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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 ...
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.
From Chapter One: Another Country
In the imperial and international context where they belong, the Jewish State and Islamic Republic represent a profound distrust of nationalism, and an attempt to create new forms of political belonging. Unlike the confessional states of post-Reformation Europe, then, or its post-war Christian Democracies, religion in both the Islamic Republic and Jewish State does not merely serve to qualify the national life of its citizens. Instead it defines nationality outside the state, with all the world’s Jews, and all the subcontinent’s Muslims capable of becoming its citizens, which is perhaps why the states meant to be their homelands can be imagined in such disparate and shifting ways. From an Eretz Israel that includes large chunks of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, to a Pakistan that would add to its territory not simply the whole of Kashmir, but also bits of the Indian provinces of Punjab, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, these countries never have possessed a stable form even in their own imaginaries. Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, for instance, the Cambridge undergraduate who came up with idea and name of Pakistan in the early 1930s, envisioned a country or set of countries distributed all over the map of India, in what can only be called a counter-nationalist vision, one entirely lacking territorial integrity, that survives today in the ideology of Pakistan’s pre-eminent militant group, the Lashkar-e Tayyiba. What is more both Muslim and Jewish states survive with the rhetorical fear of being divided or altogether extinguished by their enemies. Yet when the time comes for either to abandon a portion of its territory, it does so without any apparent crisis of nationality. This is true whether we look at Israel’s attempts to trade land for peace, of which the return to Egypt of the Sinai was the most spectacular example, or to Pakistan’s loss of more than half its population and nearly as much of its territory with the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
All of this suggests that as the principle of Pakistani and Israeli nationality, religion stands distinct from the territory its followers covet, which had in any case always been seen as an accidental homeland for them. Even if it was a purely rhetorical exercise, the fact that the early Zionists had to run through a list of options that included Uganda and Argentina as potential Jewish homelands is highly instructive in this regard. Theodore Herzl was clear about this in his book The Jewish State, arguably the founding text of Zionism:
It is true that the Jewish State is conceived as a peculiarly modern structure on unspecified territory. But a state is formed, not by pieces of land, but rather by a number of men united under sovereign rule. The people is the personal, land the impersonal groundwork of a State, and the personal basis is the more important of the two.
The same might be said for Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s demands at various times for bits of territory that included the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as maritime links between East and West Pakistan, or for a corridor across the north of India as a territorial link between them, both justified largely for reasons of bureaucratic convenience. Indeed his main justification for the territory he wanted (but did not get) was not the Muslim character of its population but that it alone would make for an administratively “viable” state, which curiously the Qaid-e-Azam or Great Leader of his people thought a state with two separated wings would do. But then viability was only a bureaucratic way of lending some reality to a country conceived of as an abstract idea, which accounts for Jinnah’s famous statement that Pakistan would have to be conceded, whatever shape it took, even if it was to be the size of his handkerchief. Indeed the Qaid routinely imagined Pakistan as a piece of cloth rather than of land, as his equally famous statement about having inherited a “moth eaten” country illustrates. But then it was not so much a given territory as the principle of territoriality that gave such states their meaning. And so rather than seeing these national forms, if such they can be called, as imperfect or incomplete versions of some standard set in the nineteenth century, it might make more sense to place them in their own times.