Western people hate Pakistan

Pakistan's internal war of faith

Although Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Islamic nation, the Sufi-influenced, tolerant form of belief that had previously united Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs persisted in many places. Even more than “Western” influences, this is in the sights of religious fundamentalists.

One of the dangerous fallacies in conflicts like the “war on terror” is the belief that the opponent is interested in the same things as oneself. We bring freedom, democracy and the western market economy; the others hate freedom, democracy and the western market economy. An irresistible symmetry; and even if you cannot win a war with it, it gives you the certainty that you are on the right side yourself. But there is another way of looking at things that proponents of a post-colonial worldview are less likely to accept: the possibility that a region's problems are really its own problems; that the opponent fights for completely different reasons than you do yourself; and that you may only play a minor role in a conflict whose historical roots go much deeper than your own, only a few decades-long presence in the country concerned.

Fronts inside

In the case of Pakistan, the pattern of the cultural war between the Western and Islamic worlds has pushed the real big issue of the country's history into the background: the gradual suffocation of the regional, syncretistic culture by a triumphalistic, global Islam, which has a new spirit of rigidity and intolerance brings itself. It is this war - which the Pakistanis feel like a second Arab campaign of conquest - which recently claimed 42 lives and around 180 injured in the suicide attack on the Data Sahib shrine in Lahore, one of the most important Sufi shrines in the region.

Found by the thousands in the Punjab and Sindh provinces, these shrines are a monument to the hybridity of the country, if not the state of Pakistan. Before the division of the subcontinent in 1947 and the associated exodus of the Hindus and Sikhs from the newly founded Islamic state - as in India today - Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims used to pray together at these holy places. They arose in the course of more than six centuries of religious reforms that produced tolerant and humane hybrid forms of the Indian religions; Behind each of these shrines stood the story of a local saint, in which the plurality of the country was also expressed. Respecting and venerating the spirit of these sanctuaries therefore meant placing what unites in religion above doctrinal differences; the spread of this common culture in Punjab, Sindh and Kashmir was a real humanistic achievement. And as long as religion could maintain this pluralistic form, it seemed immune to fanaticism, petty bigotry and prejudice.

But with the establishment of an explicitly Islamic state, this diversity was swept away (to understand this shock, imagine, for example, all non-whites were expelled from London or New York). With this, religion also lost its core function as a binding force that brought harmony into a multi-faceted and inconsistent national community. It is astonishing, however, that this particular form of religion, which is oriented towards mysticism, poetry and song, remained the dominant form of belief in Pakistan even after the division of the subcontinent.

Exactly this religion has now - far more than any western influence or import - become the enemy of fanaticism. Given the one-sided nature of the attacks, it cannot necessarily be called a new front in the war on terror; in any case, popular Islam is the real target of the atrocity Pakistan is facing today. The Taliban's anger is directed less against freedom, capitalism or democracy - terms of which they have at best a vague idea anyway - than against this deeply rooted religious tradition; Because in order to create the vacuum in which their nihilistic vision of Islam can be realized in the first place, an entire world must be destroyed: the world of culture, stories and songs, traditional clothing and the rituals that have been developed over centuries. It is this manifestation of pure, busy life - a life shaped and shaped by the work, the ambitions and hopes of the people, by their joys and amusements - that the bearded warriors of God have in their sights; and the West is also affected by this threat in its own way.

The hatred of the neighbor

In Pakistan there is, of course, another factor that has played a role, and this has been since the state was founded: the desire to purge Pakistani Islam of all remnants of an Indian stamp, a stamp that many in Pakistan see as a contamination. For me, the son of a Pakistani father who grew up in India, this compulsion to eradicate all traces of the Indian was perceptible everywhere. I saw it with a woman in Karachi, under whose long, black abaya - this women's robe, too, an import from Saudi Arabia - a narrow strip of Indian pink flashed. I recognized him in the attempt by the state to liberate wedding customs from all Indian rituals by means of regulations and to reduce them to purely Islamic; I heard him in the hysterical screams about the hang-glider festival in Basant, where fears about public safety were voiced - and that in Pakistan of all places! - to put an end to this Indian Spring Festival once and for all.

The attacks on the old religion - there will be many more - could at best create a kind of protective wall of indignation that will save Pakistan from falling into total nihilism. The attack on the Data Sahib Shrine provoked an outcry in the country that went far beyond the boundaries of the tiny segment of the population that foreign journalists like to refer to as “civil society”. The reaction was also significantly stronger than that after the attack on an Ahmadi sect mosque, which had been commented on the previous month with the mixture of lies and conspiracy theories common in Pakistani politics.

However, for six decades now, Pakistanis have grown accustomed to standing aside and watching their society decline. It is also quite possible that no viable majority will stand up for the old religion of Pakistan once the outrage over the attacks on its shrines has burned out. People will write off their traditional beliefs as they have written off so many other things. This is because the idea on which Pakistan was once founded - the idea of ​​a secular state for Indian Muslims - has perished and nothing else has been replaced. For example, those who claim that Pakistan was "made for Islam and that more Islam is the solution" have the power of ugly logic on their side. And their few opponents have nothing in their hand, no future-oriented idea with which that violent and nihilistic ideology can be countered.

No suitable foundation

When attacks like the one on the Data Sahib Shrine begin to pile up; when the Americans realize that there is no point in throwing more money into Pakistan; when India realizes that Pakistan's hostility is not based on the Kashmir issue but on irrational hatred; when the world realizes that Pakistan's problems are not administrative - then Pakistan will have to find a new self-image. The sad truth, however, is that the country still seems far from drawing the most important lesson from the sixty years of its existence: that language, costume and obligations of living together, that common customs and literary tradition, that Sufi shrines and the stories they hold are the foundation of a nation - not religion. This has proven to be too weak and inadequate a binding agent, and today, after sixty years, it has left millions of people culturally impoverished and vulnerable to hateful lies: a nation of human time bombs.

Aatish Taseer grew up in Delhi as the son of an Indian mother and a Pakistani father. C. H. Beck published his impressive autobiographical study «Terra Islamica. In search of my father's world ». - Translated from the English by as.