WASHINGTON DIARY: Futile resistance
by Dr Manzur Ejaz, USA
Courtesy: Wichaar.com, June 23rd, 2009
After eight years of Bush, the Republican Party’s rout at the polls showed that reactionary forces against rising trends can only go so far. And the Evangelicals had ended up facilitating the election of a black man as President of the United States.
For more than two decades now, the Southern Evangelical Christian movements — the American counterparts of our extremist religious parties — have been calling the political shots in the United States. Their near total hold on the House and the Senate, as well as the White House through George W Bush, was because of the resurgence of the extreme right-wing Christian movement.
However, this powerful, extreme religio-political movement has recently seen its most detested opponent gain unprecedented grounds: same sex marriages have been legalised in some states and unwedded partners have been recognised as family units.
Can Pakistani politics, dominated for so long by extreme religious ideology and connected to jihadis of all kinds, see similar unanticipated liberalisation?
The Evangelical movement itself was a reaction to historical changes in American society and economy. The proliferation of the electronic media and information technology brought an end to classical capitalism (sometimes referred to as Fordism), which was built for the mass production of goods. In turn, fundamental economic changes affected the institution of the nuclear family, which in turn was built on the ruins of the extended family. Mass production of goods had created mass democracy, the nuclear family etc. Therefore the end of mass production would inevitably change the nature of the family and also alter other racial and gender equations.
In the early eighties, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, a husband-wife team of futurists, predicted that the traditional nuclear family will be gone, and new forms of the family will emerge in the post-capitalist world. The new family may consist of same sex married couples, unwedded partners or just friends living together as families (Think ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘Friends’). During the 1980s, gay rights activists, feminists and minority races also made great strides.
These changes were easy to adjust to for those areas and states where industry and commerce was accompanied by social liberalism. However, the South, dominated by white males in every sphere of life, was repulsed by the challenges to the societal status quo. It started to show an extreme religious streak and thus the Evangelical movement was born. The movement was generously funded by those American capitalists that had been allied with the religious right for decades to fight trade unions and the socialisation of state services.
The Southern Evangelical crusaders fought against social changes the way they fought the American Civil War to safeguard slavery. This time around, the South was reacting to the rising power of African Americans along with the other abovementioned changes in society.
The George W Bush presidency was an extension of the Evangelical crusade of White males against the rest of the world. Bullying the world around was what his core constituency had elected him for. However, after eight years of Bush, the Republican Party’s rout at the polls showed that reactionary forces against rising trends can only go so far. And the Evangelicals had ended up facilitating the election of a black man as President of the United States.
The legalisation of same sex marriage in some states was another outcome that the conservatives could never have imagined. Thus the rise of Southern extreme conservatism motivated the liberal parts of the United States to re-examine their own inhibitions, embrace change and push lawmakers to accommodate new societal trends.
If one examines the rise of extremism in Northern India and Pakistan, one finds similar patterns. Notwithstanding the effects of the Afghan War and the Pakistani state’s strange concepts of regional strategy, the fundamental socioeconomic changes have created Pakistani Evangelicals: all kinds of sectarian warriors, jihadis, the Taliban and the parties of the religious right. The mechanisation of agriculture and the penetration of the media and information technology, even in the remotest parts of Pakistan, have shaken the societal status quo. The mass migration of workers to the big cities and abroad, along with the rising number of females in the work force, has accelerated change.
As we have witnessed in the Southern conservative American states, Pakistan’s pockets of primitive cultures had the strongest reaction against rising modernisation. The rise of the Taliban in the northwest, and of sectarian forces in Southern Punjab and areas like Jhang shows how the most conservative sections of the population reacted to unstoppable social changes. Of course, the rise of jihadis and other conservative forces was supported by the state for a long time. And while the state promoted its own brand of religious militarism to further its own interests, it never conceived that things could go out of its hands and the state itself would become threatened.
Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, and the Taliban are occupying large parts of the northwest while terrorising cities with suicide bombings, the state itself is under siege. Therefore, not only did military action become necessary, the general population was forced to re-examine the role of religion in politics and the affairs of the state. Consequently, religious parties have become further marginalised in large parts of the country.
This trend is not going to stop with the elimination of the Taliban and the jihadis. It will continue until the demands of emerging social forces — including gender quality and modernisation of institutions — are met. If history provides any guidance, the social forces that were reacted against will have their way in the end. The Taliban, their jihadi affiliates and sectarian warriors may have ended up facilitating new social trends just like the Southern American Evangelical movement paved the way for societal change in the United States that was unimaginable two decades ago.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com