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Taking Stock
Mission lost in wilderness - IV
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahOur problem is that we are living in a world governed by ideological concepts developed in post Enlightenment Europe. Rationalism was pivotal to those concepts which meant emphasis on reason rather than on faith, that is Christianity. European history is replete with records of confrontations between the two. But Europeans disentangled themselves of those conflicts and marched on the course charted according to the adopted concepts which had defined the areas of the two contending social streams . That story is relevant to this writing but still it is too long to be narrated in its totality. Let us confine ourselves to a short description of the process of development . A string of European thinkers expounded their concepts with political and economic contents to be permeated in the society by writers through their works. Obviously, the Forth Estate had been established much earlier and its role in societal formulations had been recognized.

A slight deviation may be permissible so as to be able to see things in proper perspective. When American and French revolutions set the future course and the conflict between reason and religion had been resolved European colonizers were free to make prowls in search of greener pastures .The ires of European Christianity was turned against the neighbouring domain of Islam which dovetailed and expanded into Asia and Africa although the states were Islamic for names sake otherwise they were monarchies in their totality and in certain respects worse than surviving monarchies in Europe which were restrained by the press and the public opinion. Thus two streams originating in Europe , that is reason and religion, with common ethos and culture, unmindful of the diversity of languages, marched on for making new conquests.

Our intellectuals inadvertently stepped into the trap. As they warmed up with the concept of nationalism they forgot to observe that they had developed the idea of a nation unalloyed by the religion’s content. The idea was basically land locked and loosely related to language and concomitant culture. It was not their only lapse. They did not pay head to the lessons of history. They should have seen that Islam as a religion would never fit into a frame contrived in the European concept of nationhood .Any effort to that end would amount to fixing a triangle into a circle. Moreover, economic factors had no place of prominence in the scheme for developing an Islamic state where as the idea of nationality was solidly based on economic considerations which was the reason for the race for exploitation, colonization and all that which was alien to any Islamic concept of state administration.

Coming to our subject-matter: Why did our intellectuals fail to see that Europe had developed a powerful press to propagate its ideologies? In Muslim India there were state correspondents but they were mere informers for the purposes of administration: could they write any adverse comment or criticism in their routine reports? could they from public opinion on any issue.? Nothing of the sort. What was regarded as the Fourth Estate in Europe was an anathema in an Islamic society. That position has hardly changed to this day. After all what was there to be afraid of. Let us see for a while how the Englishmen were handling the issue of the freedom of the press in India while great risks for them were involved. The History of Indian Journalism summarizes the position like this:

First two decades of the19 the century saw the imposition of rigid control of the press by Lord Wellesly and relaxation by Lord Hastings. The former hand former had ordered the commander-in-chief to lay down rules for the conduct of the whole tribe of editors and advised him to suppress the editors of mischievous papers by force and send them off to Europe (April 1799). Press regulations followed the next month. But both in India and England opinion was sharply divided on the issue of the freedom of press in India .Finally many eminent minds of England and in India were convinced of the useful function which a free press could perform by its exposure of lapses in the administration and its criticism of government policies. However Lord Hastings abolished press censorship altogether and threw on the editors themselves the responsibility for exchanging matters likely to affect the authority of the government or to be injurious to the public interest. Regulations to this effect were issued on August 19, 1818.

Much hyped secularism inherent in the Western concepts was in fact a strategy to set the state and church on different courses to save them from mutual conflicts and confrontations. During the Muslim period in India, unfortunately much maligned, we had true secularism in practice but our intellectuals failed to realize that feature and even if they had realized they had no voice in the absence of an established strong press. Is it not a fact that Muslim rulers had appointed Hindus in key position? It was reciprocated by Hindu rajas. They had employed Muslims in key positions. It divulges mutual trust. Muslim invaders or kings waged wars but it was not intended to propagate their faith. Wars were waged to conquer territories. They fought against any one who stood in their way without any consideration for the religion. It was true of rajas as well. They were all secular, more secular than the European exponents of secularism.

Our intellectuals entangled into the definition of "nation" forgot that "people" was the most appropriate word for the expression of what they intended and that word was incorporated in our constitution as " We the people of India, that is Bharat " resolved to do so many things. But let us remind ourselves that when our Prophet (pbuh) gave us the directive principles of a constitution in his sermons on the occasion of his last Haj he addressed the gathering again and again as "O people" which was at that time, and still it is, applicable both locally and universally. Moreover, he asked the people to take that message to those who were not present. Is there better means today than the press to carry on that instruction?
(To be continued)
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