"What do I mean by civil society?"
"I personally feel that civil society should not be “Eurocentric”. I believe that even before modernity, many traditions of society [existed] - whether you talk of Muslim Spain, the Ottoman empire or Muslim Khalifas or Delhi Sultans or the Mughals or even China under the Tang dynasty. I mean they had their kind of civil society; that is why plural societies existed rather than being “marginalised” or eliminated. So, I feel that civil society could be defined in reference to tradition, in reference to modernity, in reference to democracy, in reference to non-official groups and think-tanks and institutions which play the role of intermediaries between the government and the society. They also mediate between different sections of society: majorities, minorities." "I think civil society has come in with different kinds of initiatives like in the area of education, in terms of gender equality, in terms of greater respect and tolerance in accommodation for pluralism. These are the areas, civic areas, social areas with their political ramifications which the civil societies in the Muslim world should address themselves."
"What are the imperatives for the civil society in Muslim countries like Pakistan?"
"I think most of all they should try to indigenise themselves because the NGOs or certain groups like the media, or women’s groups; groups which want to see democracy prospects in Muslim societies: They are seen as alien forces, they are seen as pseudo-western, maybe in their lifestyles or maybe in the medium they use, or language they use. So I will say there is a greater need for indigenisation in civil society."
"I will say that civil society should try to establish its own independent domain. What I mean by an independent domain is that it should not be dependent on the state, it should not be dependent on foreign donors as well. I mean this is a big debate in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, many of these NGOs have got foreign connections which becomes a kind of question of credibility."
"The third element"
" I would say that the civic forces should build up local and small community orientated projects and then they should align themselves together, rather than going for big things for which we do not have enough resources. What we need basically in countries like Pakistan is that the civic forces, they are there but they are fighting their own separate, individual battles. We need to get them together. We need to have a sort of minimum consensus among these civic forces. Whether they come from middle-class or they come from political groups or they come from the judiciary or they come from media or academia or women activists; I think they need to develop bridges. "
"And the fourth step"
"I would say that the civil societies in countries like Pakistan should establish relationships, associations and bridges with civil societies elsewhere." "There are lots of network groups - Pakistanis Abroad”, the “Friends of Pakistan” - and so this diffusion of information is helping people in terms of articulation; in terms of taking a stand on different issues; but this thing should not be seen simply as a kind of expatriate venture. I think the groups within Pakistan, the civic groups within Pakistan, the human rights groups, the democratic forces, they should be strengthened by these groups which are based in Western Europe or North America."
"I personally feel that Islam’s social, moral, cultural and historical traditions allow pluralism, they allow equality on the basis of citizenship, they also allow freedom for all kinds of views even if they are, you know, minority views or “un-Islamic” views. In Islam, I think, there are rights, even equal for women and this is where I think Muslim feminism could be constructed. So, I don’t see Islam as a kind of antagonistic force to the concept or to the reality of the civil society. That’s why I said initially that civil society should not be seen as simply a European post-Enlightenment product. Also, I think, within Islam, given some more debate and intellectual discourse, we could establish something called “Muslim Secularism”, rather than seeing Islam and secularism as two poles apart within Muslim community, I see a larger definition, a co-optive definition of Muslim identity."
Extracts of Dr Amyn B Sajoo’s Introductory Remarks to Iftikhar Malik’s “Pakistan: Between Identity Politics and Civil Society”
“If there is one sentiment that has emerged rather forcefully this far from our series - which began in November with Mohammed Arkoun’s inaugural talk on the spaces in which we situate civic discourse and action, and continued with Shirin Akiner and Olivier Roy’s seminars on Central Asia - that sentiment would seem to be: How far does the concern with civil society reflect indigenous, rather than Western, values and policies toward transitional states? Furthermore, how is the Muslim dimension represented in this concern, as suggested by the title of the series?”
“Let me offer a couple of examples that suggest affirmative responses to both those questions, from two very different societies.”
“In August of 1999, Turkey experienced a devastating earthquake that shook Istanbul and Izmit - as well as smaller towns like Adapazari and Golcuk. The death toll was estimated at well over 40,000, with some 600,000 people left homeless. There were reports that about 75 per cent of Istanbul’s buildings had no permits or proper inspection.”
“The Turkish media compared the quick humanitarian response to the disaster by the outside world with the painfully slow and inadequate official response within Turkey. So what happened to the supposedly modern, secular and all-powerful State institutions bequeathed by Kemal Ataturk, which Turks had come to call devlet baba - the Father State that looked after its children?” “The victims, of course, hardly had the luxury of pondering these matters. Instead, they formed self-help groups that tended to the injured and sick, dug into the rubble to save lives and property, and organised soup kitchens in mosques right across the quake zone.”
“One such group, a small association called AKUT, has since become famous - not only in Turkey but thereafter in Greece, Taiwan and elsewhere - for its earthquake rescue expertise.”
“What Turkish political scientists as well as the global media noticed was that ordinary citizens had discovered the capacity to pursue civic - not merely private - goals, effectively, associationally and independently. But there are two other aspects of what happened in Turkey that are rarely remarked on, which I believe are relevant to our deliberations here.”
“The usual identity politics of Turkey - involving Kurds and Alawis, secularists and religious Turks, urban sophisticates and rural migrants - all but disappeared amid this mobilisation. Suddenly, you were a responsible citizen first, then a proud Turk, and al-hamdulillah, that was that.”
“The points of mobilisation were, more often than not, mosques. This may seem unsurprising on the face of it: after all, are churches and temples not common points of civic gathering in parallel situations elsewhere? But in self-consciously secular Turkey, where the army is the stout guardian of mosque-state separation, it was no ordinary thing to have such an overt rallying of public action around symbols of Islamic tradition.” “Indeed, it was a reminder to the “modern” State that there was a bedrock of tradition to be relied upon, to - literally - pick up the pieces. It seems to me, then, that “Islam” is clearly relevant to the solidarity networks of emerging civil society in this instance.”
“The second example I want to mention is more recent, from Pakistan.”
“In October last year, a conference on Indigenous Philanthropy was held in Islamabad, the capital, put together by a wide range of non-governmental organisations, including local representatives of the Aga Khan Development Network, in partnership with the Pakistani government, and with funding support from Canada.”
“What the conference did was remarkable: in a relatively poor Asian country, it set up a Centre for Philanthropy for organised giving and support by ordinary citizens, not only in terms of conventional “charity” but also to sustain educational, health & other public service institutions. And the basis for this whole idea, as His Highness the Aga Khan reminded the conference, was the indigenous, Muslim ethic of social solidarity and self-help - of empowerment of the less advantaged - regardless of ethnicity, religion or social status. ” “ “This is a significant departure,” the Aga Khan observed, “from development thinking in the 20th century, with its emphasis on state and international organizations as ‘nannies’, to which citizens could look for everything”.”
“The parallel with post-earthquake Turkey is obvious. Pakistanis were being called upon to mobilise effectively for the public good - independently but in partnership with the State.” “Again, identity politics involving Shi‘a and Sunni; Muslim and Christian; Hindu, Sindhis and Punjabis; men and women; muhajirs and natives, all these categories were challenged by the prospect of a politics of shared civic membership, of positive citizenship. ”
“And finally, an Islamic ethos had an important role to play in fostering such values.”
“I know that these are episodes, not necessarily sustained patterns of behaviour. But they obviously reflect the aspirations of ordinary Muslim and non-Muslim citizens to live and function in civic spaces that cherish respect for individual dignity and self-help, ethical commitment, pluralism and the rule of law.”
“As for the gap between aspiration and reality, that is what we have our esteemed guest speaker - Dr Iftikhar Malik - to remind us about.”