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Tale of Two Religious States

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

The differences and similarities between the early years of Israel and Pakistan

There are a growing number of voices in Pakistan that believe Islamabad stands to lose more than it gains by shunning relations with Israel, especially with India getting cozier with it. Some Pakistanis are in the habit of saying that Pakistan and Israel are the only two states that came into being in the name of religion. A comparison between founders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Theodore Herzl is thus valid. Herzl was rejected by the rabbis of Europe and Russia; so was Jinnah by the major religious parties of India. If Jinnah created Pakistan for the Muslims of India, then his struggle is comparable to Herzl’s Zionist struggle for the creation of a homeland for the Jews.

After 1948, Israel was ruled by socialist Ben Gurion and his Mapai Party which later became the Labour Party. Jinnah, on Aug. 11, 1947, announced that Pakistan would be a secular state. In this he can be compared with Gurion, who declared Israel a secular-liberal democracy in 1948. But Gurion, as prime minister, should actually be compared to Liaquat Ali Khan, and here the comparisons become invalid. In 1949, Liaquat Ali Khan tabled the Objectives Resolution and termed the Quran and Sunnah the founding principles of the state.

Gurion, meanwhile, stuck to the Declaration of Independence that said Israel would be a secular-liberal democracy. Mapai’s base was in the Histadrut (labor unions) and its secular followers were the Ashkenazim Jews of Europe and America. The African-Asian Jews, the Mizrachim, were the underclass in Israel whose conservatism gave rise to parties founded later by the rabbis and the right-wing Likud. Because of the secular hinterland (Europe and America) of the Ashkenazim, only liberal democracy was possible in Israel. Owing to territorial disputes and the quarrel over religion, the Israeli constitution could never be made. Pakistan’s early hesitation in making a constitution is comparable, but it did succeed in making one in 1956. Israel still doesn’t have a constitution.

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