Shuham A. Charles
US President Donald Trump has made remarks during his campaign, and even after assuming the office, that have outraged many minority communities. His executive order to suspend immigration from a select group of Muslim countries has earned him a barrage of criticism. There is a sense of apprehension caused by Trump administration which is shared by Muslims in the US and Pakistan alike. Is America becoming intolerant of its racial and religious minorities? These questions are valid and have put us in a dilemma as we anticipate Trump’s next move.
But what do Christians in Pakistan think about Trump coming to power? How does his suspension of immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) affect Pakistani Christians? These are pertinent questions which have not been given much attention. I approach these questions not as an expert but as an observer, engaging with them based on my personal interactions with these communities.
It has to be admitted that many Christians welcomed the victory of Donald Trump, his appeal to Christian rhetoric having significant impact on Pakistani Christians. The devout ones see him as a modern day Constantine, reviving “Christian values” in America. His stance against abortion and same-sex marriage has won appraisal by Evangelicals and Catholics alike. His outright condemnation of Islamic Radicalism, in contrast to Obama’s restrained approach, has also made him popular among the hardliners.
On recent restrictions on immigration, however, they are not much concerned. Very few used to get American visas anyway; this benefit going mostly to the elites of the community. What concerns me here is the lack of compassion exhibited by some of them for those who will be seriously affected by the policy. My social media feed is full of posts by fellow Christians fawning over Trumps policies. In personal encounters too they seem to stay oblivious to his hate-filled rhetoric. Christian intelligentsia of course has raised its voice to condemn bigotry of Trump. But their absence of connection with Pakistani identity is vivid.
I believe it resulted out of years of conditioning. Their nationalism is seriously hampered. In retrospect, this situation can be understood in terms of the disparity in society promulgated by the state itself. Attempts to convert Pakistan into a theocratic state have had significant repercussions for Christians. The state-led “othering” of its non-Muslim citizens has gradually alienated them in their own homeland. Reduction of nationalism to religious affiliation alone shredded the aspirations of non-Muslim citizens.
After the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah pushed the advancement of Pakistan along democratic lines, encouraging Pakistanis of all religions to overlook the past and see themselves as citizens of the State of Pakistan with equal rights, benefits and commitments. But overlooking the past proved to be difficult especially after years of accentuation on religious distinction championed by Jinnah himself.
Despite its relative religious homogeneity, Pakistan appeared as a differing, uneven state. Rather than accommodating these differing values, by building up a feeling of equity and cooperation, the verdict-pronouncing elites (the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs and the Punjabis) utilized religious imagery to counter economic discontent, political dispute and ethnic nationalism. The emphasis on Islamic solidarity was likewise utilized to counter the antagonistic vibe made by Indian leaders, many of whom anticipated the early demise of Pakistan.
Nationalism in Pakistan was built on adherence to Islam as a cohesive force. Free mixing of religion with state politics has induced in religious minorities a sense of insecurity, and has hindered free expression of religion.
The most explicit engagement with religion in the early post-partition years came in the form of Objectives Resolution, an introduction to the constitution that was added because of pressure from Islamist groups like the Jamat-e-Islami. These immense changes in the constitution had little practical utility in those early years, but they did keep alive a measure of equivocation with regards to the role of religion in the state.
In fact, the Objectives Resolution permitted the legislature to claim victory by including just a couple words in the preamble to the constitution, while in the meantime it granted the Islamists a guaranteed long term win by giving constitutional validation to their theocratic stance. This opened an avenue for them to use this power to further Islamize the country, and synonymize “Pakistani” with “Muslim”. The introduction of separate electorates in 1985 put a limitation on social equality, not just for Ahmadis but for other religious minorities as well.
In this situation, the most pressing questions we can ask today are: Whose country is it? Whose vision it ought to realize? What constitutes a Muslim? How these questions are addressed has essential repercussions for peace and strength in both interior and outer relations.
The writer has done M. Phil in Public Policy from Forman Christian College.