funding from orthodox Muslim countries. They are not targeted as elitist? So, are they fine? Secondly, as leftists, our contention with the NGOs, etc., is not based on their lifestyle decisions but because they receive donations from imperialism and attempt to diminish the responsibility of State in providing crucial services by substitution. Our comrades are more perturbed by the lifestyle of civil society rather than their connection with imperialism, which is clearly not different from the right-wing criticism of the NGOs (I hate to say this). And then they say they are not giving in; that our words should not be taken as a compensation to the rightwing!

The point very simply boils down to this question of principle: do we want to explicitly target extremism or not? Please, if you may, don’t cosmetically agree on this only as a matter of ritual but only if there is a will to do something about this. We will spend countless days and nights in going over our strategy and tactics, rest assured, but only if there is an agreement over the principle in the first place, only if we settle that we have to tackle this extremist menace immediately.

One last point: a few days ago a comrade proposed that we should either build schools or demand that schools be rebuilt and education be provided. Some comrades think that blowing up of schools in Swat is not a very big issue that demands our attention. However, since we worry greatly about popularity, according to one 1998 survey, education is the second greatest demand of people in Pakistan after clear drinking water. Very generally, any parent can tell you about their greatest dream: to have their children educated. And yet we think it’s a non-issue!

Comrades and friends, extremism in Pakistan is now raising its head like never before. Schools, colleges, CD shops, and cultural stations at every corner of the country are receiving threats on daily basis from those who want to reverse the social order. Victory of Taliban in Frontier is a great boost for extremists everywhere. These extremists are flexing their muscles at every major center. Can we afford to remain silent? The time to do something actively against the extremist menace is now.

So many deeds cry out to be done, And always urgently;
The world rolls on, Time presses.
Ten thousand years are too long, Seize the day, seize the hour!

War in FATA – The Marxist View

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Marxism, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by Umer

Let us begin from the first premise: What is the class character of the various forces that are in combat with each other? What are their aims? The position of the party of the proletariat must be clear; it can not consist of half-baked slogans, semi-support for one group and semi-support for the other—no it cannot be anything of the sort. Such positions, if taken to the masses, can only befuddle their minds.

“In any given situation, says Prachanda,”it is best in general terms to divide the struggle into its component parts—the forces of reaction (that seek to pull back the wheel of history), the forces of the status quo, and the forces of progress.”

I will use Comrade Prachanda’s rule of thumb as the benchmark—it is simple to grasp and easy to understand.

The present status quo is composed of an alliance between international finance capital, the comprador bourgeoisie and a section of the Pakistan Army that benefits from international finance capital. I will henceforth refer to this historical bloc simply, as the “status quo”.

1- The Taliban:

The Taliban represent the forces of reaction; let us be clear that they are not fighting a war against finance capital, or a war for national liberation. Let us also be clear that they are not even fighting a war for oppressed religious minorities.

Under what circumstances can the party of the proletariat support them? None.

2- The Pakistan Government

That a complete transition to bourgeois democracy has been made is un-dialectical. I agree. However, that is not the question that we are addressing.

As long as there is a temporary alliance between the class interests of the comprador bourgeoisie and a section of the army—leading to the formation of a new historical bloc—-they will jointly wage a battle against the Taliban.

To suggest—or to require—from contending class interests to always pursue their own course independently of other classes, even when there interests temporarily align against a common enemy is to reduce the class struggle into children’s playing field.

Yes, each class pursues a course of action, in the final analysis for its independent class aims and not for the aims of the allied class. But that does not imply that they will not ally against what they consider a common enemy. Contradictions are not immutable; antagonistic contradictions may metamorphisize into non-antagonistic ones and vice versa.

Coming back to the point—the Pakistan government at present is governed by the Pakistan People’s Party which historically represented the interests of the national bourgeoisie. That there has been a significant internal metamorphosis within the People’s Party, converting it into a party representing the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie is an important and objectively plausible hypothesis.

In either case, it is clear that they represent the forces that seek to maintain the present status quo as it stands.

3- The Pakistan Army

Does the Pakistan Army represent monolithic class interests? Or is it composed of different ideological strands?

If indeed, the Pakistan army is composed of different ideological strands, does this then imply that we can label its entire body under one caption: “Reactionary”. No it does not. Does it imply that we can label the entire Army as a force of the status quo? No it does not. Neither analysis is correct, in my opinion.

The Pakistan Army is composed of sections that represent the forces of the status quo, and forces that represent the forces of reaction. This corresponds to the historical evolution of the Pakistan Army over the course of the past 3 decades. During Zia’s military regime, the Mullahs were a part of the ruling historical bloc. As a result, a process of Islamization was conducted not only in the country, but within the Army as well. Professor Colonel Abdul Qayum was appointed as the Chief Advisor to the President, and was given the task of presenting a series of lectures on “iman, taqwa and jehad fi sabillillah” to young army officers. These three words became the motto of the Pakistan Army. Further, Abdul Qayum recalls in his book “Zia ul Haq and I”, that the process of Islamization was aimed at creating an ideologically Islamist army, though “a large chunk of officers resented and wanted a largely secular Army”. (Zia ul Haq and I, page 31)

Did the reactionary lobby within the Pakistan Army enjoy the same ascendancy within the ensuing 20 years after Zia’s death? No it did not. Does this imply that the reactionary lobby was annihilated? No it does not. The reactionary lobby continues to exist within the Army as a junior partner; however, the changing international situation and the corresponding crack in the hitherto existing historical bloc have changed the balance of forces not only in the country but within the Pakistan Army itself. During the course of the past 12 years the Askari Financial conglomerate has established itself as the leading financial body operating in Pakistan. Its interests are directly aligned with the interests of Imperialism. Therefore, it directly benefits from the dictates of imperialism.

Its ascendancy within the ranks of the Army corresponds to the emergence of the new historical bloc; the dethroning of the reactionary lobby within the Army corresponds to the fact that the new historical bloc has amputated relations with the forces of reaction. The dethroned forces exist and continue to agitate from within the ranks of the Army. Dozens of right-wing officers were forcefully retired during Musharraf’s period; hanged upon plotting his assassination thrice.

What should the Party of the Proletariat Do?

The Party of the proletariat has to decide its course of action given the situation. It cannot ask “what if” questions when the battle has already begun.

First, let me say at the outset that any moral headcount of the number of children and men being killed because of the war does no good to us. Casualty and injury are the byproducts of war; they are unfortunate but unavoidable. This is precisely why Marxist-Leninists have been the greatest advocates of peace; however, we understand that in order to make peace an objective reality the system of antagonistic classes that lies at the root of war must be eliminated. Any talk of peace without an objective appraisal of the situation and the balance of forces between the various classes amounts to pacifism. Furthermore, is it not juvenile to expect contending antagonistic class interests to “not get messy in war” when an opposing class has already taken up arms?
Second, as far as the operation and its logistical dynamics are concerned, it is obvious that the civilian government neither has the manpower nor the necessary skills to wage a battle itself. Military combat is an art and science; it is acquired through years of training. The only force capable of leading such an operation is the military itself. That the democratically elected government (both in the Federal capital and the Pakhtunkhwa province) supports the operation and has willingly given the military control of the operations (through a decision of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party) suggests that even if the hegemony of the operation lies with the military its armed action cannot be called “unpopular” by any stretch of the imagination. The election campaigns of both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party were replete with positions in support of an active struggle against the “Jehadi’s”. The Pakistan People’s Party contingent was targeted on numerous occasions by suicide bombers precisely because of its support for the Lal Masjid operation.

Given then that:

1- The war has already begun, and that it is pursuing a course of its own, independent of our subjective desires.
2- The Pakistan People’s Party (the party of the centre) and the Awami National Party (the party in the province) are openly and actively pursuing the war.
3- The Taliban have violated the terms of the peace negotiations and are plotting suicide bombs almost every week.

It is a matter of secondary importance (although not unimportant) then whether the hegemony of the operation lies with the elected government or with the army. Our support for the operation should be based on whether or not it seeks to annihilate the forces of reaction or not. Our Party supported the Lal Masjid operation at a time when even a partial transition to democracy had not been made. It supported the operation for its class aims; the routing of the forces of reaction by the forces of the status quo. A similar mode of analysis must be utilized to analyze this operation. Instead of falling into the abyss of pedantics we must support the operation since it takes on a head-on collision with the forces of reaction; forces which have most consistently been the enemies of progress, reason and science.

The proletariat cannot stand aloof in times of war; it does not impose pre-conditions on the bourgeois democrats for its historical struggle against pre-democratic forces. It supports every measure that challenges the forces of reaction and criticizes every move towards reconciliation. It is the most militant and consistent representative of progress; it can under no circumstances show any sympathy for forces of reaction either in the name of peace or under the guise of half-baked slogans. We must support any attempt, however imperfect, by the ruling status quo to annihilate the reactionaries. The criteria for support or opposition must be the class character of the contending forces and their goals in the broader historical context. The criteria for support must be: Does this in the broader view of history advance the cause of the proletariat by annihilating or making a dent in the ranks of all or at least one of its class enemies?

In my view, the present operation does indeed advance the cause of the proletariat by taking a head-on battle with the forces of reaction. Yes, it has many imperfections, like all political battles which are seldom in line with pedantic.

We must support the operation.

CMKP Condemns Bhutto’s Assassination

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2007 by Umer

Karachi, Dec 29: Heinous horrified assassination of PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto, a most popular leader and former prime minister, has once against testified the magnitude of the tyrant savage system controlled by military establishment. What she fell prey to the suicide bombing and so-called Islamic militancy were the culmination of the politics of Islamisation and Jihad that where put into motion by the military Zia regime and still being done by a section of establishment and supported by a group of fanatics. The objective has been just to brutalise the society and thwart the democratic aspirations of the people, to prolong the undemocratic rule. This has also showed the fault of the existing socio-economic and political system that needs its elimination through sincere and protected struggle. Moreover, nobody is safe under military-dominated rule.

In a press statement, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP) Pakistan Chairman Sufi Khalik Baloch condemned the brutal murder of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, while urging to expose and punish all those involved in such crime against humanity and decency. He added that at such a sad moment, he shared the shock and grief equally with the leaders and workers of PPP as well as her family. He paid tributes that she died bravely as she was conscious of the threat under the cover of religious extremism, although the fact is that she became the target for the dislikeness of domestic cliques that are counted in the politics of Pakistan. He hoped her blood could not go in vain but help strengthen democracy and socio-economic rights of the people.