postcolonial insanity by abbas zaidi

Download Postcolonial Insanity by Abbas Zaidi

Post on 26-Oct-2014




0 download

Embed Size (px)


Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies ISSN No. 1948-1845 (Print); 1948-1853 (Electronic)

Postcolonial insanityAbbas ZaidiThe enemies of Islam must be hunted down and killed like snakes even when they were offering prayers. General Faiz Ali Chishti 1 I remember my days as a political prisoner in Karachi Central Jail in 1981. A prison warden, bringing me my food, said she was frightened. She had heard that a Shia family had moved into the lane of the house where she lived. You know Shias eat children, she said. I lock my child up all day so that Shias cant kidnap, kill, and eat my child. She has heard it from the imam at her local mosque. Benazir Bhutto2

1. IntroductionOn 4 January 2011, Salman Taseer, a liberal human rights campaigner and the governor of Punjab, Pakistans largest and most powerful province, was killed by Mumtaz Qadri, his bodyguard, for insulting Prophet Muhammad. Taseers crime was that he had stood up for Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman, sentenced to death for insulting Prophet Muhammad. Taseers murder fused the educated, the less educated, and the illiterate into an Islamistnationalist unity. Within hours of Taseers murder, the educated created a Facebook account for Mumtaz Qadri where they justified his crime in the name of Islam (the account was soon scrapped by Facebook managers). Lawyers all over the country threatened to kill any lawyer who would dare to prosecute Qadri, and no judge was willing to try him. Soon Taseers son was kidnapped, and it is widely believed that he will be used as a bargaining chip for the release of Qadri. Recently, an anti-terrorism court sentenced Qadri to death for openly and proudly admitting killing Taseer. The judge said he had no option but to sentence him to death because he admitted killing Taseer of his own will. After sentencing Qadri, the judge disappeared because the mullahs and the lawyers had threatened to kill him and his family. Later he left Pakistan with his family. 3


Cited by Noman (1990: 122). General Faiz Ali Chishti was one of the architects of Islamization during General Zia ul Haqs martial law (1977-88).2

Bhutto (2008: 54).


See Asian Human Rights Commissions brief report: Government sends a judge abroad to appease extremist religious groups. Available at:

1Postcolonial insanity, Abbas Zaidi JPCS Vol 2 No 4, December 2011

Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies ISSN No. 1948-1845 (Print); 1948-1853 (Electronic)

This paper claims that Pakistan as a postcolonial society has been suffering from a syndrome in which the love of the Prophet has gone to an extent which can be termed postcolonial insanity. It begins by defining three terms: insanity, postcolonial, and then postcolonial insanity. These definitions are sketchy and recapitulatory, and do not add significantly to the great corpus of postcolonial writings. However, it is relevant to the discussion which follows. After the definitions have been understood in perspective, the paper chronicles the history of postcolonial insanity in Pakistan. Various examples and sources are cited to corroborate claims and observations made. The paper concludes with a suggestion for further research; the suggestion is based on a claim that postcolonial insanity is not exclusive to Pakistan.

2. Postcolonial insanityBefore defining postcolonial insanity, I would like to say a word about postcolonial and insanity, respectively. 2.1. Insanity I have preferred insanity to its synonyms such as craziness, dementia, derangement, and lunacy even though it has been abandoned by both psychologists and psychiatrists (Hayakawa, 1971: 461). This is so because insanity implies absence of legal responsibility on the part of a person called/diagnosed as insane (Dobson and Pusch, 1994). Insanity refers to a state of mind; any definition of insanity, however, figurative or metaphorical, will have to take into account the mental aspect of a person or situation in question. I would like to quote two important definitions of insanity: (i) A medico-legal. . . term, covering forms of mental disorder which involves legal responsibility and incompetence. (Drever, 1952: 139) (ii) To be insane is to be in a state of mind that precludes normal perception and behavior, and ordinary social interaction. (The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1993: 1377) (iii) Nairne calls insanity a legal, and not a psychological, concept; it is the inability to understand that certain actions are wrong (Nairne, 2010: 454).

2Postcolonial insanity, Abbas Zaidi JPCS Vol 2 No 4, December 2011

Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies ISSN No. 1948-1845 (Print); 1948-1853 (Electronic)

(iv) Siegel argues that insanity should be defined as a lack of substantial capacity to control ones behavior. Substantial capacity is defined as the mental capacity needed to understand the wrongfulness of an act (Siegel, 2010: 99). It may be observed here that insanity as a medico-legal term is more in the nature of alibi than accusation, i.e., it is used in defense of the person accused of mens rea (Marvit, 1994: 645). I will try to show that those I claim to be postcolonially insane have legal, and even moral, exemption, even justification. 2.2. Postcolonial There are many problems with the notion of the postcolonial/postcoloniality, and thus no blanket definition of it can be given (Weaver, 2004; Ramutsindela, 2005; Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 2006). Postcolonial discourse/situation is strongly linked to colonial discourse/situation. The postcolonial cannot be understood without the colonial (Hall, 1996; Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 2007). This is why, references have to be made to colonialism to understand postcolonialism4. But this is not as straightforward as it appears. For instance, Hooks links a typical postcolonial situation, decolonization, to breaking with white supremacist thinking that suggests we are inferior, inadequate, and marked by victimization as a strategy of resistance (Hooks, 1992: 17). This is a wrong argument because it evokes two questions whose answers Hooks does not give: First, does the end of colonialism result in supremacist thinking? Second, can such an end be brought about in the first place? Decolonization in many independent countries resulted in the masses being looked down upon as inferior by the new (local) ruling elites; it is the ruling elites who have been responsible for the crises of various types (Eyoh, 1999; Thomson, 2010). In the similar vein, with respect to postcolonialism, colonization has been linked to thingification (Cesaire 1972:177). But decolonization, i.e., postcoloniality, does not result n dethingification. If thingification means a status akin to that of objects of ordinary or little worth, the orang asli5 of postcolonial Malaysia, for example, have seen no improvement in their lives. They remain the same display items of backwardness they were during British rule (Doolittle, 2005; Gomes, 2007). Religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan (Ali and Rehman, 2001; Pande, 2005) and Bangladesh (Uddin, 2006) have seen no improvement in their lives


Iroegbu makes a similar plea to understand the healing of insanity amongst the Igbo of Nigeria. See Iroegbu, 2010. It means the indigenous peoples or races.


3Postcolonial insanity, Abbas Zaidi JPCS Vol 2 No 4, December 2011

Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies ISSN No. 1948-1845 (Print); 1948-1853 (Electronic)

either, and postcolonial African countries host the same groups of people in ghettos as in colonial times (Chiavetta, 2005). Edwards Said has claimed that colonialism is manifested through the "configurations of power" (Said, 1994: 133). He further claims, a whole series of interests which. . . creates but also maintains. . . a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, and even incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world (Said, 1994: 138). Both Wa Thiongo (1986) and Said (1994) have said that colonialism is supported by government institutions. In Wa Thiongos words, colonialism is a situation where the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and blackboard (Wa Thiongo, 1986: 9). But, as will be shown later in this paper, postcolonial/independent rulers in question have proved worse than their colonial predecessors. Through legislation and textbooks, they have done away with the chalk and board, and used swords and guns regardless of time or place. Theorists have defined postcolonialism in locational and temporal terms too. But if this is the case, Australia, Canada, and the United States should be referred to as postcolonial sates, and Claude McKays Banjo and Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart should not be counted as postcolonial works because they were written when Jamaica and Nigeria were still colonies. There is an important issue which needs to be addressed: postcolonial acts committed in nonpostcolonial countries. For example, how would we assess a crime committed in Canada by a father (who migrated from Pakistan) who beheads his daughter (who also migrated from Pakistan) for not wearing the Islamic scarf to school? What about a brother of Asian extraction (born and lived all his life in England) who kills his sister (also born and lived all her life in England) for immodesty? What about a Canadian Sikh mother who hires killers from India in order to punish her daughter who has married a fellow Canadian Sikh and escaped to India? It may be pointed out that in all the above situations, the colonial aspect is the common factor, be it former English colonies (Australia, Canada, the Unite States), or England, the former colonial master, itself. But what about the Italian-based young woman of Pakistani