Learning from experience
By Khurram Ali Shafique
Friday, 24 Dec, 2010
THE year 1987 was memorable because even those segments of the population that had not been much interested in politics during the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) earlier in the decade were now feeling restless. This view was confirmed by the historic turnout during the elections that followed a year later.
The 1988 elections were the second occasion in the history of Pakistan where the results, however rigged they may have been, were at least accepted by all major contestants (the first such occasion were the elections of 1970). In the light of the ideals Muslims of this region indigenously developed since 1887, and the goals achieved through them, there are reasons to believe that the new goal that had appeared before the nation in 1988 was ‘emancipation’ rather than anything else. This goal had to be achieved through the “inner synthesis” of diverse political experiments carried out in the previous twenty years. The ideal to be pursued whilst in quest of the goal was “learn through experience.”
Emancipation was the new goal. This may be concluded from the fact that according to the generally accepted views, conventional democracy (i.e. western democracy) pre-supposes a high literacy rate, which did not exist in Pakistan at that time (nor does it now). If so, then the masses had less reason to care for such democracy and more to care for the other, indigenous, variety that had already been idealised by them: it had been taught to them by the most influential Muslim teachers, preachers, poets and artists for more than a thousand years.
It was a spiritual democracy, envisioned by the more genuine schools of Sufism in the past, and more recently turned into a political idea by Muslim thinkers like Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Shah Waliullah, Waris Shah, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Ali Brothers and Allama Iqbal. In The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34), Iqbal stated that for a Muslim, this idea was “a matter of conviction for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life.” Hence, the indigenous concept of democracy does not pre-require literacy or formal education; instead it pre-requires a certain shared consciousness of purpose and a sense of destiny. Does it then not appear natural that the true aspiration of the masses can only be achieved through this indigenous variety of democracy? It does not degrade the people because of a poor literacy rate. It has been ingrained in their consciousness by the best-loved poets and teachers over a period of thousand years.
Just as conventional democracy pre-requires literacy and education, the indigenous variety calls for spiritual emancipation (in the mentioned passage, Iqbal goes on to say, “in view of the basic idea of Islam that there can be no further revelation binding on man, we ought to be spiritually one of the most emancipated peoples on earth”) does not require it. Spiritual emancipation, in this sense, means emancipation in all spheres of life rather than just political. Artistic and literary, social and political, religious and legal, education and psychological emancipation collectively amounts to spiritual emancipation.
In retrospect, we may recognise that we started pursuing this goal in 1987. Unlike some of the earlier goals, such as Muslim nationhood, separate electorates and Muslim homeland, the goal was not clearly stated on this occasion. Beginning with the election of a woman prime minister ahead of any other Muslim nation, the journey towards emancipation was carried forth, perhaps, unknowingly for the most part.
The quarrels between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the work of the human rights activists and the feminists, the so-called enlightened moderation at the turn of the millennium, the emergence of an all-powerful media with its good and bad influences, and the uneasy alliances with western powers may all have contributed towards achieving this goal. The strongest factor, however, was undoubtedly the “inner synthesis” of the diverse political ideologies that had been tried out since 1967.
In the absence of a well-stated ideal, the only ideal to be pursued was to learn from experience. This was also important because the emancipation that we were trying to achieve was unprecedented. It was a long-cherished goal that had never become a reality for our society during centuries of rule by tyrants and despots. Therefore, the best way forward was to learn from experience.
A benchmark came in 2006, when judicial activism of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, prevailed upon the combined whim of a native military ruler and the sole superpower on earth, and made them answerable in a court of law for “the missing persons”, most of whom were not only common but also disfavoured citizens.
As if to symbolise the ethos of the past twenty years, six women cadets and a Sikh male cadet were seen among the contingent that took over guard duties at the mausoleum of the Quaid-i-Azam on December 25, 2006. The 130th birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan was indeed a good day to mark the end of a stage in the history of this nation, and to start preparations for the next stage. “Emancipation”, which was the goal achieved in the past twenty years, was soon going to become a tool for achieving the next goal, and a new ideal would then be pursued.
The writer is the author of Iqbal: an Illustrated Biography (2006) and other works on the history and culture of Pakistan. KhurramsOffice@yahoo.com