Jinnah — he had a dream

The vision of Pakistan’s founding father was a land of many faiths and cultures united in a common p

"Jinnah Street in Chicago?!" I had every reason to be incredulous. Chicago was, after all, that most American of cities. But my Pakistani friends were right. Not only was there a Jinnah Street in the Devon area of the city, but the number of men and women wearing the traditional shalwar-kameez, the shops selling saris and sweetmeats, and the kebab houses made me feel as if I were in Karachi or Lahore. Pakistanis have even transformed the local pronunciation of Devon into the more Pakistani-sounding "Diwan".

I was travelling the length and breadth of the United States to conduct fieldwork on the Muslims of America, and was therefore delighted not only to visit Jinnah Street, but to be welcomed there by Alderman Berny Stone, the Jewish politician who had initiated its naming. A gentle, frail and elderly man, Stone told me that he had more support among Muslim voters than among Jews.

I found similar enthusiasm for Jinnah - whom Pakistanis call the Quaid-e-Azam, or "Great Leader" - in other western cities such as London and Birmingham. In London, Jinnah's portrait has a place of honour at Lincoln's Inn, and the anniversaries of his birth and death are still commemorated in the Pakistani community. Jinnah's life spans different centuries, cultures and continents. He was born in Karachi in 1876, studied at Lincoln's Inn, practised law in Bombay, led the movement which resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and died in Karachi in 1948. Jinnah was renowned for his prickliness and impeccable suits. It was widely rumoured that they were stitched in Savile Row. In appearance, morals and wit, he was the quintessential Victorian gentleman.

Pakistanis remember Jinnah with a mixture of nostalgia, awe and admiration. He represents an ideal to them. They see him as a figure of fierce integrity and intellect and as a champion of Muslim causes. Most importantly, he gives Pakistanis hope - he was a leader who succeeded against all the odds and gave them their homeland.

In Pakistan itself, so revered is he that people have taken to adding "Rahmatullah Alay" ("may the mercy of God be upon him") after his name, a blessing normally reserved for respected spiritual leaders. Jinnah's mausoleum in Karachi remains a top tourist attraction and an essential destination for foreign dignitaries. The atmosphere there is worshipful, with dozens of men and women reading the Quran incessantly and invoking the mercy of God on his soul.

Jinnah envisaged a country that would foster human rights, women's rights, minority rights and the rule of law. During the short period he was governor general of Pakistan he established the importance of showing extra consideration to minorities.

Once, on his way to a state function, he ordered his entourage to stop because he saw a Muslim mob threatening a small group of Hindus with violence. These Muslims were refugees who had lost everything in India and were venting their anger. Jinnah, against the pleading of his staff, threw himself into the mob and demanded that it desist. He declared: "I am going to constitute myself the Protector General of the Hindu minority in Pakistan."

All this would suggest that his legacy has been safely preserved in Pakistan and that the Jinnah model has survived. Alas, this is not so.

Jinnah died one year after creating Pakistan and the strong forces of feudal and tribal society soon reasserted themselves, overriding modern notions of justice, democracy and the rule of law. Almost inevitably, civilian government faltered and just a decade after Jinnah's death the military stepped in to assume power. The history of Pakistan since then has oscillated between shaky democratic governments and rapacious military rule.

Those who vie for power in Pakistan today can be placed in one of three categories: religious leaders who claim to speak on behalf of Islam and promote the violence of the Taliban; military rulers such as General Pervez Musharraf who violate the constitution; and democrats such as the current president of Pakistan, Asif Zardari, who have a reputation for corruption.

Ambitious generals and corrupt politicians mislead Washington and London when, during foreign visits, they sell the idea to receptive audiences that nothing prevents nuclear Pakistan from falling into the hands of the dreadful Taliban other than their services. Billions of dollars have been given to the rulers of Pakistan, and more promised. In that sense, the west's ignorant enthusiasm in support of military dictators or tainted politicians makes it complicit in the state in which Pakistan finds itself.

Jinnah himself would not have been happy with any of these categories. His vision of Pakistan can be reconstructed from the speeches he gave towards the end of his life. He had a clear idea of the kind of country he wished to create.

This would be a modern democracy, not a theocracy, and non-Muslims would be safe in it. He would have been heartbroken at the persecution and killing of minorities in Pakistan; we have had too many examples of attacks on Christians and the horrendous slaughter of Ahmadis in Lahore as recently as May.

An end to angularities

Pakistanis need to heed Jinnah's first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, which elected him as the country's first president, delivered on 11 August 1947. It is a seminal speech in the history of Pakistan. (The state itself came into being a few days later, on 14 August, which is now celebrated as Independence Day.) Because the words reflect a vision of Islam which does not suit either the likes of the Taliban or those in uniform or civilian clothes who do not wish to promote a tolerant, democratic and humanist nation, they have been frequently expunged from the history books.

For me, this is the heart of the speech, and because of its importance and relevance today, I quote from it at length:

If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community - because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vaishnavas, Khatris [Kshatriyas], also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on - will vanish. Indeed, if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain . . . freedom and independence, and but for this we would have been free people long, long ago.

Building from this powerful passage comes the vision of a brave new world, consciously an improvement in its spirit of tolerance on the old world Jinnah has just rejected:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State . . . We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.

Jinnah's words regarding the poor and the less privileged are particularly poignant as they are largely being ignored by Pakistan's rulers, in or out of uniform:

Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed.

Jinnah had regularly reminded his Muslim audiences of the ideal in Islam: "Our own history and our Prophet have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously."

Jinnah was confident of the future if Pakis­tanis could follow these ideals. His attitude towards India is also instructive. When things go wrong in Pakistan, Pakistanis tend to blame Indian intelligence and Indians respond in the same vein when there are problems in India, blaming the Pakistan secret services. There is an ugly and destructive aspect to the relationship between the two.

Yet Jinnah envisioned an India and a Pakistan living as good neighbours, supplementing and supporting each other. He even proposed a joint defence system that would seem outrageous to most Pakistanis and Indians today. On the death of Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January 1948, he issued a statement in which he described the slain leader as "great" three times.

The Jinnah model was both vital and relevant for Pakistan. Unfortunately, in the country's tribal and clan-dominated societies, it did not make a deep impression. The repeated acts of violence by the Taliban and others on those whom they see as the enemies of Islam, and the violation of the constitution by the rulers of Pakistan, have convinced many that the Jinnah model is irrelevant. In time, the people of Pakistan, with good humour and irony, began to comment on the widespread corruption by saying that only Jinnah could solve the country's problems, by which they meant the official currency notes that carry his portrait.

Besides, Jinnah's critics are many and widespread. To Indians and many in Britain, he is the ultimate villain in the drama of the partition of India into two countries. He is depicted as a megalomaniac who caused the deaths and displacement of millions of people.

For groups such as the Taliban, his model is the most dangerous of all for Muslim society, because it is capable of winning the support and affection of the masses.

Nationalism within the law

Today, some prominent commentators hostile to Pakistan suggest that Jinnah was a failure precisely because he created Pakistan, a "terrorist state". Fareed Zakaria, for example, who hosts a foreign affairs show on CNN, wrote in a recent issue of Newsweek that "from its founding, the Pakistani government has supported and encouraged jihadi groups, creating an atmosphere that has allowed them to flourish". To suggest that the very proper, British-trained constitutional lawyer was even faintly associated with any kind of violence is a travesty of history. Perhaps Zakaria, as an Indian, combines a need to display his anti-Pakistan credentials to Indians while scoring cheap points in the American media by indulging in the popular pastime of "Paki-bashing".

Jinnah's historical significance for Muslims today is that he founded what was then the largest Muslim state in the world within the law, never advocating the hijacking of planes, hostage-taking or terrorism of any kind. Whatever his personal foibles and failings, there is no denying that he left behind a potentially successful model of a modern nation state.

Pakistan remains vital to the west. General David Petraeus, commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, has stated bluntly that the war on terror cannot be won without Pakistan. Besides, this country of 170 million people is a nuclear state. Its location makes it a vital player for any power interested in the geopolitics of the region. This is where the interests of several world powers intersect. Perhaps most importantly, Pakistan has the potential to nurture the Jinnah model. Because the country is seen as a leader among the Muslim nations, it can, if the model succeeds here, open the way for other Muslim interests to strive towards democracy. That is why the west needs to enter into alliance with Pakistani leaders to keep Jinnah's dream alive.

Professor Akbar Ahmed is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and the author of “Journey Into America: the Challenge of Islam" (Brookings Institution Press, £19.99)

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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