Rushdie on Religion as a Divisive Force in Pakistan

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In Shame, Rushdie describes Pakistan after Partition as first joined by God and later separated by worship of Him. Midway through the novel, he describes Pakistan as "that country divided into two Wings a thousand miles apart, that fantastic bird of a place, two Wings without a body, sundered by the land-mass of its greatest Foe, joined by nothing but God" (194). Several chapters later, when he offers "a few words . . . on the Islamic revival" that undoubtedly served to get him in hot water, he argues that just as religion belief led to the creation of Pakistan, it also led to its division into its division into two separate nations:

Pakistan is not Iran. This might seem like a strange thing to say about a country which was, until Khomeini, one of the only two theocracies on earth (Israel being the other one), but it's my opinion that Pakistan has never been a mullah-dominated society. The religious extremists of the Jamaat party have their supporters among college students and so forth., but relatively few people have ever voted Jamaat in an election. Jinnah himself, the Founder of Quaid-i-Azam, doesn't strike me as a particularly god-bothered type. Islam and the Muslim State were, for him, political and cultural ideas; the theology was not the point.

What I am saying will probably be anathematized by the present regime in that hapless country. Too bad. My point is that Islam might have provided an effective unifying force in post-Bangladesh Pakistan, if people hadn't tried to make it into such an almighty big deal. Maybe Sindis, Baluchis, Punjabis, and Pathans, not to mention the immigrants, would have sunk their differences for the sake of their common faith. [(New York: Aventura/Vintage, 1984) 277]

How do Rushdie's critical views of the effects of religion on Pakistan resemble -- and how differ -- from those of Sara Suleri?

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