Pakistan has been juggling the roles of a progressive Islamic republic along with the dual image of a nation that also aims to implement a conservative interpretation of shariah. A carefully curated set of characteristics for both male and female have been part of Pakistan’s ideological creed. Post 9/11, these same characteristics have been moulded and redrawn by the state and other groups. Shenila Khoja-Moolji’s latest book Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan discusses the intersection of religion and gender, their relation with state’s sovereignty and its instrumentalisation by other groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
In a classic Westphalian order, sovereignty ideally is reserved for states and is consequentially controlled and practiced by them as well. However, in the case of Pakistan, Khoja-Moolji argues that sovereignty can also be exercised by non-state actors, such as here by the TTP. This exercising of sovereignty provides a quasi-control over the target audience, therefore validating their legitimisation.
The book is an incisive study of issues of national and religious identity by considering what constitutes being a( Pakistani/Muslim) man and woman, and how these said subjects uphold the ideals of Pakistaniyat (pg. 150). It delineates on the types of masculinities as demonstrated in the memoirs of the three national leaders; military (Musharraf), female (Bhutto) and redemptive (Khan). Khoja-Moolji notes that all these three memoirs were written by keeping a global and an upper middle-class audience in view. By doing so, the national leaders ensured that the normative Islam and gender codes they referred to were corroborated and acknowledged globally. The author further compares and discusses the policies of the state and the TTP by juxtaposing their approaches to religion and gender. Moolji in her research terms this as “Islamo-masculinity” based on Bonnie Mann’s “sovereign masculinity.” She posits that masculinity joins with the said outlook on Islam (here progressive) to form “Islamo-masculinity” which is reflected in these three autobiographies.
Moolji augments this by studying the publications and productions of forces as diverse as the Pakistani military (such as those of the ISPR) and the TTP. It is the propagation of these magazines and videos which establishes the gender hierarchy, middle-class respectability and normative Islam to be assimilated and imbibed by their respective audience.
Khoja-Moolji later discusses how middle-class norms and sensibilities tether the female to the male (state’s) codes of honour and respectability. The author shows it through the everyday use of “kinship metaphors” by the state – like beti, behn and “unruly daughters”
The first half of the book titled as “Sovereign Islamo-masculinities” dissects the roles and influence of the jawan and the talib on the grounds of “heteronormative sexuality, Islamic warrior masculinity and modernity (pg. 54).” Through the characterization of the jawan’s masculinity, the state proposes a national, progressive outlook for its public at home and globally. This male, that is the state, embodies the protective, hetero and paternal masculinity that complements normative Islam. Whilst the talib’s sexuality is considered dubious by foreign accounts and colonial tradition (pg. 64); it is this very perverseness of the talib that is detrimental to the hetero, middle-class family and hence the national project. Such representation of the talib in the Pakistani society usually labelled as “pathan,” has ethnicised the twenty-year-old conflict in Pakistan (pg. 65). Khoja-Moolji’s power lies in her supreme analysis of showing and by linking the state’s tool shaping the social and cultural connotations. It also shows how this ‘sexuality’ of the talib has strengthened the domination of Punjab and the Punjabi dominated politics, over the past decades.
Akin to this, the TTP with time has also made use of similar methods. The idea to unite the Muslim community, they incur the mujahid and mujahida to join the righteous cause. As is in the public knowledge and memory, the term mujahid was used by the Pakistani state (with American support) during the Cold War, to train the Afghans in the 1980s against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The invoking of this term is a reminder by the Pakistani Taliban referring to the past and the now ‘foreign’ (ideological) occupation of the Pakistani state; and its supposedly ‘secular’ leanings.
The second half of the book centers on the female body and its use by both the state and the TTP. Both again make use of magazines and elaborate videos, curating stories from the women soldiers, instances from mothers and army wives and the TTP resurrected muhajira and mujahida. Khoja-Moolji here observes between the state and the TTP. Both the state and the TTP, put the female in a predefined role. She is there to help her male counterpart and hence the respective state or authority. In doing so, the state or the TTP would utilise this as a reason to find legitimacy for their ideology and hence for their growing industry from their recipients.
Khoja-Moolji later discusses how middle-class norms and sensibilities tether the female to the male (state’s) codes of honour and respectability. The author shows it through the everyday use of “kinship metaphors” (pg.142) by the state, like beti, behn and “unruly daughters”. She discusses the cases of Naureen Laghari, Aafia Siddqui and Mukhatar Mai to show how the state and the public emerge to be paternalistic (pg. 162), and simultaneously negate the female choice, decision and autonomy.
The book also discusses how class determines the state’s response to the female. Discussing the case of Mukhtara Mai (pg. 152), the author shows how Musharraf’s remarks about her stand in stark contrast to his claims of enlightened moderation and female empowerment. The author also compares TTP’s treatment of women, ones who do not conform to their designated roles. Considering the examples of Gulalai and Malala, she discusses them under the heading of “Wayward Sisters”.
Mothers carry a universally sentimental resonance with the state and non-state groups. It becomes even more pronounced when there is an ideological conflict that can draw legitimacy through this relation. Sovereign Attachments explicates on mothers who strengthen the “paternalistic attachment” to the state by performing sacrificial duty. Whilst the mothers shown in TTP’s resources,do not show any remorse over their sons joining the organisation but rather encourage them to do so; the treatment of this female relation is dealt elaborately by the state. Categorising them as “mourning and melancholic mothers”, the former performs her (gender) duty by offering sacrifice and then by mourning the loss of her son. In doing so, the mourning mother thus complies with the state’s policies, substantiating and legalizing the state’s sovereignty. On the other hand, the melancholic mother questions the state’s reaction to that loss. Khoja-Moolji studies the state’s response to the APS tragedy (visits by state leaders and the establishing of the military courts). The loss of this mourning mother is a form of paternalistic attachment to the state, a reiteration of the female asking for the state’s (male) protection. The latter does not perform the required “gendered labour” (pg. 199) and therefore rejects the statist claim and notion of her loss as a necessary sacrifice for the nation, challenging and thereby questioning the state’s sovereignty.
Sovereign Attachments has come at a time when the twenty-year American occupation of Afghanistan has ended with the Taliban takeover. With a rapturous welcome of this event by the Pakistani premier, politicians and the public, the Afghan government still remains unrecognised internationally and the Pakistani government is stuck in the old conundrum with the TTP. Sovereign Attachments focuses on the well-established, urban middle-class ethos which are tied with the female body, being the focal point of state and counter public’s ideological warfronts. These middle-class sensibilities are injected, moulded and fashioned on the grounds of religion, morals and nationalism; providing legitimacy to the ‘paternalistic’ intrusion of the Pakistan Army in politics and society. In turn, these are responsible for producing the desired affect for the respective audience. Moolji’s Sovereign Attachments unhooks the everyday sociologically regurgitated gender morals from the acceptable and connects this acceptability as the political characterisation used to uphold sovereignty by the (Pakistani) state and its opposing sub-claimants.