The Shadow of the Crescent

As Pakistan atrophies in its existential crisis, a fundamental question about the nature of the country is coming to the fore: Are the country’s citizens Pakistanis who happen to be Muslims, or are they Muslims who happen to be Pakistanis? It is not a question that many Pakistanis can readily answer.

NEW YORK — As Pakistan atrophies in its existential crisis, a fundamental question about the nature of the country is coming to the fore: Are the country’s citizens Pakistanis who happen to be Muslims, or are they Muslims who happen to be Pakistanis? Which comes first, flag or faith?

It is not a question that many Pakistanis can readily answer. The vast majority of the country’s so-called “educated elite” seem to have no qualms about identifying themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second. Some feel that their religion is the most important thing to them, and that that’s where their first loyalty will always lie. Others admit to having scant regard for religion, but say that Pakistan has come to mean so little to them that their religion supersedes their loyalty to the country.

This willingness to subordinate state to God, even among the highly educated, lies at the heart of Pakistan’s crisis. How can a country be expected to prosper if the majority of its citizens harbor only a secondary allegiance to the state? How can it progress if, as the noted author M.J. Akbar wrote, “the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani.”

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