Book Review: “Sovereign Attachment: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan” by Shenila Khoja Molji

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The book Sovereign Attachment: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan by Shenila Khoja Molji is based on an outstanding blend of historical studies of the role of religion in the politics of Pakistan and the presence of the Taliban group and their alliance with each other in Pakistan and the role of women in their campaigns. The stance of the Taliban and the State of Pakistan. It discusses all these concepts while keeping in view sovereignty. 

The author is known for her theories of Muslim girlhood, which include several articles that analyze the portrayal of Malala Yousafzai and the politics of international development campaigns. She is a pioneer and one of the earliest scholars to write Ismaili women into modern Ismaili history.

In Introduction: The Public Lives and Sovereignty, Khoja-Molji focuses on militant, partisan, and military cultural literature to investigate how Islamic masculinity is defined. These texts include magazines, music videos, dramas, short films, and media productions from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), political autobiographies by Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, and Imran Khan, among other publications by the Taliban (magazines, speeches, leader autobiographies, pamphlets, and other texts).

Khoja-Molji demonstrates how the Taliban create a specific Islamic-masculinist narrative, at times in response to the military’s cultural texts, while acknowledging that they are just one of many non-state actors that contest the legitimacy of the state or military over the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Also, she looks at the content of well-known news channels and three big Urdu and two major English publications. The analysis focuses on significant incidents that caused national discussions on sovereignty, especially the Army Public School (APS) attacks in 2014 (which served as the basis for Khoja-Molji’s book), the detention and subsequent release of Naureen Laghari, a 19-year-old, and the Aafia Siddiqui case.

In the book’s first part of Sovereign Islamo-Masculinities, the author focuses on three main characters of sovereign power: the state head, the soldier, and the mujahid.

In the first chapter, Narrating The Sovereign, Khoja-Molji presents the selection of politicians as an important point of comparison between the military leader Pervez Musharraf and his self-portrayal as the son of the soil and Benazir Bhutto, introduces herself as a female democrat and her use of masculinist tropes and kinship metaphors for her authentic claim as a harbinger of democracy and moderate Islam; and Imran Khan who is the non-politician turned politician, and he introduced himself as the outsider and presented himself as the true saviour of the nation. As each political player sets up a position of legitimate authority, Islam is included in these narratives in various ways meant to adhere to democratic norms.

The second chapter, Identity, Alterity, demonstrates how specific narratives of bravery against the Taliban’s cowardice help the military, particularly its media branch ISPR, construct effective economies of love for the jawan. The jawan appears as a ghazi fighting for an Islamic homeland, a saviour protecting Islam from its misuse and abuse under the Taliban, and a martyr ready to give his life to defend his homeland and its people. Khoja-Molji provides further discussion of Pashtun ethnic stereotypes about the Taliban. These stereotypes originated in British colonial literature before being adopted by these cultural documents.

The third chapter, Competing Sovereigns, focuses on Talib’s cultural materials, some of which were occasionally produced in opposition to the stories the military continued to tell. The failure of Pakistan to establish itself as an Islamic Republic is seen as both a betrayal and a source of optimism, along with Pakistan’s potential to serve as an important hub for the creation of Khilafat.

Jihad is promoted as legal violence in pursuing the Khilafat, and the Taliban is portrayed as a mujahid. In their cultural texts, the Taliban are portrayed as sacred and righteous warriors fearless of death. The Pakistani jawan is nonetheless portrayed as deserving of redemption, with narratives asking the jawan to follow the Islamic pathway. The enemy is characterized as the Pakistani and American soldiers. As they assert the concept of the Khilafat furthering God’s cause, the Taliban challenge state sovereignty by appealing to divine sovereignty, transforming themselves into what Khoja-Molji refers to as a “counter public to the state.”

In the second half of the book Stylizing Political Attachments, the author looks at women’s contributions to the Islamo-masculinist in the form of figurations undergirded by affective and cultural labour claims by the Taliban and the state.

The fourth chapter, Subordinated Femininities, analyzes the purpose of military and militant women in the Taliban and military cultural writing. The Taliban depict these women as the muhajir and the mujahids, those who move to the territories they control and those who support their political ideology. These women help the Taliban by doing caregiving and reproductive duties out of intentional labour to become true Muslims. Even when they are called upon to take up arms to support the Taliban, the women operate the Taliban patriarchy. In the ISPR cultural writings, military women are portrayed as soldiers who support the struggle for the country and nurturers. Most narratives focus on the army woman, who, unlike the mujahids, is independent and supported by the institution of the army while carrying out her husband’s emotional and reproductive duty. Khoja-Molji then examines Beti and Behan, the next two female subjects.

The fifth chapter, Kinship Metaphors, focuses on how these important male honour proxies establish and extend the scope of sovereignty by invoking kinship feelings. These actors provide the affective environment necessary for the sovereign functions of aggression, rescue, rebuke, and forgiveness. These figures for the military range from Mukhtaran Mai, the unruly daughter who receives punishment for criticizing the state, to Naureen Laghari, the daughter who is redeemed in people’s imagination.

For the Taliban, these include Malala Yousafzai and Ayesha Gulalai are those who have strayed from the Muslim path of morality and need to be disciplined, and Aafia Siddiqui, the students of Jamia Hafsa and the victim of the Mahmudiyah rape and killings in Iraq all of who should be avenged. The character of Aafia Siddiqui draws on conflicting narratives as her situation is denounced by both human rights advocates and right-wing political organizations, who call on the Pakistani state to fulfil its masculinist duties as a saviour by protecting her. These public appeals also raise questions about the state’s capacity to safeguard its people, particularly its insecure women, which challenges Islamic masculinity; in the figure of the sad mother, that challenge was also found.

In the sixth chapter, Managing Affect, the author demonstrates that what stands out the most is the analysis that, from grief to depression, various roles are given to the grieving mother. In this chapter, the reader observes Khoja-Molji’s intellectual prowess as she uses sadness as a kind of resistance for the mourning mother, moving from Freudian analysis to queer theory. The masculinist state brings up the image of the grieving mother, who serves several objectives: she is didactic in that she teaches mothers proper effect control for dealing with the loss of a child who may have died in a terrorist attack or on the battlefield; she activates the protective impulses of the masculinist state; and she incites a sense of collective mourning that triggers the nation for retaliation. However, the sad mother can represent resistance to the state narrative.

They adopt the persona of what Khoja-Molji refers to as melancholic mothers who rise in frustration to disarticulate their sons’ killing as a sacrifice for the nation and rearticulate it as the result of state negligence when some mothers of the APS victims demand accountability and challenge the national narrative of martyrdom. They continue to reject the conditions that would have made the child’s death acceptable while asserting sovereignty over his body through the intimacy of their relationship with him.

Every year, on the anniversary of the APS, a catastrophic event, readers in Pakistan experience this as the state’s story and display of remembering falls apart in the face of the mothers’ (i.e., the parents’) continuous demands for justice and accountability of the APS attack culprits. By taking such actions, the depressed mother highlights the affective aspect of sovereignty.

Khoja-Molji explains how the grieving mother is a minor figure for the Taliban who frequently appears in texts where the Talib struggles with his guilt about leaving her behind for the greater cause. While Khoja-Molji’s book and the cultural materials of the Taliban don’t cover the mother as much, there is an opportunity for more examination of this silence and shame, particularly regarding the good or bad Muslim son who leaves his parents. The lack of response reveals how some narratives are appropriated for Islamic masculinist purposes while others are censored. Only in narratives of people who have experienced state violence is the mourning mother trope, and it has now become a battle cry for the mujahidin.

These six major chapters give distinctive and compelling arguments for contested sovereignty in Pakistan through performances of Islamic masculinities about opposing and emotive publics. She differentiates in her thorough intellectual exploration of masculinities about sovereignty and Islam. It is significant to note that the publication of Sovereign Attachments coincides with a new wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan brought on by the Taliban’s resurgence and its various factions, an expansion of the cultural artefacts Khoja-Molji has examined, and an urgent need for further engagement with this existing archive.

To conclude, this book presents a methodology and framework for analysis essential for comprehending conflicting bodies of masculinities and sovereignties and resources for researching various state and non-state actors about affective politics in Pakistan and elsewhere.

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Muhammad Danish
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Muhammad Danish, a student of Bs Political Science at School.of Politics and International Relations Quaid I Azam University.

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