Here are a few of the ideas that I’ve lately met up with I find interesting. (In as much as it’s possible to do so I’ll “paint” them in red.) This first one is from Marine Le Pen — The presidential election is about the patriots versus the globalists.
—And she lets us know that she’s a patriot! Well she’s right about the election, that is, about our election, because in France the globalists have apparently won. In America Trump had himself and his America First followers wear the “make America great again” cap of the patriot and they won.
—What would Samuel Johnson have said about both leaders, Le Pen and Trump? Well on the evening of 7 April, 1775, as we’re told by James Boswell, Johnson stated that “Patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
—Trump in his tweets and his statements to the media continually clothes himself in what I would call fake patriotism. “I am so proud of our great Country. God bless America!, …People are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
—Is there even one idea here, or in any of Trump’s tweets? I don’t think so, only that Trump’s patriotism is clearly a “last refuge of a scoundrel or charlatan.”
—And here’s a second one, this one from Bret Stephens, in the Times of 9/27/17
“We are living, he says, in an era of party failure, especially on the right. The Trumpkins sacked the G.O.P. The Brexiters humiliated the Tories over Europe. Marine Le Pen’s fascists have supplanted the Gaullists as the face of the French right. Germany’s own nasty alt-right, the Alternative für Deutschland, humiliated Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in last weekend’s election…. But globalization, immigration and changing social mores have been with us for a long time… What’s new (and this is Bret’s idea) is the existence of the fury factories of the right, from Fox News to Breitbart to Frontpage Mag. This, what I call “Opinion journalism” is meant to influence and inflame….”
—and it does that, “influence and inflame!,” the idea here being that those who manage Bret’s “fury factories,” —Bill O’Reilly, the people at Fox news, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh et al. —are not idea guys at all, they’re not trying to persuade with their ideas, but to anger with, their opinions and conspiracy theories, their audiences…. Their specialty is to engage and enrage the ditto heads, Trumpists, all the millions of people prone to histrionics….Their words during the campaign made people angry at Hillary and Obama, and now they serve to put down the liberal elite, all those who don’t put America first, and in particular the immigrant and refugee populations still coming to our shores, for what we’ve always provided, freedom… And as Stephens says about the denizens of the fury factories, “It can feel awfully good to be awfully mad.” And at the rallies this is how Trump makes his listeners feel.
—The rest of this post will be concerned with just one book, because this book is just so idea rich. I would encourage you to stop reading my post and read instead M. J. Akbar’s book, The Tinderbox, The Past and Future of Pakistan,
Tinderbox: a person or thing that is highly excitable, explosive, inflammable, etc.; a potential source of widespread violence. (This is how M. J. Akbar sees the country Pakistan.)
—Akbar’s book ought to be on a political science reading list. There are any number of provocative and interesting ideas, a principal one being, for example, that if Pakistan does not discover and adopt modernity, it will sink into medievalism. There is no third path. And Pakistan is joined here by other mostly Muslim countries, Turkey and Libya for sure, perhaps those on Trump’s own banned Muslim country list, all more or less close themselves to sinking into medievalism.
Pakistan, Akbar says, could become a stable, modern nation, but only if the children of the father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah**, could defeat the ideological heirs of the Godfather of Pakistan, Maulana Maududi**.
—Jinnah hardly lived beyond the Partition of India in 1947. There are interesting ideas after ideas in the TinderBox. To fully understand what I was reading I had to give myself, in addition to reading the book, a crash course in the history of Pakistan. Pakistan, according to Akbar, is a disaster waiting to happen, or more accurately a disaster that is already happening. And this highly unstable Pakistan does have the bomb. (Why aren’t we talking about that?)
—Now here’s an interesting idea/question that occurs to me while reading Akbar. How did it even happen that the West allowed Pakistan to have the bomb? and were they subject to sanctions the way Iran and North Korea are today? Compared to Pakistan in 1974 North Korea at the present time is an exemplar of security and if it, North Korea, were to fully develop its nuclear capabilities it would probably represent almost no threat at all in comparison, to Pakistan and India at that earlier time, both in possession of the bomb and at each other’s throats (that which is still the case, btw).
—Basically Pakistan obtained the bomb with substantial help from Abdul Qadeer Khan (who would later help the North Koreans to the same end ). Khan had stolen plans from a joint German, English and Dutch led project where he had worked. But mostly Pakistan got the bomb because America didn’t try to stop it, as it’s now doing with Iran and North Korea. At the time America probably thought it needed help with what was for them the no less troubling threat of terrorism. And in some respects with the bomb Pakistan became less of a terrorist threat. It was thought, perhaps, that Pakistan being a member of the nuclear club would be more of a help combating terrorism if it were safely inside the nuclear club, especially since its arch rival India was already there. Today Pakistan is one of only nine states to possess nuclear weapons, and the only Muslim majority country to do so.
—It’s interesting that much of the stability of the modern world, the time of the Cold war, and of the Korean War of the fifties, and the Vietnamese War of the seventies, may be due in good part to pairs of arch rivals, principally the USA and Russia, but also India and Pakistan, to the fact that both rival pairs were in possession of the bomb. Now Israel has the bomb but Iran doesn’t. South Korea is closely allied with a founding member of the nuclear club, but North Korea is not, and is quite alone and therefore feeling threatened and vulnerable, and therefore much interested in having the bomb. Understandable.
—Would our world, I would ask, be a more secure place if both Iran and North Korea had the bomb? In any case it’s hard to believe that their not having the bomb makes us all more secure. It’s not obvious that when some are nuclear armed and others are not that the world is a safer place than if all were equally armed. (And I’m not saying that in support of the NRA.)
—Today, aren’t we most worried, not about a nuclear armed Iran or North Korea, but about a nuclear armed terrorist? Who would be most apt to arm the terrorist with nuclear capability, a North Korea with, or without the bomb? I would say, probably one without the bomb.
—The kind of discussion we’re having about Pakistan, the richness of Akbar’s thoughts on the subject, this is the sort of thing I meant about ideas tending to join up with one another. You can’t keep them apart, in their place. And you’ve got to deal with them, because these ideas are important. And perhaps this is the time we should be dealing with (as in making deals with) the countries that are hell bent on joining the nuclear club, but probably not hell bent on destroying a part of the world (California, Israel) along with themselves, unless of course we too much get in their free way.
—But I’ve hardly begun to write about the ideas in the Tinderbox. If you read the book you’ll see that the ideas don’t stop coming, that which is true of the best works of non fiction. For example, some of the ideas I’ve met up with in the book,
—Maududi and Qutb, I’ve learned, are the founding fathers of the global Islamic revival movement. That’s Sayyid Qutb of Egypt’s Jamiat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (“Muslim Brotherhood”), and Maulana Maududi, one of the most influential Muslim theologians of the 20th century and the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami (an Islamic Party in Pakistan). And in fact that may very well be where it all began, with these two men. What they started led eventually to 9/11, Al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Akbar says—
- It didn’t have to be that way, of course. Indians and Pakistanis are the same people; why then did the two nations travel on such different trajectories? While the idea of India is stronger than the Indian; the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani. For as has been repeatedly pointed out, Islam cannot be the basis of nationhood.Now that is an interesting idea, that Islam cannot be the basis of nationhood. Would that also be true of Christianity? Yes I would say.
- In any case as the author says, at the moment of his writing the book, Pakistan displays the characteristics of a ‘jelly state’; neither will it achieve stability, nor disintegrate. Its large arsenal of nuclear weapons makes it a toxic jelly state in a region that seems condemned to sectarian, fratricidal and international wars. The thought is not comforting.
- According to Akbar his book could be seen as the history of an idea, Pakistan thinking that it were best that it be a Muslim nation. Pakistan emerged out of a fear of the future and pride in the past, but this fear began as a mood of anguish set in among the Muslim elite during the long decline of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth century. The embryo of the Muslim nation had a long and turbulent existence, particularly during the generations when it remained shapeless.
- The Tinderbox is a history of this idea as it weaved and bobbed its way through dramatic events with rare resilience, sometimes disappearing from sight, but always resurrected either by the will of proponents or the mistakes of opponents. It began hesitantly, in the shadow of the age of decline, in the 1750s, when the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the consequent disintegration of what is called ‘Muslim rule’ in India could no longer be disguised by explanations, theories or hope of revival….
- One asks, probably both Maududi and Qutb both asked more than once, if Pakistan had not been created for Islam, what was it supposed to be? Just a second-rate India? The challenge before South Asia is the same as anywhere in the post-colonial world: bringing about the evolution to a modern state, although economic growth is an aspect of modernity but far from the whole of it.
- In Akbar’s view, a modern state has four fundamental commitments: democracy, secularism, gender equality and economic equity. To make these commitments Pakistan’s structural and historical weaknesses are such that nothing short of a transformation of the country’s body politic and institutions will be necessary. This change, he points out sagely, can only be brought about by Pakistanis themselves. And in this regard things don’t look good at the moment….
Let me conclude my ramblings with the Wikipedia Notes on:
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
(born Mahomedali Jinnahbhai; 25 December 1876 – 11 September 1948) was a lawyer, politician, and the founder of Pakistan. Jinnah served as leader of the All-India Muslim League from 1913 until Pakistan’s independence on 14 August 1947, and then as Pakistan’s first Governor-General until his death. He is revered in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Azam (Urdu: قائد اعظم; Great Leader) and Baba-i-Qaum (Urdu: بابائے قوم; Father of the Nation). His birthday is observed as a national holiday in Pakistan.Born at Wazir Mansion in Karachi, Jinnah was trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn in London. Upon his return to British India, he enrolled at the Bombay High Court, and took an interest in national politics, which eventually replaced his legal practice. Jinnah rose to prominence in the Indian National Congress in the first two decades of the 20th century. In these early years of his political career, Jinnah advocated Hindu–Muslim unity, helping to shape the 1916 Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the All-India Muslim League, in which Jinnah had also become prominent. Jinnah became a key leader in the All India Home Rule League, and proposed a fourteen-point constitutional reform plan to safeguard the political rights of Muslims. In 1920, however, Jinnah resigned from the Congress when it agreed to follow a campaign of satyagraha, which he regarded as political anarchy.
By 1940, Jinnah had come to believe that Muslims of the Indian subcontinent should have their own state. In that year, the Muslim League, led by Jinnah, passed the Lahore Resolution, demanding a separate nation. During the Second World War, the League gained strength while leaders of the Congress were imprisoned, and in the elections held shortly after the war, it won most of the seats reserved for Muslims. Ultimately, the Congress and the Muslim League could not reach a power-sharing formula for the subcontinent to be united as a single state, leading all parties to agree to the independence of a predominantly Hindu India, and for a Muslim-majority state of Pakistan.
As the first Governor-General of Pakistan, Jinnah worked to establish the new nation’s government and policies, and to aid the millions of Muslim migrants who had emigrated from the new nation of India to Pakistan after independence, personally supervising the establishment of refugee camps. Jinnah died at age 71 in September 1948, just over a year after Pakistan gained independence from the United Kingdom. He left a deep and respected legacy in Pakistan. Innumerable streets, roads and localities in the world are named after Jinnah. Several universities and public buildings in Pakistan bear Jinnah’s name, while his career influenced a number of activists including Malala Yousafzai. According to his biographer, Stanley Wolpert, he remains Pakistan’s greatest leader.
Syed Abul A’la Maududi (Urdu: ابو الاعلی مودودی – alternative spellings of last name Maudoodi, Mawdudi, also known as Abul Ala Maududi; 25 September 1903 – 22 September 1979) was an Islamist philosopher, jurist, journalist and imam. His numerous works were written in Urdu, but then translated into English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Burmese and many other languages. He strove not only to revive Islam as a renewer of the religion, but to propagate “true Islam”, (which he saw as) a remedy for the weakness from which Islam had suffered over the centuries. He believed that politics was essential for Islam and that it was necessary to institute sharia and preserve Islamic culture from what he saw as the evils of secularism, nationalism, women’s emancipation, and communist socialism as they were the results of Western colonial imperialism and the Islamic world needed to be intellectually independent often called intellectual decolonization.
He was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic organisation in Asia. He and his party are thought to have been the pioneer in politicizing Islam and generating support for an Islamic state in Pakistan. They are thought to have helped inspire General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to introduce “Sharization” to Pakistan, and to have been greatly strengthened by him after tens of thousands of members and sympathizers were given jobs in the judiciary and civil service during his administration. He was the first recipient of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal International Award for his service to Islam in 1979. After his death his Gayby Salat al-Janazah in Mecca, making him the second person in history whose prayer was observed in the Kaaba, succeeding King Ashama ibn-Abjar.