|" The fracture lines of race,
ethnicity and religion have to soften before we can hope to make progress
but for the moment the tide seems going the other way. We cannot encourage
hatred of Indians and Hindus or of Ahmedis on the one hand and expect
harmony to prevail between Sindhis and Muhajirs or Shias and Sunnis on the
other. And we have to contend with interest groups intent on creating new
fracture lines ....... " --Author
Consciousness and the
by Altaf Anjum
courtesy: Daily News, Monday, 22 December, 2003
--an article that deals with the problem of collective identity and
co-existence. Although written in the context of search for national
consensus in the body politic of Pakistan, yet it so correctly applies to
the Muslim Umma at large, which tends to be fragmented in small pieces of
meaningless and ineffective groups rather than being integral part of a
larger spectrum, with her myriad colors that serve to only accentuate and
enrich its beauty rather than tarnish its radiance. Nasir Shamsi (Al-huda
If national consciousness is to be the source of the constitution,
it has to be a consciousness based on the acceptance of the ‘Other.’
Right now we are moving in the opposite direction. Appeals to reach a
national consensus are of limited value
One way to move this debate forward would be to extract a number of
central propositions presented by Dr Akmal Hussain (Grundnorm and
consciousness, Daily Times, November 13, 2003) and focus on their
The following propositions are stressed by Dr Hussain: first, that
national consciousness is the source of the constitution; second, that
national consciousness is the experiential dimension of historical bonding
amongst a group of people in terms of which they apprehend their identity
and pursue shared goals for the future; third, that historical bonding and
hence national consciousness emerges out of the dynamics of the social,
economic and political life of a nation and its forms of apprehension; and
fourth, that the social, political, economic and aesthetic life of a
nation and the values it holds dear gives to the constitution its
Consciousness in this perspective is about a sense of identity — how a
group of people see themselves and what they stand for. If we are to look
at national consciousness as the source of the constitution we must
consider two related propositions: first, that a group exists only in the
context of other groups so that the way one set of people see themselves
and what they stand for is often influenced by how they see the
‘Other;’ and, second, that consciousness is not entirely a passive and
emergent phenomenon but can often be actively manipulated and distorted.
An example of such ‘false’ consciousness could be Hitler’s
manipulation of German consciousness to exaggerate the feeling of Aryan
supremacy. Such manipulation is often aided by a parallel manipulation of
the image and intentions of the ‘Other.’
Now let us examine some implications of these propositions as they relate
to the constitution and its legitimacy and stability. The most critical
issue to be addressed pertains to the unit to which the term consciousness
is to be applied. Is it a group of people who share a historical bonding?
Is it a nation that shares certain defining characteristics like language
or religion? Or is it a country that is in need of a constitution?
An answer is essential to our specific discussion. Consciousness can exist
at the level of a group as exemplified by the Black Power salute at the
Mexico Olympics in 1968. It took a Civil Rights movement, urban
insurrection and inspired leadership to force through constitutional
amendments that redressed the grievances of a racial minority in the USA.
Similarly, feminist consciousness represents a protest against the
socially conditioned oppression of women by men. This group cuts across
all the boundaries of class, race, religion and nationality.
The ongoing debate is concerned, however, with national consciousness and
the objective of constitutional stability in Pakistan. Does that mean that
‘nation’ is being used synonymously with ‘country?’ But Pakistan
is a nation only in a legal definitional sense. We are Pakistani nationals
only in the sense that we are citizens of a country called Pakistan. Our
historical bonding has deeper roots and makes many see their primary
identity not through the prism of citizenship but through that of religion
or ethnicity. Simply being a Pakistani will not get one very far in the
Pakistani marriage market which is a good mirror of our social reality.
Some people go further. In college, I was inseparable from a friend and
used to spend much time at his home. I was once approached by his
grandfather, who had seen me innumerable times, and asked if I was a Jat
or an Arain (categories for which the term quom is often used!). On
learning that I was neither he lost all interest and never bonded with me
again. Then there was the intelligence inspector who confided to the
person he was assigned to tail that because the latter was a fellow momin,
he was letting him know what was going on.
This suggests that constitution making would be especially difficult in
countries made up of groups or nations still conscious of themselves as
different or separate from others. And the difficulty would be compounded
in situations where economic processes had not been sufficiently
integrative and where the fracture lines were deliberately played upon to
heighten differences to the point where the consciousness of one group
became dominated by its antagonism towards other groups.
Constitution making became impossible in undivided India when religious
consciousness emerged as the primary axis along which groups began to
apprehend their identity to pursue shared goals for the future. This genie
is difficult to put back into the bottle. Within Pakistan, constitution
making floundered on the antagonisms of different national consciousnesses
leading finally to the
break up of the country. Even in less populated countries one can see the
dilemma: Sri Lankan consciousness is nowhere as strong as Tamil and
Sinhalese consciousnesses — hence the conflict without end.
In multinational countries (better identified as territorial rather than
nation states), ‘stability’ has historically been better maintained
either by monarchs seen by all as being above most group loyalties or by
autocrats who suppressed national consciousnesses as Tito did in
Yugoslavia. Today there is no Yugoslav consciousness, only Serb, Croat and
Bosnian national consciousnesses which were ruthlessly manipulated by the
likes of Milosevic.
It is worth pondering that most stable democracies in Europe retained
their monarchies while the experience was quite the opposite in countries
where the monarchies were abolished. Mark Mazower (Daily Times, November
13, 2003) reminded readers that “in the ethnically divided societies of
central and eastern Europe, democracy quickly turned into a new tyranny
— that of the majority over the minority — or led to constitutional
stalemates whose solution was found in
new and nastier forms of authoritarianism.”
One can argue that exclusiveness, chauvinism and antagonism have emerged
and have been encouraged to emerge as key elements of national
consciousness in Pakistan. Each group’s image of itself is coloured by
its opposition to some ‘Other’ whether one looks at the meta-national
relations of Pakistan and India or the relationship of Pakistan’s
constituent nations and sectarian groups.
This narrow and negative consciousness born of the interplay of economic,
social and political factors and exacerbated and manipulated by vested
interests cannot be the source of the constitution. It can only be the
source of the lack of a constitution. Till such time as we accept a
leadership that is seen by all as above the fray (perhaps in the way
Jinnah was in Pakistan though not in undivided India) constitution making
would remain a difficult exercise.
The fracture lines of race, ethnicity and religion have to soften before
we can hope to make progress but for the moment the tide seems going the
other way. We cannot encourage hatred of Indians and Hindus or of Ahmedis
on the one hand and expect harmony to prevail between Sindhis and Muhajirs
or Shias and Sunnis on the other. And we have to contend with interest
groups intent on creating new fracture lines where none existed before or,
if they did, had been
dimmed by time.
If national consciousness is to be the source of the constitution, it has
to be a consciousness based on the acceptance of the ‘Other.’ Right
now we are moving in the opposite direction. Appeals to reach a national
consensus are of limited value. Analysts would do better to expose and
take to the people an understanding of how national consciousness is being
manipulated to serve narrow ends.
In terms of concrete actions this would entail mobilizing for a civil
rights movement to guarantee the rights of minorities and for a movement
to eradicate hostile propaganda from the media and from textbooks.
Divisive consciousness has to give way to the meta-consciousness espoused
by the Sufis which we have progressively discarded. The consciousness that
can be the source of a
constitution is contained in the message of the Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi:
My heart holds within it every form,
it contains a pasture for gazelles,
a monastery for Christian monks.
There is a temple for idol-worshippers,
A holy shrine for pilgrims;
There is the table of the Torah,
and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love
and go whichever way His camel leads me.
This is the true faith;
This is the true religion.
It is a very long way to go.
The author is a Visiting Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy
Institute in Islamabad. These views are not necessarily endorsed by the