Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities

Farahnaz Ispahani. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-19-062165-0
Ispahani, a longtime journalist, former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, daughter of the first U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and wife of another former ambassador, has a firm grasp of Pakistan’s modern national narrative and keen insight into its intricacies. Making wide use of her wealth of experience, she analyzes Pakistan’s policies toward its religious minorities over nearly 70 years, arguing that much of the prejudice against religious minorities—including Ahmadis, Christians, Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis, and Jains—can be traced to the efforts of Islamist radicals to purify Pakistan according to their own terms. Ispahani carefully contours the creeping climb of Islamization and obscurantist sectarianism that determined who was Muslim and not Muslim—and, by extension, who was Pakistani and not Pakistani—over the last several decades. Her work serves as a good overview of key people, events, laws, and movements, but Ispahani fails to interrogate the role of modern statecraft in this process or consider how Western powers, the shortcomings of secular governance, and the politicization of religious identity also contributed to the current state of affairs. Ispahani effectively demonstrates her specific position, but her refusal to examine how “secular” machinations contribute to the production of fresh forms of communal polarization in Pakistan limits the scope of this short book. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2016
Release date: 02/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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