Farahnaz Ispahani is a feminist from Pakistan who recently wrote a book called Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities. This book did nothing to change my mind about Muslims. Everything she relates just confirms my view of how awful they can be. Leftists, when confronted with this evidence, will often say that Christians are just as bad. Maybe they are, if you are talking about Christians in central Africa, but Christians in the West have basically all absorbed the lessons of the Peace of Westphalia and the Enlightenment and know perfectly well that persecuting and killing others for their religion is a no-no. Religion in the West is a matter of personal choice. It has always been a matter of personal choice during my lifetime, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way. But the Muslim world is different, and if we let in Islamic extremists, there is the danger that someday here in the West the biggest political questions will be (1) who is and who isn’t a Muslim, and (2) how soon can we kill those who aren’t.
Ispahani’s story begins prior to the founding of Pakistan when Britain ruled South Asia. There was bad blood between Muslims and Hindus even then. (One of the few amusing notes in the book concerns the belief a century ago by Hindus that there weren’t enough Hindus around to counter the Muslims. Sheesh.) But there were other groups, too, who were targets, such as Christians, Sikhs, and Ahmadis. More on them below. While Gandhi wanted one big unified country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said no. And thus was Pakistan born, simply because one man said no. Jinnah was a Muslim, but he was also a secularist, and he wanted a country that was Muslim-majority, but secularist at the same time. After all, much of the West is Christian-majority but secularist nevertheless. Why did he want a Muslim majority? No doubt he was worried about Hindu violence against Muslims if Muslims were in the minority, but why did he also want Pakistan to be secular? He knew that there were enough divisions even among Muslims that the best way for peace and harmony was for religion to be a personal and not a political issue.
What Jinnah wanted was impossible. He wanted a Muslim majority, but a secular country. In fact, the one thing uniting most of the country was its devotion to Islam. Bad luck for the Christians, Hindus, and other non-Muslims living there, but unlike America, which has been united by its Constitution, there was nothing else uniting Pakistanis. They were ethnically diverse, so they couldn’t be like the nation-states of Europe used to be (that is, England for the English, France for the French, etc.). There was no dominant ethnic group, so that idea couldn’t be used. The idea of a Constitution might have worked, if there hadn’t been so many religious extremists around. But there were, and right from the beginning the secularists had a terrible time keeping them under control. In fact, they were never kept under control, and the rest of the book is basically about how Pakistan has become a theocracy nearly as bad as Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Occasionally secularists got power, but their power was always thwarted by the power that the Islamists had. So, the fact that Pakistan has had a female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, means nothing because she had so little power to change things. Anyway, she was eventually assassinated by the Islamists, and so counts as yet another progressive who was killed by them. But most of the violence she mentions is Muslim violence against the Ahmadis, a group whose members claim to be Muslim but who refuse to believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets. For this minor claim, they have been intensely persecuted in Pakistan. They refuse to stop saying they are Muslims, even though this means persecution. There has also been a lot of Sunni-Shi’ite violence, though in this case it has gone both ways.
She focuses on what used to be thought of as the western part of Pakistan, back when Bangladesh was the eastern part. But the Bangladeshis were much less interested in shari’a and harassing non-Muslims than the westerners were, so at some point, the two split apart, with help for Bangladesh from India.
Here are some comments:
• It probably isn’t her intention to do so, but it’s easy to read this book and come away believing that British imperialism over south Asia was probably the best solution.
• There is nothing in any of this to suggest that America is unique in mistreating its minorities. Pakistan treats its religious minorities far worse than we treated blacks.
• The leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (who ruled from 1977 to 1988) was like Hitler, if Hitler had never established any camps and had merely promoted a lot of harassment and killing of the Jews and other undesirables.
• Converting to an extremist Islam isn’t even any kind of solution because you have to pick which extremist group you will join (the two basic divisions being Sunni and Shi’ite), and whichever you pick, you will be a target of the other extremist groups.
• Her book is so focused on the treatment of religious minorities that she doesn’t have much time to mention the treatment of women – she doesn’t even mention Malala – and gays are mentioned not at all.
• The word “jihad” is never used in this book to mean an inner struggle. It is always used to mean “holy war.”
• Imagine if every cable channel had a religious orientation. That is what is true in Pakistan. Imagine if all education was infused with religion. That is what is true in Pakistan.
The left has no plan to help us avoid becoming a Pakistan, a country with the dominant religious group trying to murder the others. It is a country in which people think it is perfectly acceptable to murder those who don’t share your faith. Often, the police and the courts are complicit because they get death threats if they aren’t.
What will be the left’s reaction to this book? I’m assuming it will be to insist that Ms. Ispahani is an Islamophobe, is allying herself with the imperialists and is betraying her religion, is an Uncle Tom, is an Orientalist, etc. She will be either vilified or ignored by the left, which seemingly will never change its mind about Muslims, no matter how much counter-evidence is presented.