Pak Tea House » Benazir Bhutto, Democracy, Islam, Islamism, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Politics, Religion, Society, state, Terrorism, Writers » Benazir Bhutto's book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West
Benazir Bhutto’s book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West (London: Simon and Schuster, 2008) published posthumously is very different from her Daughter of the East, in which, besides saying some sensible things, she freely boasted, and exaggerated her paternal ancestors’ landed property and high station in Sindhi feudal society.
This time round, we meet a woman who is devoted to her idea of reconciliation between Islam, democracy and the West. Many years ago, I presented her my first book (which was also my doctoral dissertation), The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan (Frances Pinter, London, 1987), through her close adviser at that time, Fakhar Zaman, the Punjabi writer and intellectual.
There is no doubt she read it thoroughly and carefully, though it is not referred to in her book under discussion. I had argued that it is possible to derive an argument for the most unenlightened, as well as the most progressive, state model by selectively quoting the sacred sources and early Islamic history, but that in the modern period at some point Islam and the state will have to be separated in practice if democracy is to prevail and consolidate.
Her thesis, on the other hand, is that her selection of the sacred sources and pristine Islamic history is the correct representation of the Islamic ethos, while all the fundamentalist and extremist versions that are around are distortions of true Islam. She believes that in practice too Islam and the state can be interdependent, without democracy suffering injury.
In any event, Benazir Bhutto’s book is an admirable exercise in arguing that Islam and democracy are reconcilable. With the help of a team of researchers and advisers, especially Husain Haqqani, Ms Bhutto proceeds to demonstrate that the core spirit of Islam and the Quran is democratic.
She quotes verses from the Quran, Hadiths (sayings and doings) of the Prophet and examples from the way the pious caliphs were chosen to lead the pristine Muslim community, to demonstrate that Islam prescribes freedom of choice and thinking and tolerance for difference of opinion.
A careful reading of her text shows that she identifies her own family’s persecution, beginning with the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, by the oppressive Zia regime with the suffering of Imam Husain at Karbala. Consequently, in her several observations on the Sunni-Shia relationship she in a guarded but in an unmistakable manner expresses sympathy for Shiites, though for making her case for democracy she relies on the Sunni principle that the ruler has temporal functions and should be chosen by the people.
She informs us that her father was a Sunni and her mother a Shia. However, as a clever politician she never reveals whether in her case the situation is reverse: a Shia husband and a Sunni wife, or? She asserts that normally the two sects have managed to live in peace and mutual tolerance.
She describes the mediaeval scholar Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, and Maulana Maudoodi and the Egyptian Syed Qutb from the 20th century, as the “three reactionaries” (p. 29) whose ideas are currently popular in parts of the Islamic world. She comes out strongly against the Wahhabis, the Taliban, Mulla Omar and Osama bin Laden. The exclusion of the modern founder of Islamic reaction, Ayatollah Khomeini, from the list of reactionaries is surprising and patently unconvincing. It is indicative more of her political biases than her merits as an honest scholar of reactionary Islam.
Many readers will find her key chapter “Islam and Democracy: History and Practice” interesting and informative, though the editors have been remiss in that she reviews the absence or weakness of democracy in not only Muslim countries but also some non-Muslim southern European, African and Latin American countries. A central argument that pervades is that the West has prioritised its economic and geopolitical interests, rather than supported popular democratic movements, parties and leaders.
The classic case is, of course, the British-American conspiracy to topple the nationalist regime of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadagh in Iran in 1953 because he had decided to nationalise Iran’s oil.
Some words of praise for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the gradual evolution of democracy in Turkey with positive remarks about the ruling AKP of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, show that she understands that the long period of secular state and nation-building helped contemporary Turkey became a democracy.
In the chapter, “The Case of Pakistan,” she presents an interesting historical sketch of Muslim rule in the subcontinent, praising the Emperor Akbar for his policy of religious pluralism, commenting on the decline of Muslim power and on British colonialism, culminating in the partition of the subcontinent. Her account of Pakistani politics is fairly accurate, though she absolves her father and herself of all blame for what went wrong. She blames Maudoodi, Zia, the ISI and the military nexus for all the ills that afflict Pakistan.
In the chapter, “Is the Clash of Civilisation Inevitable?” she very approvingly referred to one of my weekly columns, on page 269, in which I had argued that the clash of civilisations is not between the West and Islam, but between those who believe that civilisation is a power game in which the rich and mighty in the West should acquire and keep the wealth produced globally with themselves, sharing at most a portion with their client elites in the Third Word.
Her pleas for a Marshall Plan-type model to help the poor nations surmount their current technological and academic backwardness along with Muslim intellectuals and statesmen taking the lead for a progressive reform of Muslim societies sounds very familiar indeed, as these are some of the points I and others have been making from time to time.
The writer is a professor of political science and a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore. Email: email@example.com
First Published in the NEWS
Filed under: Benazir Bhutto, Democracy, Islam, Islamism, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Politics, Religion, Society, state, Terrorism, Writers · Tags: Ataturk, Benazir Bhutto, Book, Daughter of the East, Democracy, Hadiths, Husain Haqqani, Iran, Islam, London, Marshall Plan, Mohammad Mossadagh, Mulla Omar, Osama bin Laden, Quran, Reconciliation, sectarianism, Simon and Schuster, the Taliban, Wahhabis, West, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto