Published in The Daily Times

An icon for a sane, just Pakistan

4 January 2015

Salman taseer10

Salmaan Taseer’s defiance of convention and collective cowardice is one of the watersheds of Pakistan’s contemporary history. His defence of a poor Christian woman purely on the grounds of humanity has chiseled his memory and legacy in stone. Taking a position on a narrowly defined religious issue is rare in today’s Pakistan. Even rarer is to defend someone on the grounds of humanity in a republic that uses religion for its identity and rationale, and where public opinion has been crafted to perpetuate such attitudes.

Within Muslims, this struggle between reason and bigotry is not new. It has existed for well over a millennium. Rationalists have always been the target of fanatics and their patrons in power. In South Asia this is even more complex where the historic evolution of Muslim beliefs and practices has followed an inclusive trajectory imbibing the folk, non-Islamic traditions as an expression of lived, dynamic Islam. In each era, the power of orthodoxy was challenged by unique men and women who took dissent to be more important than the Mullah’s edicts. Bullleh Shah, Dara Shikoh, Princess Zebunnissa among others faced persecution. Dara Shikoh had to lose his throne and his life in pursuit of a humanistic vision that sought to reiterate essence over form, spirit over ritual and synthesis over division. The bigots declared that he was a heretic and his own brother leading the pack, ordered his killing.

Taseer’s politics was fiercely anti-orthodoxy based on his progressive worldview. Unlike a few progressives, he was a staunch Pakistani nationalist and viewed Pakistan as a modern and enlightened country. This was a position espoused by his party – the Pakistan People’s Party – through the 1970s and onwards. In the 1990s, disillusioned with the changing nature of Punjab politics and his own party’s drift towards pragmatism, he took a break and focused on expanding his business empire. Musharraf’s rule came as another faux moment that brought him back into active politics. A short stint under Musharraf as an interim minister was a tricky decision but it was his re-entry into political life. He had decided to end his political ‘exile’. (more…)

Remembering Faiz and his Culture Policy of early 1970s

21 November 2010

Today is the 26th death anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz whose life and works are national assets. Faiz was a torchbearer of the glorious traditions set by great Urdu poets such as Ghalib and Iqbal. Faiz distinguished himself as a proponent of a revolutionary vision, which blended the romance of classical Urdu poetry with the idealism of revolutionary struggles. Faiz’s political ideology provided modern Urdu verse an unprecedented political and romantic expression. Faiz brought Pakistan international acclaim and the world bestowed on him the highest honours, including the Lenin Peace Prize (1962). He has also left a corpus of essays, editorials and commentaries from his years in journalism. This body of work still needs to be fully assessed for its literary dimensions. Faiz’s literary career coincided with the emergence of Pakistan and its unfortunate history of political instability and militarisation, which isolated its majority Eastern wing and resulted in its break-up in 1971. His famous poem ‘Yeh Daagh Daagh Ujala’ remains an apt comment on the creation of a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, which continues to grapple with issues of identity. The Pakistani state treated him shoddily as he remained under arrest for extended periods or in exile.

The decade of the 1970s witnessed a change when Bhutto appointed him as Chairman of the National Council of the Arts. Faiz authored (more…)