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

Show Hide image

Why Jeremy Corbyn is a new leader for the New Times

In an inspired election campaign, he confounded his detractors and showed that he was – more than any other leader – in tune with the times.

There have been two great political turning points in postwar Britain. The first was in 1945 with the election of the Attlee government. Driven by a popular wave of determination that peacetime Britain would look very different from the mass unemployment of the 1930s, and built on the foundations of the solidaristic spirit of the war, the Labour government ushered in full employment, the welfare state (including the NHS) and nationalisation of the basic industries, notably coal and the railways. It was a reforming government the like of which Britain had not previously experienced in the first half of the 20th century. The popular support enjoyed by the reforms was such that the ensuing social-democratic consensus was to last until the end of the 1970s, with Tory as well as Labour governments broadly operating within its framework.

During the 1970s, however, opposition to the social-democratic consensus grew steadily, led by the rise of the radical right, which culminated in 1979 in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government. In the process, the Thatcherites redefined the political debate, broadening it beyond the rather institutionalised and truncated forms that it had previously taken: they conducted a highly populist campaign that was for individualism and against collectivism; for the market and against the state; for liberty and against trade unionism; for law and order and against crime.

These ideas were dismissed by the left as just an extreme version of the same old Toryism, entirely failing to recognise their novelty and therefore the kind of threat they posed. The 1979 election, followed by Ronald Reagan’s US victory in 1980, began the neoliberal era, which remained hegemonic in Britain, and more widely in the West, for three decades. Tory and Labour governments alike operated within the terms and by the logic of neoliberalism. The only thing new about New Labour was its acquiescence in neoliberalism; even in this sense, it was not new but derivative of Thatcherism.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism. Unlike the social-democratic consensus, which was undermined by the ideological challenge posed by Thatcherism, neoliberalism was brought to its knees not by any ideological alternative – such was the hegemonic sway of neoliberalism – but by the biggest financial crisis since 1931. This was the consequence of the fragility of a financial sector left to its own devices as a result of sweeping deregulation, and the corrupt and extreme practices that this encouraged.

The origin of the crisis lay not in the Labour government – complicit though it was in the neoliberal indulgence of the financial sector – but in the deregulation of the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s. Neoliberalism limped on in the period after 2007-2008 but as real wages stagnated, recovery proved a mirage, and, with the behaviour of the bankers exposed, a deep disillusionment spread across society. During 2015-16, a populist wave of opposition to the establishment engulfed much of Europe and the United States.

Except at the extremes – Greece perhaps being the most notable example – the left was not a beneficiary: on the contrary it, too, was punished by the people in the same manner as the parties of the mainstream right were. The reason was straightforward enough. The left was tarnished with the same brush as the right: almost everywhere social-democratic parties, albeit to varying degrees, had pursued neoliberal policies. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became – and presented themselves as – leaders of neoliberalism and as enthusiastic advocates of a strategy of hyper-globalisation, which resulted in growing inequality. In this fundamental respect these parties were more or less ­indistinguishable from the right.

***

The first signs of open revolt against New Labour – the representatives and evangelists of neoliberal ideas in the Labour Party – came in the aftermath of the 2015 ­election and the entirely unpredicted and overwhelming victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Something was happening. Yet much of the left, along with the media, summarily dismissed it as a revival of far-left entryism; that these were for the most part no more than a bunch of Trots. There is a powerful, often overwhelming, tendency to see new phenomena in terms of the past. The new and unfamiliar is much more difficult to understand than the old and familiar: it requires serious intellectual effort and an open and inquiring mind. The left is not alone in this syndrome. The right condemned the 2017 Labour Party manifesto as a replica of Labour’s 1983 manifesto. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

That Corbyn had been a veteran of the far left for so long lent credence to the idea that he was merely a retread of a failed past: there was nothing new about him. In a brilliant election campaign, Corbyn not only gave the lie to this but also demonstrated that he, far more than any of the other party leaders, was in tune with the times, the candidate of modernity.

Crises, great turning points, new conjunctures, new forms of consciousness are by definition incubators of the new. That is one of the great sources of their fascination. We can now see the line of linkage between the thousands of young people who gave Corbyn his overwhelming victory in the leadership election in 2015 and the millions of young people who were enthused by his general election campaign in 2017. It is no accident that it was the young rather than the middle-aged or the seniors who were in the vanguard: the young are the bearers and products of the new, they are the lightning conductors of change. Their elders, by contrast, are steeped in old ways of thinking and doing, having lived through and internalised the values and norms of neoliberalism for more than 30 years.

Yet there is another, rather more important aspect to how we identify the new, namely the way we see politics and how politics is conceived. Electoral politics is a highly institutionalised and tribal activity. There have been, as I argued earlier, two great turning points in postwar politics: the social-democratic era ushered in by the 1945 Labour government and the neoliberal era launched by the Tory government in 1979.

The average Tory MP or activist, no doubt, would interpret history primarily in terms of Tory and Labour governments; Labour MPs and activists would do similarly. But this is a superficial reading of politics based on party labels which ignores the deeper forces that shape different eras, generate crises and result in new paradigms.

Alas, most political journalists and columnists are afflicted with the same inability to distinguish the wood (an understanding of the deeper historical forces at work) from the trees (the day-to-day manoeuvring of parties and politicians). In normal times, this may not be so important, because life continues for the most part as before, but at moments of great paradigmatic change it is absolutely critical.

If the political journalists, and indeed the PLP, had understood the deeper forces and profound changes now at work, they would never have failed en masse to rise above the banal and predictable in their assessment of Corbyn. Something deep, indeed, is happening. A historical era – namely, that of neoliberalism – is in its death throes. All the old assumptions can no longer be assumed. We are in new territory: we haven’t been here before. The smart suits long preferred by New Labour wannabes are no longer a symbol of success and ambition but of alienation from, and rejection of, those who have been left behind; who, from being ignored and dismissed, are in the process of moving to the centre of the political stage.

Corbyn, you may recall, was instantly rejected and ridiculed for his sartorial style, and yet we can now see that, with a little smartening, it conveys an authenticity and affinity with the times that made his style of dress more or less immune from criticism during the general election campaign. Yet fashion is only a way to illustrate a much deeper point.

The end of neoliberalism, once so hegemonic, so commanding, is turning Britain on its head. That is why – extraordinary when you think about it – all the attempts by the right to dismiss Corbyn as a far-left extremist failed miserably, even proved counterproductive, because that was not how people saw him, not how they heard him. He was speaking a language and voicing concerns that a broad cross-section of the public could understand and identify with.

***

The reason a large majority of the PLP was opposed to Corbyn, desperate to be rid of him, was because they were still living in the neoliberal era, still slaves to its ideology, still in thrall to its logic. They knew no other way of thinking or political being. They accused Corbyn of being out of time when in fact it was most of the PLP – not to mention the likes of Mandelson and Blair – who were still imprisoned in an earlier historical era. The end of neoliberalism marks the death of New Labour. In contrast, Corbyn is aligned with the world as it is rather than as it was. What a wonderful irony.

Corbyn’s success in the general election requires us to revisit some of the assumptions that have underpinned much political commentary over the past several years. The turmoil in Labour ranks and the ridiculing of Corbyn persuaded many, including on the left, that Labour stood on the edge of the abyss and that the Tories would continue to dominate for long into the future. With Corbyn having seized the political initiative, the Tories are now cast in a new light. With Labour in the process of burying its New Labour legacy and addressing a very new conjuncture, then the end of neoliberalism poses a much more serious challenge to the Tories than it does the Labour Party.

The Cameron/Osborne leadership was still very much of a neoliberal frame of mind, not least in their emphasis on austerity. It would appear that, in the light of the new popular mood, the government will now be forced to abandon austerity. Theresa May, on taking office, talked about a return to One Nation Toryism and the need to help the worst-off, but that has never moved beyond rhetoric: now she is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, the Tories are in fast retreat over Brexit. They held a referendum over the EU for narrowly party reasons which, from a national point of view, was entirely unnecessary. As a result of the Brexit vote, the Cameron leadership was forced to resign and the Brexiteers took de facto command. But now, after the election, the Tories are in headlong retreat from anything like a “hard Brexit”. In short, they have utterly lost control of the political agenda and are being driven by events. Above all, they are frightened of another election from which Corbyn is likely to emerge as leader with a political agenda that will owe nothing to neoliberalism.

Apart from Corbyn’s extraordinary emergence as a leader who understands – and is entirely comfortable with – the imperatives of the new conjuncture and the need for a new political paradigm, the key to Labour’s transformed position in the eyes of the public was its 2017 manifesto, arguably its best and most important since 1945. You may recall that for three decades the dominant themes were marketisation, privatisation, trickle-down economics, the wastefulness and inefficiencies of the state, the incontrovertible case for hyper-globalisation, and bankers and financiers as the New Gods.

Labour’s manifesto offered a very different vision: a fairer society, bearing down on inequality, a more redistributive tax system, the centrality of the social, proper funding of public services, nationalisation of the railways and water industry, and people as the priority rather than business and the City. The title captured the spirit – For the Many Not the Few. Or, to put in another way, After Neoliberalism. The vision is not yet the answer to the latter question, but it represents the beginnings of an answer.

Ever since the late 1970s, Labour has been on the defensive, struggling to deal with a world where the right has been hegemonic. We can now begin to glimpse a different possibility, one in which the left can begin to take ownership – at least in some degree – of a new, post-neoliberal political settlement. But we should not underestimate the enormous problems that lie in wait. The relative economic prospects for the country are far worse than they have been at any time since 1945. As we saw in the Brexit vote, the forces of conservatism, nativism, racism and imperial nostalgia remain hugely powerful. Not only has the country rejected continued membership of the European Union, but, along with the rest of the West, it is far from reconciled with the new world that is in the process of being created before our very eyes, in which the developing world will be paramount and in which China will be the global leader.

Nonetheless, to be able to entertain a sense of optimism about our own country is a novel experience after 30 years of being out in the cold. No wonder so many are feeling energised again.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

0800 7318496