Friday, August 15, 2008

Witnesses of History

The Witnesses of History and the Textbook-Suffocated Generation

Maryam Sakeenah

Having witnessed History unravelling before your eyes is a rare privilege. The few greying ones among us who Saw It All, lived the decisive moments are distinguished by the ‘undying flame’ in the ‘fine old eyes’, the glint and the sparkle as they relive it, sharing it with a less fortunate younger lot who have their history spelled out in books for them, having to be rote-learned, reproduced, graded, approved. The witnesses of history, it is quite remarkable, have an altogether different story to tell from what our bespectacled intellectuals and scholars would have us believe, with all the SAARC rounds, Agra and Delhi visits, intercultural exchanges and border vigils to their credit. This much was clear to me as I heard Professor Muzaffar Mirza speak on the Two Nation Theory a few days ago, presenting a refreshing, rare, unadulterated vision on the subject. The Professor discarded as nonsense all enlightenedly moderate attempts to nullify or denigrate the ideology of Pakistan, which, according to him, is indistinguishable from the ideology of the Quran. The Quranic ideology, he said, presented the revolutionary concept of the brotherhood of faith superceding the ties of blood and kinship. To him, the struggle for Pakistan was a sacred mission, a rare instance of a State coming into existence with Islam for its ideological premise, as stated by the Quaid e Azam: "Pakistan does not only mean freedom and independence for the Muslims of India, but also the glorious Islamic ideology which has come to us as a precious gift and a treasure." And again, "I cannot understand a section of the people who deliberately want to create mischief and make propaganda that the constitution of Pakistan would not be made on the basis of Shariah... Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1300 years ago. Non-Muslims have nothing to fear... Islam has taught us democracy. Let us make it the future constitution of Pakistan. We shall make it and we will show it to the world."
The Professor traced these ideological roots from the days of the earliest reformers of Muslim India who did the spadework: Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed, Shah Waliullah and Haji Shariatullah, to name a few. To the younger lot, Prof. Mirza advised keeping alive the memories of the sacrifices involved- the millions slaughtered, raped and looted_ and to understand that the home we strove for was ‘not presented on a golden platter.’
Forging the connection with Pakistan Today turns rather poignant. It brings to the fore a stark contrast as a skewed doctrine of Enlightened Moderation, ‘axing the very basis of Pakistan’, as Prof. Mirza said, becoming a justification for a relentless ‘Operation Rah e Haq’ on the ‘militants’ who had won for us Azad Kashmir paying with their lives, and whose freedom had been guaranteed to them by the Quaid e Azam himself. Despite lamenting with a deep sense of hurt the loss of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the Professor refused to give up hope, quoting what the Quaid e Azam had said: “Pakistan is the will of God and must be fulfilled. It shall come into existence and will stay forever.” He advised us to forge a deeper and more vital bond with the Quran and to help take the country to the fruition of its sacred goal: to take a leadership role for the Muslim ummah in the years to come.
The Professor sets high standards for his country’s youth_ but perhaps not quite without justice, extracting his relentless Idealism from his witnessing of a glorious history, with the ‘khudi’ undimmed, refusing to fail him. It is perhaps this self-pride, this realization of the rich, glorious heritage of Pakistan that springs forth from the Quranic mission that explains and justifies the unfaded hope, vibrant optimism and visionary idealism of the witnesses of history. As Iqbal said through a dialogue by Satan in “Satan to His Allies”, “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.”
Again, it turns poignant to find this spirit amiss in the textbook-fed younger generation. As both a student and a teacher, this concerns me deeply. History is a treasury of our rich legacy to extract the jewel of a vital selfhood from. The teaching of history is the means to pass on the invaluable heritage, the legacy of millions. Sadly, however, I see failure on this front, which is paradoxically the triumph of the ‘Macaulayesque’ system, geared towards the mass production of an English-speaking, English-thinking elite ‘brown in skin, white in the mind,’ to perpetuate the sway and the agenda of the Occident. I see us carrying out the agenda like Macaulay’s envisaged efficient clerks.
For one, the entire thrust of the education system is to create efficient clerkish employees enabled with their degrees to swiftly rise up the social ladder and generate capital to make life comfortable. That is the highest goal the education system cannot see beyond, sans vision. Owing to this mislaid priority, the emphasis is on subjects that can get one a job with a good round salary. History and the Humanities altogether are at best a compulsive grind, unimportant non-utilities in the capitalistic rat-race.
On a cursory survey of currently available texts, there seem to be two parallel systems: the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Ordinary Level for the English speaking upper middle and elite classes and the Matriculation system for The Rest. The texts for the latter are generally unattractively written and fail to create interest by way of the diction and the presentation of the content. The content is utterly unsuited to the child’s mind, being subjective, verbose and unpalatably and too obviously didactic. There is an absence of objectivity of fact and analysis, reflecting a lack of insight into a young mind. The heavy subjective discourse makes it too much learning and almost no opinion-making, conceptualization, analysis and debate leading to conclusions.
On the other hand, the O level and pre-O level textbooks come colourfully and attractively laid out with the ‘authenticity’ of Christian/Western names whose absolute convincing power to a mentally colonized people has an effective lure. The reason for the conspicuous absence of Muslim-Pakistani work on devising History texts is not just that we have a preference for the authoritative seal of a Western name, but also the fact that our researchers and writers have neglected this extremely important area, mired up in confusions, doubts and prejudices clouding over the question of our very identity. There are, again, gaping differences in the content/subject-matter in the Matric and O level sets of prescribed books. Only one such difference is that no O level text approved by the Cambridge International Examinations available in the market even mentions the subject of the ideology of Pakistan. Dissolved into controversies regarding if an ideology of Pakistan worth the name even exists, the writers seem to have done away with the theme altogether. Its implications, however, are shocking indeed. Taking away the ideological basis of Pakistan trivializes the Pakistan Movement, swallowing it up in a tangle of doubt and confusion. It robs the country of the raison de etre of its existence, takes away its fundamental premise we are to build on, the direction we must steer forth towards. It minimizes the history of the Pakistan Movement as merely a separatist struggle which ended up in the butchered millions in the bloody year 1947. It blurs the distinctness of our identity the Two Nation Theory was based on, which ought to do us proud. It is here that a stunting apologia, identitylessness and a confusion of values takes root; it is this that is the crowning glory of the Macaulayesque system eating into our roots; and it is this that lends strength to ‘Enlightened Moderation’ as the student is led to conclude that to make amends for the maniacal separatism of Partition rooted in religion, we must turn towards Secularism to redeem ourselves.
This same myopic thesis is rubbed in through other ways. Jinnah is characterized as a Westernized secularist character. O level texts demonstrate a complete absence of verbatim quotes and references from the Quaid himself to support the secular view ascribed to him, probably because the overwhelming mass of his statements supports the Islamic ideological base that nullifies the secular proposition in one blow. There is a stray excerpt, however, that is repetitively quoted, referenced, inscribed, embossed and rubbed in in almost all O level texts, taken from the Quaid’s 11th August speech in which he said “you are free to go to your mosques, you are free to go to your temples and you are free to go to your Churches, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” This is done in an effort to justify and create grounds for holding the belief that Pakistan was meant to be a secular state. The fact that a state guaranteeing freedom of worship and belief for all minorities is nothing but Islamic_ as made amply clear by the pluralism of the first Islamic State at Madinah_ does not matter; nor does it matter that there exist several more statements by Jinnah by the dozen which make his vision of an Islamic state with a democratic culture and with the welfare of its people as its priority sufficiently clear. This is what he meant when he spoke his historic, ideology-setting lines: “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, Prophet Mohammad (SAW) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles. Our Holy Book has taught us that our decisions and affairs of the State shall be guided by discussions and consultations.” The emphasis on the single statement from the 11th August speech is disproportionately emphatic, laying bare the ulterior purpose in doing so.
In the majority of the pre-O level textbooks of History being taught in English medium schools, pre-Pakistan Movement heroes of our history are not only dwarfed and trivialized but implicitly maligned, their portrayals tarnished with Orientalist prejudices. Defined by Nine Eleven standards, men of integrity and valour like Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghauri are presented as not-so-grand-after-all, but rather as intolerant and violent plunderers and extremist fanatics. Short of a clear statement, the tact used by the writers is to drown them in a cauldron of debate and controversy stopping short of a clear conclusion, leaving the student with more queries than answers.
The abysmal state of the teaching of history at the secondary school level is not likely to better itself as our intellectuals and scholars sink deeper into opposing polarities of perspectives rooted in prejudice and the effects of intellectual colonialism. The presentation of Muhammad bin Qasim as a Muslim hero and pioneer, and his advent into the subcontinent as the dawn of our national history is called into question, and the origins of our history traced back to pre-Islamic names like Asoka and Maurya. We are at pains to distort history to forge closer ties somehow with South Asian culture and heritage, calling it our own to a degree more meaningful than our ties to the first Muslim community at Madina. The effort here is to create cultural cohesion with Hindu India at the cost of severing ties with ‘foreign’ Islamic Arabia. This strikes at the heart of the Two Nation theory that severed the territorial link with Hindu India for the sacred, deep ideological affinity with Islam; that springs from the desire to hold on to the tree of the Muslim millat in order to seek strength to rise again with self-pride, resist the colonizer’s sway and develop a vision for the future. It was the Muslim Way that made the decisive difference, overcoming all ties of earth and blood. And it is this that made us rise again to our feet, galvanizing us from a frustrated mass of people into a nation with a future. It is this that enabled us to win the freedom to live by our own way through a historic epoch, an earth-shaking revolution with the battlecry of ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, la ilaha il Allah.’ And it is in the realization of and reversion to the same that will rid us of the pettiness of vain prejudice against ourselves, making us discover and appreciate what is truly us, sans the self-imposed trappings of vanity and falsity.
Sadly, today the Verdict on us is ‘Guilty.’ Today we are bent double under the burden of the guilt for having failed to safely deliver to the future the treasury of our history; and for having cluttered it up with so much of prejudice and confusion that the treasure lies lost somewhere, while the lies cloud over it with all their deceptive sheen. We are the sinners against History, and I wonder if we even deserve a future?
I look at the news strip on TV, the saddening headlines. I am not surprised. This is the Revenge of History.