This month, Harvard University Press publishes The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan by Aqil Shah (Princeton University). The publisher’s description follows.
Since Pakistan gained independence in 1947, only once has an elected government completed its tenure and peacefully transferred power to another elected government. In sharp contrast to neighboring India, the Muslim nation has been ruled by its military for over three decades. Even when they were not directly in control of the government, the armed forces maintained a firm grip on national politics. How the military became Pakistan’s foremost power elite and what its unchecked authority means for the future of this nuclear-armed nation are among the crucial questions Aqil Shah takes up in The Army and Democracy.
Pakistan’s and India’s armies inherited their organization, training, and doctrines from their British predecessor, along with an ethic that regarded politics as outside the military domain. But Pakistan’s weak national solidarity, exacerbated by a mentality that saw war with India looming around every corner, empowered the military to take national security and ultimately government into its own hands. As the military’s habit of disrupting the natural course of politics gained strength over time, it arrested the development of democratic institutions.
Based on archival materials, internal military documents, and over 100 interviews with politicians, civil servants, and Pakistani officers, including four service chiefs and three heads of the clandestine Inter-Services Intelligence, The Army and Democracy provides insight into the military’s contentious relationship with Pakistan’s civilian government. Shah identifies steps for reforming Pakistan’s armed forces and reducing its interference in politics, and sees lessons for fragile democracies striving to bring the military under civilian control.
Next month, the University of Chicago Press will publish Secularizing Islamists?: Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan by Humeira Iqtidar (Kings College London). The publisher’s description follows.
Secularizing Islamists? provides an in-depth analysis of two Islamist parties in Pakistan, the highly influential Jama‘at-e-Islami and the more militant Jama‘at-ud-Da‘wa, widely blamed for the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Basing her findings on thirteen months of ethnographic work with the two parties in Lahore, Humeira Iqtidar proposes that these Islamists are involuntarily facilitating secularization within Muslim societies, even as they vehemently oppose secularism.
This book offers a fine-grained account of the workings of both parties that challenges received ideas about the relationship between the ideology of secularism and the processes of secularization. Iqtidar particularly illuminates the impact of women on Pakistani Islamism, while arguing that these Islamist groups are inadvertently supporting secularization by forcing a critical engagement with the place of religion in public and private life. She highlights the role that competition among Islamists and the focus on the state as the center of their activity plays in assisting secularization. The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of emerging trends in Muslim politics.
In August, Harvard University Press will publish Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea by Faisal Devji (Univ. of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows.
Pakistan, founded less than a decade after a homeland for India’s Muslims was proposed, is both the embodiment of national ambitions fulfilled and, in the eyes of many observers, a failed state. Muslim Zion cuts to the core of the geopolitical paradoxes entangling Pakistan to argue that India’s rival has never been a nation-state in the conventional sense. Pakistan is instead a distinct type of political geography, ungrounded in the historic connections of lands and peoples, whose context is provided by the settler states of the New World but whose closest ideological parallel is the state of Israel.
A year before the 1948 establishment of Israel, Pakistan was founded on a philosophy that accords with Zionism in surprising ways. Faisal Devji understands Zion as a political form rather than a holy land, one that rejects hereditary linkages between ethnicity and soil in favor of membership based on nothing but an idea of belonging. Like Israel, Pakistan came into being through the migration of a minority population, inhabiting a vast subcontinent, who abandoned old lands in which they feared persecution to settle in a new homeland. Just as Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, Pakistan is the only country to be established in the name of Islam.
Revealing how Pakistan’s troubled present continues to be shaped by its past, Muslim Zion is a penetrating critique of what comes of founding a country on an unresolved desire both to join and reject the world of modern nation-states.
This month, Stanford University Press will publish a new edition of a famous series of essays by the twentieth-century Pakistani intellectual Mohammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. First published in the 1930s, the essays have had a major impact on contemporary Muslim thought. This version contains an introduction by Javed Majeed of King’s College, London. The publisher’s description follows:
The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930) is Muhammad Iqbal’s major philosophic work: a series of profound reflections on the perennial conflict among science, religion, and philosophy, culminating in new visions of the unity of human knowledge, of the human spirit, and of God. Iqbal’s thought contributed significantly to the establishment of Pakistan, to the religious and political ideals of the Iranian Revolution, and to the survival of Muslim identity in parts of the former USSR. It now serves as new bridge between East and West and between Islam and the other Religions of the Book. With a new Introduction by Javed Majeed, this edition of The Reconstruction opens the teachings of Iqbal to the modern, Western reader. It will be essential reading for all those interested in Islamic intellectual history, the renewal of Islam in the modern world, and political theory of Islam’s relationship to the West.
This July, the University of Texas Press will publish Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws: From Islamic Empires to the Taliban by Shemeem Burney Abbas (SUNY Purchase). The publisher’s description follows.
Under the guise of Islamic law, the prophet Muhammad’s Islam, and the Qur’an, states such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh are using blasphemy laws to suppress freedom of speech. Yet the Prophet never tried or executed anyone for blasphemy, nor does the Qur’an authorize the practice. Asserting that blasphemy laws are neither Islamic nor Qur‘anic, Shemeem Burney Abbas traces the evolution of these laws from the Islamic empires that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the present-day Taliban. Her pathfinding study on the shari’a and gender demonstrates that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are the inventions of a military state that manipulates discourse in the name of Islam to exclude minorities, women, free thinkers, and even children from the rights of citizenship.
Abbas herself was persecuted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, so she writes from both personal experience and years of scholarly study. Her analysis exposes the questionable motives behind Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which were resurrected during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime of 1977–1988—motives that encompassed gaining geopolitical control of the region, including Afghanistan, in order to weaken the Soviet Union. Abbas argues that these laws created a state-sponsored “infidel” ideology that now affects global security as militant groups such as the Taliban justify violence against all “infidels” who do not subscribe to their interpretation of Islam. She builds a strong case for the suspension of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and for a return to the Prophet’s peaceful vision of social justice.
This month, Routledge published Islamic Law and the Law of Armed Conflict: The Conflict in Pakistan by Niaz A. Shah (University of Hull, UK). The publisher’s description follows.
Islamic Law and the Law of Armed Conflict: The Conflict in Pakistan demonstrates how international law can be applied in Muslim states in a way that is compatible with Islamic law. Within this broader framework of compatible application, Niaz A. Shah argues that the Islamic law of qital (i.e. armed conflict) and the law of armed conflict are compatible with each other and that the former can complement the latter at national and regional levels. Shah identifies grey areas in the Islamic law of qital and argues for their expansion and clarification. Shah also calls for new rules to be developed to cover what he calls the blind spots in the Islamic law of qital. He shows how Islamic law and the law of armed conflict could contribute to each other in certain areas, such as, the law of occupation; air and naval warfare; and the use of modern weaponry. Such a contribution is neither prohibited by Islamic law nor by international law.
Shah applies the Islamic law of qital and the law of armed conflict to a live armed conflict in Pakistan and argues that all parties, the Taliban, the security forces of Pakistan and the American CIA, have violated one or more of the applicable laws. He maintains that whilst militancy is a genuine problem, fighting militants does not allow or condone violation of the law.
A court in Pakistan today acquitted Rimsha Masih, the teenage girl whose arrest on blasphemy charges this summer drew worldwide attention. A local mullah had accused Masih, who has Downs Syndrome, of burning pages from a Quran. The case against her fell apart, however, when associates accused the mullah of planting the incriminating evidence. Masih has been out on bail at an undisclosed location. The case has shed light on Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which, detractors claim, is often used as a pretext for settling scores with Christians and other religious minorities. The Wall Street Journal has the story here.
Rimsha Masih, the Pakistani Christian teenager who has been in prison for weeks on blasphemy charges, will be freed on bail to await trial, the Guardian reports. A local mullah had accused Masih, who has Down’s Syndrome, of burning pages from a Quran. This week, however, the mullah’s colleagues accused him of framing Masih by planting incriminating evidence on her as part of a plot to drive Christians from the neighborhood. A senior Muslim cleric subsequently spoke in Masih’s defense and personally guaranteed her safety if the court were to release her. The case has shed light on Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which, detractors claim, is often used as a pretext for settling scores with Christians and other religious minorities. Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistani director of Human Rights Watch, says that he hopes the Masih case will lead to re-examination of the law, but other experts have expressed doubt about the possibility of reform. The law enjoys great popular support in Pakistan.
Some interesting developments in the case of Rimsha Masih, the 13-year old mentally handicapped Pakistani girl currently under arrest for violating that country’s blasphemy law. Masih is in custody on charges that she burned pages from a Quran; as a result of threatened reprisals, 900 of her fellow Christians have fled their neighborhood outside the capital of Islamabad. Yesterday, Pakistani police arrested one of the Masih’s main accusers, a mullah named Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, on charges that he framed the girl by placing pages from a Quran in a trash bag she was carrying. Two of the mullah’s assistants have come forward to say that Chishti did this in order to drive Christians from the neighborhood, where Muslims wish to build a madrasa. Today, one of Pakistan’s senior Muslim clerics intervened in the controversy, condemning Chishiti and the plot to drive out Christians and personally guaranteeing the safety of Masih if she is released from prison. The Guardian (why is the American news media ignoring this story?) reports that the support for Masih “from the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, a grouping of Islamic clerics, is being seen as a remarkable turn of events in a country where individuals accused of insulting Islam are almost never helped by powerful public figures.” Last year, a regional governor and cabinet minister were assassinated after they publicly criticized the country’s blasphemy law.
The lawyer representing a Pakistani girl charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating a Quran announced today that a medical review board has determined the girl is a minor. According to the Guardian, this determination may defuse the case. The accusations against the girl, discussed here, have ignited her neighborhood and caused 900 Christians to flee for fear of reprisals. The Guardian explains:
The case has once again put the spotlight on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which critics say can be used to settle vendettas or seek retribution. Many of Pakistan’s minorities, including Christians, live in fear of being accused of blasphemy.
Once someone is labelled a blasphemer, even if they are never convicted, they can face vigilante justice. In July, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Qur’an from a police station, beating him to death and setting his body alight.
The potential public backlash also means few people have spoken out to change or repeal the law. Last year two prominent politicians who criticised the blasphemy law were murdered, one by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring mobs.