Javed Jabbar vs. Pervez Hoodbhoy: Round 6 – Ideology


This round is about the ideology. Mr. Hoodbhoy contends that Pakistan doesn’t need any ideology while Mr. Jabbar insists having Islamic ideology. However the analyst opines that Islam may give us a set of principles but it does not give a country an ideology.   

 By Anjum Altaf

Pervez Hoodbhoy: Today we do not need an ideology for Pakistan. Countries survive without ideologies.

Javed Jabbar: Every country is inspired by a set of principles, dreams and aspirations. That is what we call ideology and we are proud that Islam has given us the elements of an ideology, which doesn’t mean we don’t respect non-Muslims. They are also equally entitled to all the protections of that ideology. Historic countries like China, which has been there for thousands of years, China needs an ideology. Whether it was the original communism or today’s communism, it needs an ideology. The United States has an ideology. They call it the Constitution.


Both arguments have problems. One can understand where Dr. Hoodbhoy is coming from because Pakistan has a very overt ideology called the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ which is consciously taught in all schools and colleges and there is no room for dissent. Anyone questioning this ideology is labelled ‘anti-Pakistan’ and courts harassment of various sorts. As a dean at a university, I received directives from the Higher Education Commission warning that some instructors were propagating ‘anti-national’ views and urging institutions to instill patriotism in students by stressing the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ in the curriculum.

However, this does not mean that we do not need an ideology for Pakistan or that countries can survive without ideologies. This is a misreading of the concept of ideology.

Mr. Jabbar is also subject to the same misreading. Even if every country were to be inspired by dreams and aspirations, that cannot be called an ideology. In reality, not all people in a country have the same dreams and aspirations.  So, the question arises immediately: Whose dreams and aspirations? Did the ideology of Pakistan reflect the dreams and aspirations of the Bengalis?

Second, Islam may give us a set of principles but it does not give a country an ideology. If it did, the ideologies of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey would have been the same, which they are not. In fact, the ideologies of all three contradict each other completely. The Turks don’t love the Saudis, the Saudis don’t love the Iranians, and the Iranians don’t love the Turks.

Mr. Jabbar is right that all countries need ideologies but these ideologies are not fixed forever. The ideologies of the original and present communism in China are very different — Mao would never have agreed with Deng Xiaoping’s dictum that “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice.” And the ideology of the USA is certainly not its Constitution. That reflects a complete misunderstanding of the concept of ideology. If a constitution can serve as an ideology, no country would need anything else because each country, including Pakistan, has one.

One has to see an ideology as a set of ideas that are needed to legitimize the distribution of power and privilege in a particular society. The more unjust and unfair these are, the greater is the need for an overt ideology and the greater the efforts needed to get the people to subscribe to that ideology without the need for coercion.

Before the age of democracy, the ideology that legitimized the dominance of monarchs was the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and the dominance of the Church by the ideology that the poor on earth would be rewarded in heaven which could only be reached with the blessings of the clergy. The evil of colonialism needed the ideological construct of ‘The White Man’s Burden’ obligated to civilizing benighted natives. Many a learned person in Europe subscribed to this convenient ideology.

In the economic domain, the dominant ideology for long was the ‘trickle-down theory’ which legitimized the rich getting richer while the poor were to wait with patience. The ideology of the United States is not its Constitution but a set of ideas centered on  meritocracy and the free market. The population has bought into the myth of the ‘American Dream’ that everyone can make it through hard work with the corollary that those who don’t just have themselves to blame. The accompanying idea is that the best way to make it is via the free market with the corollary that it is inefficient for the state to intervene in the interest of those who have failed. The global version of this ideology is the neo-liberalism incorporated in the ‘Washington Consensus.’

No country is really without an ideology and ideologies can also change over time. Today, one can see very clearly the contest of ideologies in the USA with Bernie Sanders advocating Socialism while Joe Biden represents the Free Market status quo. It is also very clear that the American Establishment, wishing to retain its privileges, has thrown its money behind Biden just as it backed Hillary Clinton four years ago.

It is true that if one looks at a country like Sweden there does not seem to be something called the ‘Ideology of Sweden’ but a little more reflection would reveal that Swedish society and economy are organized around the ideas of ‘Democratic Socialism.’ The more just and fair a country’s system, the more its ideology becomes invisible and the less the need to impose it on people.

Seen in this framework, Pakistan’s ideology is crafted around the ideas that both Pakistan and Islam are in danger and that this danger can only be contained by extreme centralization of power, militarization, and elimination of dissent. Note that if Islam is in danger, it must be so at the hands of non-Muslims. So, how can such an ideology respect non-Muslims as Mr. Jabbar claims? This ideology that ends up privileging guns over butter imposes certain costs on society in terms of freedom of expression, innovation, beneficial trade, regional autonomy, and spending on social services. What has this ideology bought us over seventy years and whether its continued cost is worth paying is for the readers to decide?

There cannot be a better illustration of the deliberate reinforcement of ideology through innocuous entertainment than the Prime Minister of Pakistan, in the midst of a pandemic, ordering the national television channel to serialize a play from Turkey in order to make our young “familiar” with Islamic history. Turning pseudo-history into emotional myths that inculcate the veneration of rulers is the aim of ideological indoctrination. And the way the population is lapping up the myth shows that the propagation of ideology works. Some have already put up a statue of the Turkish hero in Lahore.

There is a major sociological puzzle for readers to think through. Why do people accept and not reject myths? How come we can put up a statue to a little-known Turk from Anatolia but can’t rename a square to honor Bhagat Singh, a real son of Lahore?

ROUND 6 – Draw

 For Preamble Click on Sindh Courier

For Round-1 Click on Sindh Courier

For Round-2 Click on Sindh Courier

For Round-3 Click on Sindh Courier

For Round-4 Click on Sindh Courier

For Round-5 Click on Sindh Courier


The writer, a PhD from Stanford University, was Dean at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Provost at Habib University in Karachi. He is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

1 thought on “Javed Jabbar vs. Pervez Hoodbhoy: Round 6 – Ideology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *