Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pakistan's Founder Jinnah: Tragic Hero

Lately I have been reading several books about Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and I must say that this man is one of the most intriguing political figures I have ever encountered. It is easy to romanticise the lives of great political characters such as Attaturk, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh who also excelled as men of action. Jinnah, on the other hand, was primarily a barrister and all his battles were waged with words.

Some years ago, the former Foreign Minister of India and a member of India’s largest Hindu nationalist party, Mr Jaswant Singh, wrote a book about Jinnah which caused a storm in his country. Mr Singh the Hindu was in awe of his Muslim foe, and as a result of his book lionising Jinnah, he was declared a traitor to the nation and expelled from his party. The freedom of speech is clearly not valued in “the world’s largest democracy.”

The factors that brought about the creation of Pakistan were many. It would of course be an over-simplification to suggest that the partititon of India was solely a product of the British propensity to divide-and-rule which also gave us other explosive binaries such as Eire-Ulster, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq-Kuwait. In addition to this we also need to take into account the machinations of the subcontinental bourgeosie and the gentry: these were people who willed the creation of a separate Muslim homeland because they feared being quashed by the financial prowess of the Hindu majority in a united India. Hence their demand for a separate Muslim homeland rested on the desire to guard their economic interests rather than pure nationalist fervour. Interestingly, all the major religious movements of the Indian subcontinent were vehemently opposed to the creation of Pakistan.

One of the ideological foundation stones of Pakistan is the truly bizarre two-nation theory, engendered in the mind of a third-rate thinker known as Mohammad Iqbal. Strangely, this individual did not realise that in making religion the main criterion of nationhood, the right to separate homeland would also have to be extended to the Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists of India, but the provincial thinker that he was, he never dwelt on the implications of his theory. But here it is worth emphasising that the recourse to the two-nation theory as one of the ideological pillars of Pakistan is more than anything else a post factum justification for the creation of this country that should perhaps never have come into being.

If we consider the process that culminated in the creation of Pakistan, there are certain contradictions that should become apparent to us all. Jinnah did his utmost to persuade the princely states of what is today known Rajasthan to accede to Pakistan. This is a region with a Hindu majority. Furthermore, once Pakistan had been created, Jinnah reminded his countrymen that one’s creed must remain strictly a private affair:

“In due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual, but in apolitical sense as citizens of one state."

Given that Jinnah was also willing to include predominantly Hindu regions in his nation-state, the primary causes of the creation of this country were of a non-religious nature. We have already
mentioned the factors of the British inclination to divide-and-rule and the economic interests of the Muslim bourgeoisie and gentry. The third important factor that must be taken into account is the personality of this highly gifted man.

According to one apocryphal story popular amongst Hindus, Jinnah, whose ancestors were Hindus of the Lohana caste, wished to revert to Hinduism, but he was rebuffed by the Brahmins. Jinnah took offence and avenged himself on the Hindus by creating Pakistan. Although this story is almost certainly a fabrication, it is also true in the sense that offers us a correct appraisal of his personality as a reactive man.

The dialectics that we can discern in the life of Jinnah is also present in the lives of many amongst us. We set out on a specific path intending to traverse it to its very end, but certain unforeseen and insurmountable obstacles or personal tragedies force us to pursue the contrary path with doubled determination. These are ingredients that can easily be seen in the life of Jinnah. His personal tragedy was the death of his young wife, and by all accounts he was deeply affected by the loss; this was a personal tragedy that also hardened him as a man. As for the obstacle that completely changed his political outlook, we must point to Gandhi’s deliberate utilisation of religion as a political tool. Jinnah, a staunch secularist, was infuriated by Gandhi’s religious oratory, and once Gandhi had set out on the path of the politics of religious identity, Jinnah was compelled by the circumstances do the same – and he did it much better than Gandhi.

One last factor that truly matters is that of personal ambition. There are two kinds of ambition worth dwelling on in this regard: on one the hand there is the kind of ambition that has solely private gain in sight, whereas on the other hand there is the kind of ambition that never loses sight of the common good. Even Ignatius Loyola insisted that the members of his order must aspire to great deeds for the greater glory of god; in other words, being ambitious in such a way that one benefits others than oneself is a virtuous act in conformity with the teachings of Christ. Jinnah was probably well aware that his being Muslim would prevent him from assuming the leadership of a party that was predominantly Hindu. Only by pursuing the politics of religious identity could he reach the summit. He did reach the summit, and his vanity certainly played a large part in this regard. To what extent his actions benefitted the subcontinental Muslims remains a moot point. Even so, the following words of Jinnah’s biographer contain no exaggeration whatsoever:

“Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Meaning of Love

‘Love’ is perhaps the most diluted word in any language. Whenever most of us resort to this word, it is typically in an offhand manner, almost as if we were afraid of dwelling on it. What has always intrigued me upon some reflection is that men will openly speak of their sexual conquests, whereas love is a matter that would make them cringe. The main reason for this appears to be as follows: a sexual conquest entails a power relation in which man is the stronger party, whereas in the case of love man will have to contend with parity or be willing to undergo submission. According to Plato, a man madly in love readily subjects himself to the kind of humiliation that would make even his enemies feel embarrassed on his behalf. Few amongst us would be willing to assume such a self-effacing posture, whether in words or in deeds, let alone allowing the world to witness it.

All the great philosophers have written extensively on love. Aristotle views love as one of the primary human instincts, or concupiscence as it was called by the scholastics. Concupiscence it is that impels man to obtain what he desires, and if any impediments were to prevent our advance towards the desired object, our other primary instinct comes into play: irascibility. The latter instinct is our inclination to anger, which gives us the strength to do away with that which impedes our advance towards the desired object. Rendered into an idiom to which all of us are accustomed, our primary instincts are love and hatred. Furthermore, our capacity for hatred will be proportionate with our capacity for love. Or to quote a famous German philosopher, ‘what does he know of love, he who has never hated?’

Thomas Aquinas elevates the Aristotelian principle of love as instinct to an all-pervading universal force. Love, according to Aquinas, is a movement towards. From falling bodies to the orbit of the planets to the growth of the plants to the man on the verge of madness owing to the splendour of a lady: it is all love.

This is all very beautiful, but the pinnacle of all theorisation on love is reached with Spinoza. What Spinoza has to say regarding love is so chillingly profound that it merits verbatim quotation:

“He who conceives, that the object of his love is affected pleasurably or painfully, will himself be affected pleasurably or painfully; and the one or the other emotion will be greater or less in the lover according as it is greater or less in the thing loved.”

With Spinoza love assumes a cognitive character heretofore not formulated philosophically, viz., he conceives of love as a kind of parity that extends from being a purely external relation to a meeting of minds. Often portrayed as one of the driest amongst the philosophers, it does not require of us that we delve far below the surface in order to encounter a man of tremendous passion. The German Romantics discerned this passion with ease and termed Spinoza ‘a man intoxicated with divine [love].’ The imprint of Spinoza is all too apparent in the case of Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers; the protagonist in the mentioned novel is so enthralled by the object of his love that he sees her countenance in all things, and this to the point that he loses his mind. Let us return to Spinoza in this regard:

“In proportion as a mental image or emotion is referred to more objects, so are there more causes whereby it can be aroused or fostered, all of which […] the mind contemplates simultaneously in association with the given emotion; therefore the emotion is more frequent, or more often in full vigour, and […] occupies the mind more.”

Thus far have we have treated of love as instinct, as a universal force, and as cognition. But there is another aspect to love that tends to rob it of all its romantic zeal: love as a social phenomenon. There is every reason to believe that love has undergone manifold conceptual-evolutionary mutations, and it is plausible to think that our primitive ancestors knew nothing of love as we know it. What we call love was no more than a crude act of sexual gratification amongst our primitive ancestors, and insights into the sexual habits of ancestors can be gained by observing simians: parents will copulate with their children and brothers with their sisters.

Love as we know it saw its first beginnings as men set out to order their social relations in accordance with the dictates of reason rather than let nature run her course. Henceforth, sexuality would become regulated, possibly because of the socially disruptive consequences unfettered copulation, and once the factor of property came into play, the institution of matrimony became a necessity. Kant, at his pithiest, gave us the following definition of matrimony:

“Geschlechtsgemeinschaft […] ist der wechselseitige Gebrauch, den ein Mensch von eines anderen Geschlechtsorganen und Vermoegen macht […]. Die natuerliche Geschlechtsgemeinschaft ist nun entweder die nach der blossen tierischen Natur oder nach dem Gesetz. […] Die leztere ist die Ehe [.]”

As we can clearly see, Kant’s definition is in perfect conformity with what was stated in the preceding paragraph. Alas, with Kant love has lost all its allure. And just when you thought matters could not get any worse, Marx demolished love completely. In his Communist Manifesto, Marx hit back at those representatives of the bourgeoisie who accused the communists of wanting to erode the institution of matrimony:

‘Die Bourgeoisie hat dem Familienverhaeltnis seinen ruehrend-sentimentalen Schleier abgerissen und es auf ein reines Geldverhaeltnis zureuckgefuehrt. […] Worauf beruht die gegenwaertige, die buergerliche Familie? Auf dem Kapital, auf dem Privaterwerb.’

Implicit in Marx’s spectacular counter-attack is the following retort:

‘You accuse us communists of wanting to erode the institution of matrimony? Forget not that this not-so-holy matrimony of yours is no more than a sophisticated form of prostitution.’

What Marx is likely to have had in mind were the marriages of convenience commonly practised by the European aristocracies and the bourgeoisie. Marriages between cousins, and at times even between uncles and nieces, served the purpose of shielding one’s property. Werner Sombart, the brilliantly unorthodox thinker that he was, saw in the bourgeois rationalisation of love another sign of the insidious spirit of capitalism. The stored up eros of the uncle, who is likely to have had qualms about going to bed with his niece, was channeled towards the accumulation of wealth instead.

If Kant, Marx, and Sombart are right, what is it that remains of love? Is love a sham? Does love not really exist? Are the sublime thoughts of Aquinas and Spinoza nothing but futile invocations of chimerae?

Kant the destroyer will enable us to rebuild at least some of the edifice of love that came tumbling down with the demolition work that he and Marx had carried out. According to Kant, there are two ways of perceiving the world: (i) the world as beholden to the irreversible laws of causality and (ii) the world as ordered by the regulative principles issuing forth from our own minds. It is to the latter category that love must be assigned. Love has now become a command, in adherence to the teachings of Christ, according to which we ought to love all.

But is it possible to love all? According to Hegel, unabashed bias is in the very nature of love. Love is all about making an exception for another human being. Love does therefore not admit of being universalised.

Perhaps the most intriguing attempt at unravelling the mystery of love was made by Schopenhauer. The most extreme cases of reciprocal love, according to Schopenhauer, are triggered by what he calls 'the genius of the species', viz., when two human beings are so strongly attracted to one another that they are willing to destroy any force that might prevent their coming together, it is in fact nature herself qua metaphysical entity that wills their union. The motives of the two lovers are confined to the level of individuality, whereas the intentions of nature of a universal order: to create a superior offspring for the benefit of the whole species.

According to the Arabs, God has 99 attributes and the 100th is known to God only. Something similar could well be said of love: the farther you delve into the matter, the more do you become convinced that there are dimensions to love that shall remain forever unknown.