Says Aneela Zeb Babar, as she speaks of her book We are All Revolutionaries Here — Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan.
The Pakistan of 1947 and the Pakistan of today are two very different nations, says Aneela Zeb Babar, author of the recently published book We are All Revolutionaries Here — Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan.
After 12 long years of research in and out of Pakistan, Babar has come up with this book which, she insists, speaks of “Pakistan’s tryst with a difficult history” and the equation of the three elements in the book’s title — militarism, political Islam and gender from 1988 to 2008, which were pivotal in shaping this narrative.
Babar is a researcher, and works in the fields of Islam, gender, migration and popular culture in the academic and development sectors with universities and non-governmental organisations, mostly in South and South-East Asia and Australia.
“The new generation in Pakistan has new questions. In the last six decades, the definitions of Islam and politics too have changed,” says Babar, when asked about the need to pen this book. There was a need for a humane and nuanced narration of the situation, she says, considering how much the social fabric of the country has changed.
Having spent her childhood in Rawalpindi, a cantonment town in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Babar says that she had a rather regimented and disciplined life back then. “We were given the values of being a good citizen, adhering to the military system in the country.
But I am glad my family never forced any radical thoughts upon us children,” says the author, adding, “Rather my mother was very keen that I read Indira Gandhi’s My Truth.”
Why this title?
“In the course of my research, I had been to a village in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, where I met a little girl, who said, Hum sab inqalabi hai (we are all revolutionaries). That’s when I knew this had to be the title of my book,” Babar answers, saying that while most of the population still remains colonised in their thinking and lifestyles, these women, all strong and confident, are rebels, standing up against injustice and the State when required.
Coming to political Islam, the author explains that today Islam can no more be looked at from a spiritual lens alone. “It has to be looked at as a political tool, because that is what it has become,” she says.
And gender? “That is about women taking over. The power struggle needs to be studied through a gender lens.”
“We are asked about the hijaab in such a casual way, despite the hundred varieties of purdah systems that exist elsewhere. People rarely know of this and simply use a broad word — hijaab — to cover anything and everything,” Babar gives an instant reply.
A head scarf is used in many cultures apart from Islam, she points out. “Why then is only the hijaab so politicised?” she questions, adding that revolution is different for everyone.
“The relevant Quranic injunctions are to hide your beauty except that which cannot be hidden, so for some, it may be covering their head but exposing their midriff and for someone else, it may be wearing a salwar kameez but choosing not to cover their head, it’s how you understand and interpret it,” she believes.
How many Malalas?
“Yes, Malala is our girl and we are proud of her. But she is just one face among many many others who are fighting every day,” says Babar. It’s the region that these girls live and grow up in. The circumstances make rebels out of them, she adds.
“If there’s any hope in Pakistan, it’s because our women don’t give up,” stresses Babar, while pointing, “If I am disappointed with anything, it’s when women disappoint me.”