Comparing Pakistan and Israel
(Today is the 60th anniversary of the expiration of the British mandate in Palestine, and the creation of the State of Israel. This post is based on an A-A-A post from July 2007.)
Why is it that so many Muslims seem to support almost any half-baked idea of separation as long as it’s a separate Muslim state and yet these same Muslims give absolutely no ground on Israel?
I have been asked this question a number of times. There is a degree of validity in the implicit argument. Pakistan is like Israel in that both countries were created on the basis of religion, partitioning the country that existed before, and causing large population displacements. These are factual statements. Turning from facts to opinions, I think Pakistan is like Israel in another way — partition of India and the creation of Israel were two of the worst mistakes made since World War II. Yes, Pakistan is like Israel.
But is Pakistan really so much like Israel that one can make a case for a Muslim homeland in South Asia but not oppose a Jewish state in Palestine? I think the answer is, no Pakistan is not that much like Israel.
It is easy enough to say why Israel is not like Pakistan: Israel is a rich democracy for most of its citizens, Pakistan until recently has been a tin pot dictatorship one bullet away from anarchy. So Israel is not like Pakistan. But I argue that Pakistan is not like Israel.
What is the basic premise of Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel? Zionism’s basic premise is that Jews irrespective of their geographic location, ethnic identity or socioeconomic background constitute a nation and thus deserve a national homeland. Moreover, this homeland is to be situated in the Biblical land of Israel. Whether that land is populated by someone else is a non-issue — a land without people for a people without land.
This is very different from the concept of Pakistan (and by extension, Bangladesh) as it was espoused by Muslim League in the 1940s, and as it is articulated today. The Lahore Resolution called for sovereign states in the Muslim majority areas of India — areas that were going to become Pakistan were already populated by Muslims.
It is hard to argue that European Jews were safe in their places of birth after Holocaust. One can argue whether Muslim separatism was/is valid (my view on this is mixed). But accepting the Zionist position immediately and necessarily implies displacement of population and violation of fundamental rights. Accepting the two-nation theory in principle does not require either.
Whatever we think of Muslim separatism in India, partition was accepted by political stakeholders who broadly represented the people. There was popular consultation in some form. In the provinces that became Pakistan, elections of 1946 were a de-facto referendum on the Lahore Resolution. In Bengal, some Hindu leaders demanded partition even if Muslims rejected Pakistan. Only 10 per cent of the population was eligible to vote in these elections, but Congress and Muslim League did probably reflect the popular mood.
There was nothing similar in Palestine — no one consulted the villagers around Haifa before deciding that their village was going to become Israel.
So much for the principle, the reality was very different. Partition resulted in one of the biggest displacement of people in human history. But the horrors and carnage of partition, tragic as they were, perhaps could have been avoided. Not so for the displacement of people in Palestine. Creation and expansion of Israel have resulted in influx of Jews and driving out of Palestinians. Displacement in Palestine is in one direction — Jews in, Palestinians out. By contrast, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all lost in our great disaster.
This continues to be the case. Any Jew, born anywhere in the world, is eligible to become an Israeli citizen. Israel is by design homeland for world’s Jewry. Pakistan, whatever Iqbal’s dreams were, is homeland for people of Pakistan only. Borders aren’t open for even Muslims of other parts of South Asia.
When you think about it, Pakistan is nothing like Israel.