Fabricating history

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) holds interesting forums periodically where renowned scholars are invited to address the members. Since ethics is a wide-ranging subject the thought-provoking speeches on a variety of subjects delivered there provide the audience some issues to chew upon.

In July, Dr Arifa Syeda Zahra, who teaches history in a Lahore college, was a guest of the CBEC and the point she drove home very forcefully and convincingly was that those who destroy history do it with the purpose of erasing the collective memory of a people. The idea behind this act of vandalism is to pre-empt change, which Dr Arifa Zahra describes as the most difficult process in individuals and societies.

Her hypothesis very appropriately articulated in chaste Urdu laced with pun and humour was that history is the tool that allows us to distinguish between good and evil in the past lives of a nation. This process of analysing past successes and failures is essential to facilitating changes in the present.

This is not happening in our case because those controlling the destiny of Pakistan will not allow it to happen. They are so focused on religion that they distort past records and entangle people in frivolous debates on rituals to divert their attention from substantive issues.

Thus a big lie exposed by Dr Arifa Zahra concerns the so-called ideology of Pakistan that has been used by many an unscrupulous leadership to enable it to exercise control via religion. The conventional belief that has been relentlessly promoted is that the slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La illaha il-Allah’ (What does Pakistan mean? There is only one God) was the battle cry of the Pakistan movement. Dr Arifa Zahra’s contention is that research into history has conclusively proved that this slogan was an invention of the Ayub era in 1968 and has ever since been presented as a fact of Pakistan’s history.

When all laws are supposedly based on religion, such leaders come to enjoy unlimited powers by virtue of their becoming judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one by arrogating to themselves the power of interpretation and implementation.

They create a kind of comfort zone for themselves into which they trap the simple people. Nobody wants to step out of it to face an uncertain future. Who has not seen the blatant misuse of religion for committing the most heinous acts? They go unchallenged.

This falsification of history has provided the right-wing orthodox champions of Islam sufficient ground to build their ideological castles that are actually like castles on the sand.

Accordingly, the belief was fabricated that Pakistan was created to enable Muslims of South Asia to build a separate state for themselves in which they could create a theological structure with an Islamic system in vogue.

Dr Mubarak Ali, another historian who mourns the wrongs done to history, holds a similar point of view as Dr Arifa Zahra. He writes: “Our state uses the subject (history) for its own political and ideological interests. It is claimed that Pakistan came into being as a result of an ideological struggle. Therefore, the official purpose of history in Pakistan is to legitimise the state’s ideology and write history within a framework that suits the ruling classes.”

That would explain why we are not able to find solutions to our numerous problems. It makes us resist new technology — vide the moon-sighting debate that has become an annual feature of our lives and the Council of Islamic Ideology’s refusal to accept DNA testing as primary evidence in rape cases.

We refuse to show tolerance and compassion to ‘others’ because our view of religion has to be conformist. It is not inclusive and pluralistic. We do not inculcate the spirit of inquiry in our children who are discouraged from thinking lest that causes them to ask the wrong kind of questions that could ‘weaken’ their faith.

Another role of history, as identified by Dr Arifa Zahra, is in preserving our socio-cultural values and norms. People’s collective memories help them to distinguish between good and evil in society. The process of sifting wheat from chaff determines our preferences and forms the basis of our moral heritage. If collective memories are erased or distorted people are deprived of a tool to measure the good and bad experiences of their past.

In such circumstances, ethics faces a tough challenge. In numerous discussions at the CBEC, sensitive issues, especially those pertaining to medicine, have come under debate such as life and death, organ sale and transplantation and palliative medicine. With technology making rapid strides and communication injecting new ideas into society instantaneously, new ethical codes need to be devised.

One still remembers the struggle the Transplantation Society of Pakistan had to wage against some unscrupulous urologists promoting the organ trade in the country. They took their case to the Federal Shariat Court taking the plea that the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance violated the tenets of Islam. It was the enlightened judge, Justice Haziqul Khairi, who ruled against the organ traders.

History can provide guidelines, but only if it is honestly researched and written with integrity. It is difficult to devise any ethical code without reference to the past especially the culture, moral values and beliefs prevalent in a society during different eras.

Source: Dawn

8 thoughts on “Fabricating history”

  1. Indeed history provide guidelines and help to define certain rules . But start that thing from the era of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), His teaching, What about the era of Hazrat Umer (AS)? Where you could find the equality and justice. Basically We Listen Half, Understand Quarter, Think Zero and React DOUBLE!. Islam itself teach about ethics, justice, equality.

  2. Critical thinking is almost absent among Muslims, the world over. It is a pity and steps have to be taken to encourage critical thinking for the advancement of the Ummah, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere where Muslims have settled down..

  3. T.E. Lawrence, who was dubbed as “Lawrence of Arabia” and wrote his epic “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, when accosted by an American journalist, who accused Lawrence of writing some inaccurate facts in his book, replied : “History is simply a compilation of ACCEPTABLE LIES !”

  4. You have eulogised the speaker at the Confce at SIUT and said that her thesis says that it was during 1968 when Ayub Khan was the President the issue of Islam and Islamic ideology came to light. Perhaps your speaker had no knowledge that it was during PM Liaquat Ali Khan that in 1949 the Objectives Resolution which states the basis of the Pakistani polity and it clearly made Islam the bed rock. FYI this Objectives Resoultion is now part of the constitution of Pakistan from the era of Bhutto, ZialulHaq et al. Ayub Khan tried to call Pakistan just Republic of Pakistan but with widespread resistance he agreed for Islamic Republic of Pakistan. FYi this name was given when Pakistan became a Republic on 23rd March 1956 and had its first Constitution promulgated.

  5. Well Zubeida has raised a very pertinent issue. Let’s look it in two ways. One who you are and second who you want to be. I think that I have mentioned somewhere before that it’s a matter of roots. How we evolved and where we came from and what happened to us over the ages and how we evolved to where we are today. That’s what history is. Ideology isn’t history. Religion isn’t history. Religion is part of the evolutionary process. By trying to denying our past existence it’s like saying we belong to an orphanage. So do we call the people of Pakistan a product of an orphanage created by the narrow minded confines of somebody’s mind that configured itself to mould the destiny of some people because of the religion they followed? Before the advent of the religion they didn’t exist.

  6. Part II -. No ! Not so. What I fail to understand is that why are we denying ourselves that once upon a time in history we were one people. Ok over a period of time as we evolved, we adopted Islam as our religion. It wasn’t a conflict of culture but it became a conflict of religions. Even Sikhs broke away from Hinduism. So did the Buddhists and so did the Jains. But in the larger context we all remained within the same cultural fold. We didn’t change our history and nor did we try to tamper with our roots. We are happy about it today. Aberrations will always be there but they are read as aberrations only. So is the Khokar or Junjua from Pakistan related to the Saudi Clans of Camel drivers or to the robust cultural and ethnic clans of the Indian sub-continent.

  7. Part III – Well if the word Indian disturbs you I would say the Indo-Pak-Bangla Subcontinent. Lets grow out of it. We don’t deny the reality of Pakistan. It’s there to be and it will be. We as Indians should be proud of it and so should the people of Pakistan be proud of our common roots. Maybe this realization will bring about more of a conciliatory attitude towards each other and bring about peace between the two nations.

  8. Ayub Khan has many 'laurels'.It was his Information minister,a retd general who coined the word 'ideology' of pakistan.we are still grappling with it's meaning and are tearing each other apart in the name of islam.

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