Secularism Debate: A fallacious binary – by Saqlain Imam
The word secularism seems to be the most contentious one in the Pakistani political culture. Anything that is anti-religion or non-religious is dubbed secular; it is understood as a Western concept with no direct connection with Islam; for example, some people might find some Christian or Judaic values or practices secular. The word is used in its smallest possible definition to the widest and wildest interpretations. But in all kinds of debates, one thing is common — anti-secular groups use religion to justify non-democratic disposition of the state.
Although when we normally talk about secularism, it means governance that should stand separately from religion or religious beliefs, in the context of the Pakistani state, and indeed Pakistani society, the concept of secularism is widely, and perhaps deliberately, misconstrued.
It must be clearly understood right from the very beginning that religion, or in this case Islam, is not the only source to justify non-democratic governance. It depends on the peculiar circumstances of a nation and which forces are trying to use religion or secularism to support its non-democratic concepts of governance. Among Muslim states for instance, Turkey’s army uses secularism to support its non-democratic role, so did Pakistan’s Army in the 1960s. Currently, the Algerian government and Palestinian Authority are using secularism to strengthen their non-democratic role in their own systems of governance.
In Pakistan’s case, the dominant argument for the non-democratic actors to influence the country’s politics and governance is religion. This is not a suitable place to go into the details of how religion’s narration replaced the secular narration in Pakistani politics, or whether there was ever a secular narration at all in the history of the people of South Asia. But the fact is that currently seculars are supporting democratic forces, while the religious forces are bent upon undermining the democratic disposition of the state, constitution and society.
Take the role of Pakistan Army; it is now known as a ‘Jihadi’ institution, its official motto is “Jihad Fi Sabil Lillah” (Jihad for the cause of Allah). Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s recent verdict on the NRO amply and loudly speaks that it wants to re-write the constitution where democracy should be subordinate to the injunctions of Quran and Sunnah. Few people have realised that it’s a step to advance General Zia-ul-Haq’s doctrine in a much bolder manner. General Zia made the “amended” Objective Resolution an operational part of the constitution through undemocratic means. ….
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