Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tell me lies

Introducing the draft Constitution to the Indian Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar answered several criticisms of the draft. He said among other things the following:
What I am sorry about is that the provisions taken from the Government of India Act, 1935, relate mostly to the details of administration. I agree that administrative details should have no place in the Constitution. I wish very much that the Drafting Committee could see its way to avoid their inclusion in the Constitution.....

..... it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing the form of the administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution. It follows that it is only where people are saturated with Constitutional morality such as the one described by Grote the historian that one can take the risk of omitting from the Constitution details of administration and leaving it for the Legislature to prescribe them. The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of Constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.

In these circumstances it is wiser not to trust the Legislature to prescribe forms of administration. This is the justification for incorporating them in the Constitution.

Harsh truth! We are the better for it.

Jinnah, too, noted it, e.g.,
The irony of the situation that the Hindu caste community which is not only least fitted but unfit for any experiment in the realm of democracy is clamouring for and is falling head over heels in love with democracy.

Speech at the meeting of the Muslim University Union
Aligarh, March 10, 1941.
Archives of Freedom Movement, Vol. 237.

On the other hand, Jinnah (Aug 11, 1947, to the Pakistani Constituent Assembly)
The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan.
I suppose it is considered to be disrespectful of the religion to point out that the stuff in bold is simply wrong.   I think if someone had been kind enough to throw Ambedkar's words at the Pakistan Constituent Assembly - that democracy in Pakistan or in Islam is essentially top-dressing on a deeply undemocratic soil -  it would have been a great favor to them.  Instead, since Pakistan is Islamic, and Islam is essentially democratic - hey, Jinnah told us so -  Pakistan is automatically democratic. 

I bring this up because I see far too many American liberals taken up with this kind of nonsense.  They fall all over any Muslim who merely eschews violence, hail him as a moderate, and marvel that he talks of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and do not care to examine the actual content of the ideas.  E.g., Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf.

Margaret Bourke-White, back in 1947, was smarter.

...I hoped he had a constructive plan for the seventy million citizens of Pakistan. What kind of constitution did he intend to draw up?

"Of course it will be a democratic constitution; Islam is a democratic religion."

I ventured to suggest that the term "democracy" was often loosely used these days. Could he define what he had in mind?

"Democracy is not just a new thing we are learning," said Jinnah. "It is in our blood. We have always had our system of zakat -- our obligation to the poor."

This confusion of democracy with charity troubled me. I begged him to be more specific.

"Our Islamic ideas have been based on democracy and social justice since the thirteenth century."

This mention of the thirteenth century troubled me still more. Pakistan has other relics of the Middle Ages besides "social justice" -- the remnants of a feudal land system, for one. What would the new constitution do about that? .. "The land belongs to the God," says the Koran. This would need clarification in the constitution. Presumably Jinnah, the lawyer, would be just the person to correlate the "true Islamic principles" one heard so much about in Pakistan with the new nation's laws. But all he would tell me was that the constitution would be democratic because "the soil is perfectly fertile for democracy."