Whitewashing history is a national past time in Pakistan. Ours is not the only country indulging in the practice however, as nation states around the world have construed particular narratives of history, eliminating unsavory details from textbooks. Still, Pakistan’s experiment in this regard remains unique, because our policymakers attempted to amend almost 1500 years of history to construct an identity and narrative for the young nation. Our textbooks preach the, “Muslim  Good/ Non-Muslim Bad,” binary ad nauseum.

Since the 1980s, a similar exercise has been conducted across the border in India where Muslims are portrayed as the “bad guys.” Fortunately, Indian historians have resisted the introduction of such hogwash with vigor, and apart from some schools, the negative propaganda has not made its way into mainstream textbooks. On the other hand, Pakistan’s Social Studies and History textbooks start with a discussion of “ideology;” a term that has yet to be defined properly even by European Intellectuals. The “ideology” portion is a cornerstone for things to come in the following chapters. (In the 1980s, University Grants Commission ordered that history books should be written to “demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularize it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a completely Islamised State.”)

Contrary to what our textbooks, demagogues and television ideologues describe, Muhammad bin Qasim was not the first Muslim to descend upon these shores. Respected Indian historian Romila Thapar mentions in her work that Arabs had been coming to India for trade before the advent of Islam. According to Pliny, a Roman historian of the first century A.D., a large number of Arabs had settled along the Malabar coast. Indeed, the first mosque in the subcontinent was established in Kerala, located in the southern part of modern day India. This mosque was built with the financial assistance of the local Hindu ruler. This historical fact is obscured by both Indian and Pakistani nationalists because it negates the Invader/ Conquest hypotheses favored by respective parties. 

Apart from the nationalist constructions of historical narrative, selective focus is also employed to justify deep held prejudices. Even if Mohammad bin Qasim is taken as a starting point for teaching the history of subcontinent (ignoring the glorious history of India), the fact that many Arab Muslims fought in the army of Raja Dahir against the invading force is nowhere to be found in the narrative. Similarly, hero-worship is promoted on both sides of the border. Some of the Muslim ‘heroes’ are considered ‘barbarians and invaders’ by non-muslims. Irrespective of this binary, it is a historical fact that Mahmud Ghaznavi’s army contained many non-muslims including a Hindu general who was sent to attack the independent Muslim state of Multan. The same Mahmud was ready to attack the Caliphate of Baghdad which was only thwarted by emotional appeals from the Caliph himself. 

Two of Pakistan’s medium range ballistic missiles are named after the Ghauri dynasty. When the first Ghauri Sultan attacked Ghazna—the capital of the Ghaznavid empire—he burnt the city down, exhumed corpses of Ghaznavi kings and burnt them too. He also ordered the torching of original manuscripts of Avicenna, one of the finest intellectuals of his time. To be fair, there are plenty of genuine “heroes” in the history of the subcontinent but they are ignored because they don’t fit the agenda. Slavery had been a scourge since time immemorial and slave revolts (such as the one led by Spartacus) are part of folklore. Slaves had never been able to actually become kings or monarchs. Qutb-ud-din Aibak wrote a new chapter in history by forming a ‘Slave dynasty’ in India. Similarly, the first female monarch in our history was Razia Sultana. She ruled India much before famous queens like Isabella of Castille or Catherine de Medici. Unlike many famous kings of India, she established schools, academies and public libraries.

The era of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526) gave rise to a cultural revolution. It was followed by the Mughal empire, founded by Turkish-Mongol warrior Babur. His family ruled over the Indian subcontinent till 1857. Fratricide (killing brothers to avoid opposition to rule), was common during the mughal period, perhaps an inherent trait that was also common in their Turkish counterparts, the Ottomans. Sher Shah Suri was another visionary king who can be considered a genuine hero. In modern terms, he established efficient service delivery systems. The portrayal of mughal emperor Akbar provides a good example of divergence in narratives of Indian and Pakistani nationalists. He is considered one of the greatest kings of India by Indian nationalists because he treated non-muslims fairly, and is equally vilified for giving them far too many allowances by Pakistani nationalists.

Such obfuscation in historical facts leads to the construction of a national narrative that refuses to recognize ‘heroes’ from the “other” camp. People such as Bhagat Singh, Dr. Ambedkar or Subhash Chandra Bose- despite their antipathy towards the Hindu-Muslim binary- do not find any space in Pakistani textbooks despite playing important roles during the Pre-partition struggle for the independence of India.

We have sacrificed history at the altar of ideology. With this backdrop, shameful incidents of communal violence like Ayodhya (1992), Shanti Nagar (1997), Gujarat (2002), Gojra (2009) and Joseph Colony (2013) are only bound to happen.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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