Dissertation Week: Textbooks and Novels

My final post is about my final chapter. I deal with textbooks and novels before and after Partition. It is not easy for a historian to deal with novels, especially one trying to figure out “social memory”. Do the novels represent anything more than the solo novelist or market forces? I only hedge my bets here. I have some theory but who wants theory on a blog, eh? Don’t answer that, really.

From the mid 1970s, a dominant theme of unification and Islam arose in all the discourse of the state. Even the secularist Bhutto, sought to rally the people around the twin green flags (Pakistan and Islam). Two events shaped this: The dissolution of One Unit, in 1970 by General Yahya Khan and the bitter secession of Bangladesh, in 1971. A nation tied together by strings of faith – Islam – and language √± Urdu √± was challenged on all accounts by regional calls to sovereignty and national calls to own up to its Islamic raison d’etr√à. Not to mention the horrific reality of being the aggressors where they once claimed victimhood. The idea of Pakistan, nebulous to begin with, started to disintegrate: Sindhu Desh, Wazirstan, Baltistan, Siraikistan.

It was against this back-drop that the state of Pakistan embarked on a comprehensive project to produce a streamlined history of the nation and to have that history taught at all levels and in every province. In a collective such as Pakistan, which seeks its legitimacy in a universal ideal of Muslim identity and politics, the state had to provide an unsullied history of the nation that performed both a spatial and a temporal jump to reach its goal: to consistently and constantly negotiate a shared past amongst the Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Muhajir and other ethnicities. It appeared to the State that only history could provide the rationale for nationalism.

A particular history of the nation was disseminated in official discourse, school textbooks, nationalist novels, and public commemorations to explain the ancestral and ideological formation of the citizenry. I stress again that it was a conscious policy of both the state and Islamicist organizations, primarily the Jama’at-i Islami, to dove-tail the history of the nation-state of Pakistan with the history of Islam – divorcing it from the history of the sub-continent among others.

That this was a practice started after 1971 is clear when one examines school textbooks from the 50s and 60s. In the higher grades, those textbooks mention Hindus in a neutral tone. In fact, they were critical of Muhammad b. Qasim. Under Zia, the process of “Islamization” eliminated all doubts from the curriculum. As a result, MbQ became the first model citizen of the state of Pakistan. The compulsory textbook for 9th & 10th grade proclaimed:

Pakistan came to be established for the first time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sindh and Multan in the early years of the eighth century, and established Muslim rule in this part of the South Asian sub-continent. Pakistan under the Arabs comprised the Lower Indus valley.
For the first time the people of Sindh were introduced to Islam, its political system and way of government. The people here had seen only the atrocities of the Hindu rajas… the people of Sindh were so much impressed by the benevolence of Muslims that they regarded Muhammad bin Qasim as their savior

In contradiction stood other regional accounts which cast doubts on MbQ and his contribution to Sindh. J. M. Saeed’s mid-70s pamphlet Sindh Jo Soomro [Heroes of Sindh] had as the first hero, Raja Dahar:

…On the one hand was such a generous Raja Dahar and on the other hand was the Muslim conqueror and general Muhammad b. Qasim. He was the one who attacked Sindh and enslaved 3000 men and women and sold them in foreign markets. He looted upto 400 million from the Sindhi treasury and send it to his country. He dishonored the guardian of Sindh, Raja Dahar, and his two daughters. Such a cruel and inhuman person cannot be celebrated as a Ghazi and a Mujahid. No one in this country should name libraries, colleges, roads, parks and institutions after him. All natives of Sindh should recognize that Raja Dahar is our national hero and Muhammad b. Qasim is our national enemy.

It did not escape the attention of the state and Jama√≠at that Sindhi nationalists had targeted MbQ as a villain. Their response was to hatchet up the indoctrination. A national day celebrating MbQ’s victory over Raja Dahir was initiated. Novels were commissioned that centered on the heroic and brave struggles. Naseem Hijazi’s 1948 Muhammad bin Qasim was reprinted into constant circulation. It was translated into Sindhi as well. Novelists attached to the Jama’at incorporated both a strong Sindhi pride AND admiration of MbQ into their work. Editorials, series about “Heroes of Islam”, used bits of MbQ history and large doses of national jingoism to brand MbQ the true warrior of Islam and “solely” responsible for the spread of Islam.

Last thing I want to point out is that I do not want to give you the impression that the memory of MbQ is contested only between two groups, the Sindhi nationalists and the State. There are other parties involved who have no horse in that race. Literature. MbQ does offer a uniquely tragic hero against whom all manners of romantic stories can be played out. My favorite is a re-working of the Sikh legend of Sundri who defied the Mughal king within a Sindhi context – in a novel by Khaleeq Murai, Sundree. Maybe sometime I can go more into that.

But really, this is it. Dissertation Week is OVER. My four readers of the blog are down to two. It happens at parties all the time, too. No sweat. CM will now resume the scheduled broadcast.
Note: Please do check Caleb’s excellent posts on his dissertation here and here. Thanks to all who read / participated.

Dissertation Week: Historical Muhammad b. Qasim

Nationalism needs heroes. It constructs for them elaborate mythologies. It nurtures, protects, and propagates those mythologies through all channels available to it. Examples can be stated from any given nation-state and let me highlight three that are directly relevant to my topic: the history and memory of Charlemagne in France, Shiva Ji in India, and Chinghiz Khan in Mongolia are all examples of heroes that represent some unique facet of that nation’s foundational myth. Their mythologies, narratives and histories are not only produced for mass-consumption but also jealously guarded in the sites of memory (as Pierre Nora puts it).
Muhammad b. Qasim al-Thaqafi is one such jealously guarded national hero. In the Pakistani national history, he is the founder of a Pakistani state in the eighth century. He is a devout Muslim, a dutiful commander and a paragon of a true soldier. His every step is taken to further the cause of Islam and the Caliph. He is brave, fair and just and he takes as his ultimate duty the establishment of the Islamic empire in al-Hind. Against all odds and with a small army, he vanquishes the despot Raja Dah‰r of al-Sind. His triumph complete, he returns to Iraq and falls victim to political treachery. There are competing narratives that cast him as a temple-burning, usurper and invader who establishes the rule of violent upheavel and colonialism in al-Sind and al-Hind. Still others seek in him a gentle warrior of the soul that epitomizes the Sufi-Soldier duality. These various narratives are fluid, they emerge from competing political and cultural spheres. My goal is to contextualize and analyze them. Simply stated.

Of course, one arguement is that underneath all those “representations” is a “true” Muhammad b. Qasim and it is the job of the historian to unearth him. After all, where would we be without the Truth? Reading my dissertation, I guess. I make no attempt to collate/collapse all extant sources to take out the “kernel of truth” buried in there. My interest is in the production and receptions of these histories. With very few sources, fewer external ones, where can I find the truth, even if I had the intention? Are the earliest sources the most accurate? What if the earliest sources considered al-Sind to be a god-forsaken land and felt that the Muslim campaign there had not amounted to much? Muslim chroniclers spilled much ink on the sexy conquest of Sham and Fars (with attending heroes) and little on al-Sind (with a much more ambivalent hero). Before I offend Sindhis, I hasten to add what al-Baladhuri states about al-Sind:

[al-Sind’s] water is dark (and dirty); its fruit is bitter and poisonous; its land is stony, and its earth is salty. A small army will soon be annihilated there, and a large army will soon die of hunger.

So, about those kernels of truth. There is little that we can ascertain about MbQ (as I call him, more on affection between historian and subject later) from extant sources. Archeology tells us very little. The Arabs in Sind left coins and epigraphic evidence but nothing specific about MbQ. The sanskrit sources speak only of mleeches – no mention of MbQ. Which leaves textual sources. The earliest extant is al-Baladhuri’s Futuh al-Buldan which is a late 9th century book of conquests. The information on MbQ is sparse, and the section is quite limited. It may contain remanants of an earlier text by al-Mada’ini which, alas, is no more. The next jump in textual sources is to an early thirteenth century Persian text, al-Kufi’s Fathnama-i Sind. This is a troublesome text for a variety of reasons. It contains a large history of al-Sind prior to MbQ’s arrival and the rest concerns MbQ’s adventures in al-Sind. However, we have very little verification, textual or otherwise of anything stated in it. More on that later in the week. In the c. 15th-19th time-frame, we have both regional and court histories that offer amalgamations of al-Baladhuri and al-Kufi without adding anything new. Most notable for my purposes are Tarikh-i Sind by Mir Muhammad Masum Bhakkari (d.991/1583) and Tuhfatul Kiram by Mir Ali Sher Q‚ani Tattavi (d.1139/1727). There are also mentions of MbQ and his family in various early Arabic compilations, some mentions in apocalyptic materials, and he appears in biographical dictionaries. So, depending on how much faith you want to put in textual histories written 150 years after the fact, here is what we can claim:

He was born in/around c. 695 among the Banu Thaqif who held common ancestry with the Umayyads. They were settled around the town of Taif. The Thaqifi rise to power came with al-Hajjaj. MbQ was the grandson of al-Hajjaj’s uncle (not nephew). He got the nickname Abu al-Bahar as a youth because he liked the sweet fragrance of wild flowers. He was married to someone from Banu Tamim at a young age (not al-Hajjaj’s daughter). He started his career as a military commander in Iraq and Persia (against the Kurds and around Shiraz) subjugating rebellions for al-Hajjaj. He was quite proud of his record there as he bemoans in a poem at the end of his life:

Although I remain (imprisoned) in Wasit on its soil,
Fettered in irons-shackled and chained;
Many a Persians braves held me in awe,
And many of my equals I knocked dead>

Around c. 711/12, he was chosen by al-Hajjaj to lead a campaign against al-Sind. More poetry:

With bravery, genorosity and intelligence is Muhammad bin Qasim,
At the age of seventeen he became a general,
How close is his birth to his leadership!


He governed men at the age of seventeen,
When his equals were busy with other things,
Their petty desires had pulled them down,
While he was raised by kingly ambition and strength.

Why was he send there? al-Baladhuri maintains it was to capture some Kharajite rebels who had taken refuge with the Raja of al-Sind. The later sources have a far grander story about rescuing maidens that play a significant role in the present-day mythology of MbQ. Also, al-Hind held a curious fascination for the earliest Muslim expansionist. Missions were sent here as early as ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan. They were not successful but the tales of magical/golden al-Hind kept the interest alive. Further still, was the military imperative to keep the flanks covered after the conquest of Fars.

In any case, MbQ was the latest campaigner commissioned to “open” India. His army defeated the local ruler of al-Sind, Raja Dahar, in a campaign barely lasting a year and a half. His army conquered from the tip of the Arabian Gulf at Daybul, through Makran, up to Multan. Within two years, he was recalled back to Iraq. al-Hajjaj had died and left some checks waiting to be cashed. The Thaqafites paid the price. The end of MbQ will dominate wednesday’s post. The polity he created lasted wily-nily under ‘Abbasid governors (until the c. 10th) as a principality – though it flirted with the Fatimids on several occasions.

Now, all that I have stated above, I can elaborate from various Arabic and Persian sources but the story is sparse and skeletal. Hopefully I gave you some sense of the sources that I work with and, tomorrow, I will show what happens to this skeleton when it enters the realm of production of history.

Note: Sharon and Brandon are participating in the Dissertation Week. Many thanks!

Sunday Reading for Realists

A few things to remind you how precious that sunday sun really is. It is gorgeous outside, so don’t read these. Go play frisbee (in my defense, I am sitting in the sun as I type thanks to Airport Extreme).

  • The Guardian brushes off the cobwebs and reveals details about Prescott Bush and Nazis. The main crime seems to be profit-mongering from war. Sounds familiar.
  • In the TLS, Tom Phillips gives us a brief review of a book about Israeli and Palestinian postcards. Totalitarian regimes dig these postcards.
  • The Boston Globe, lays out the controversy surrounding Der Untergang– a new film about Hitler’s last days. Hitler tenderly kissing Eva is voyeuristic, the critics accuse. Well, they have more accusations than that.
  • In the New York Press, an examination of our propensity to anticipate doomsday. It appears we like world-ending scenarios because the not-world-ending realities are too disturbing to contemplate.
  • But love is real, too. India Express tells that Pakistan granted citizenship to an Indian woman married to a Pakistani. Seems like The General and Sardar Ji talked about it.
  • Chicago Tribune brings news of Radio Arman. A popular program lets young Afghani teenagers share their heartache with the listeners.

The General in His Labyrinth

The General spoke to the UN General Assembly two days ago; met with Our Fearless Leader before that, and with Sardar ji today. He weaved democracy, terrorism, hope, conviction, and CBMs (Confidence Building Measures not Continental Ballistic Missiles). There is some talk about the “disappointment” of The General remaining the general. But, honestly people, I ask you: What is a general without his vardi [uniform]. Nothing. Absolutely worthless. Just a run-of-the-mill civilian with some expensive dogs and nice cigars. The pattern is so familiar. US will support a military dictator because he is fighting a proxy war for the US. And, in the end, The General will fall in battle and the Pakistanis
will be left holding the check – a country held hostage.

Lets start with the Assembly address. Filled with the usual homilies. Although, The General did seem to give a bit on the Kashmiri issue by mentioning the “the people of Kashmir”. One would not be amiss in thinking that Kashmir was un-inhabited if one went by political discourse in Pakistan. Still, on Pakistan:

In Pakistan, we are well on the way to transforming our country into a modern, progressive, tolerant, democratic, Islamic state, reflecting the vision of our founding father, the Quaid-e-Azam. Democracy has been restored in Pakistan. The people have been empowered through a revolutionary Local Government System. Our women have been empowered.

One thing that is NOT happening in Pakistan is any “transformation”. Dictators come and they go (only via opus Dei). Pakistani democracies are akin to Iraqi WMDs….lots of talk about them but no sign on the grounds. The more he insists on democracy flourishing in Pakistan, the bigger the disconnect gets.

The General, earlier, meet with Bush and they talked about a host of issues. Most news-reports described that Bush “nudged” Musharraf into being “democratic”. But more significant discussion took place between the two leaders:

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The interesting thing that both Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf pointed out to the President is that the Prime Minister of India was born in what is now Pakistan, and President Musharraf was born in what is now India.
Q Does President Musharraf have a take on the situation in Iraq? Any counsel or thoughts for President Bush?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, not in any detail. Actually, they spent much of the time talking about President Musharraf’s concept of what he calls “enlightened moderation.” He has — he’s written in The Washington Post, actually, he published an article I guess about two months ago on this concept, and it’s something that Pakistan, working with other secular enlightened Muslim states, like Malaysia, for example, or Turkey, have brought into the Organization of Islamic Conferences — and the notion, what they’re after is trying to have enlightened scholars interpret Islam, because Islam is a religion that should be timeless, that should be adopted to the times. And the problem with the extremists is that many of these more extreme mullahs are trying to return to the fourth caliphate, you know, trying to move time, the clock back two centuries. So he talked a bit about that. And in that context, the two leaders also talked about — and the President talked about his interest in Pakistan’s efforts at domestic reform of the economy, moving forward with democratic institutions and the democratic process as part of this overall concept of enlightened moderation and development.

Q Did Bush lean on Musharraf to relinquish his military title by the end of the year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they had a more general discussion about the importance of enlightened moderation and the President’s support for the process of reform and democracy in Pakistan as part of that.

I am sure the facts about Musharraf and Singh’s birthplaces blew the lid off Bush’s mind. WHOO! Dangbit Dat! I do like that the “enlightened” Muslims (I picture some glowing beards, maybe?) is creeping into the political lexicon. It gives me hope because I have a few terms of my own that I am pushing lately: “empowered” Muslims, “democratized” Muslims, “not-living-under-a-dictatorship-or-kingship-sponsored-by-US-money-and-military-power” Muslims. Just around the corner, these terms.

Still, here was the gem in the briefing:

Q: Was there any mention at all of either the Afghan elections or the U.S. elections?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The Afghan elections, again, President Musharraf has helped with out of country voting so that Afghan citizens in Pakistan can vote and can participate in the election, which was logistically, you know, a big step, but very important for the success of the election. And President Musharraf reiterated that.

I’m going to pass on our election. These leaders are always interested in how it’s going, but — you know what the Hatch Act is? (Laughter.)

Q: But the Hatch Act does not — it only affects your political activities, it does not affect your ability to answer a question about the discussion —


Q: I do know a little bit about the Hatch Act. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All the leaders, frankly — from Singh to Koizumi to Musharraf — they’re all curious how it’s going.

Q: So they would all raise it in a general sense with the President?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Right. But I’m going to leave it at that. They’re all politicians. They’re all politicians, and at one time or another they all have their own elections, or their own congresses or their own parliaments. And it’s something that, you know, when these heads of state get together, it’s one thing — whether they’re English-speaking, or Japanese-speaking, Christian, Muslim — it’s one thing they all have in common, is that they have to deal with elections and parliaments and they always, in my experience, talk about it.

Clash of civilization, my posterior. We can ALWAYS have the politicians connect.
I did like the [imagine a snooty voice now] you know the Hutch Act is? takedown.

Today, Sardar Ji and The General met. I hope they did hatch some secret plan because, we know the Pakistani press will undoubtedly assert that The General made a secret plan to sell-out Kashmiri mujahideen. And I hope that Sardar Ji threw his tea-cup and punched his pillow because the Indian press will undoubtedly assert that he was not assertive enough. Politics as usual, everywhere.