Patricide and the Nation

Jinnah and Gandhi, “fathers” of Pakistan and India

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States, a manufactured holiday (like any other) that promotes socially-sanctioned sentiments through the mass production of “World’s Greatest Dad” cards and mugs. The day before US Father’s Day, multiple attacks in the Pakistani province of Balochistan included a form of symbolic patricide, as a group fired rockets to destroy a residence where M. A. Jinnah, regarded as the father of Pakistan, had lived in Ziarat, also killing the police officer guarding the site. The other attacks in Balochistan that day reportedly killed dozens, including bombings at a women’s university and a hospital, both in Quetta (a few hours away from Ziarat). While Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which some people link with al Qaida, claimed responsibility for the hospital and university attacks, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), identified as a separatist group trying to gain the independence of Balochistan from Pakistan, claimed the attack on Jinnah’s residence.

These attacks highlight the tenuous nature of any national identification. Government officials in Balochistan have illustrated the significance of monuments to Jinnah, promising to restore Jinnah’s one-time residence in three or four months. The attacks in Quetta also reveal, in a more subtle fashion, the contested nature of the nations, as the attackers reject the presence of some groups within the national identity. The focus on the attack on Jinnah’s residence within Pakistan, despite the greater loss of life in the other attacks, reflects the symbolic necessity of sites such as Jinnah’s residence for the maintenance of the nation, and thus the power of the governmental officials.

Stories, holidays, monuments, and such produce the sentiments that help to maintain the nation-state. Not everyone among the “children” of the national father, despite the efforts to produce those sentiments, accepts the reverence of the father or even the existence of the nation. The assassination of Gandhi in 1948 by an Indian is another example. National holidays and monuments succeed when they generate positive sentiments about founders and the national identity, much as Father’s Day reminds us to express love and appreciation for our fathers, even if we do so in trite, exaggerated ways.

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