Free Press Journal

We are All Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan- Review


We are all revolutionaries here: militarism, political Islam and Gender in Pakistan

Author: Aneela Zeb Babar

Publisher: Sage

Pages: 180

Price: Rs. 695

The scenario in Pakistan is a matter of concern and more in case of women. It’s volatile. In 2007, the capital city of Islamabad witnessed baton-wielding girl students of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). Nobel laureate and brave girl Malala Yousufzai and many others are fighting for the social justice. On the other side, there are women who talk aggressive and favour radicalism.

The recent book We are all revolutionaries here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan by Aneela Zeb Babar tries to answer various questions people ask to Pakistanis. The actors in the books span over two decades (from 1988 to 2008) of Pakistan’s tryst with a difficult history, trying to decipher the convoluted equation of militarism, political Islam and gender politics.

The author says,” This project is but a response to all the statements starting with ‘But why would Pakistanis…’ I have heard over the years. Let us just say that I got tired of explaining why Malala Yousufzai continues to face so much flak from certain Pakistanis (and ‘good Muslims’ and/or conspiracy theorists elsewhere) or why would any Pakistani woman justify Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology’ section to allow men to ‘lightly beat their wives’.” The book tries to explain how increasing religiosity in the society affects women. The global experience is increasing religiosity curtails women’s rights.

The meteoric rise of the success of right-wing groups in creating a base among professional, urban and upper-middle class has shocked the liberal, secular and modernist forces of Pakistan. The author writes, “During the initial phase of Islamisation process in Pakistan, efforts were made by conservative Muslim men, who were threatened by women’s presence in ‘public space’, to put them in the ‘chadar and chardevari’ (the veil and within four walls). In the 1980s, female students scoffed at the chadar directives. She says,” personalities like Farhat Hashmi, who started running religious seminaries for women, have been far more successful in their Islamisation campaign since her followers seem to have voluntarily adopted a style of hijab that not only covers their  bodies but also virtually make them faceless.” Farhat advocates a particular style of hijab, which is more of an Arab type. In a poster campaign, they compared the woman in hijab as a ‘hidden pearl’.

There is a special chapter on hijab. The title is Cultural underpinnings: Pakistani Muslim women’s conceptions of hijab in Islam. Hijab is identified with the political Islam. The Pakistani diaspora is also highly influenced by the growing religiosity and in such scenario women always become the worst sufferer. The author says,” We hope that as we retrace the journey a particular generation took, the signposts of our voyage will identify the road map a future generation should adopt to get out of the quagmire in which Pakistan finds itself.”

The author also touches the issue of hybrid seminaries. It evolved gradually. It started with a decree of ‘equivalence’ for madrassah degrees and academic degrees awarded by Pakistan’s ministry of Education. The process was instituted 1979 onwards – when Zia ul Haq was in power – in response to pressure from religious seminaries, when President Zia agreed to extend madrassah graduates the same level of respect that applied to other Pakistani graduates. It created some problem and so later on there were some reforms and structural changes within the seminaries towards a relatively more formalized structure of awarding degrees.

The book is important to understand the relations between political Islam and gender. When religion is used for the political advantage, it is women who suffer most and no religion is an exception to this reality.