Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan
- ISBN: 9780520336803
- Published By: University of California Press
- Published: June 2021
In Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan, Shenila Khoja-Moolji masterfully expands the meaning and scope of the idea of sovereignty—extricating it from its usual fields of geopolitics and law, and moving it into gender, religious, and cultural studies. She examines the cultural practices through which state and nonstate actors perform sovereignty in the context of Pakistan, paying particular attention to how Islam, kinship metaphors, and affect are mobilized in this process. The interdisciplinary depth and reach of the book make it an impressive contribution to the study of gender, religion, and politics.
Khoja-Moolji examines an archive of cultural texts—musicals, magazines, social media, art, advertisements, and memoirs, created and circulated by both the Pakistani state and the Pakistani Taliban—to make a provocative and insightful argument that sovereignty is a form of affective attachment. Specifically, she uncovers the “entanglements and shared repertoire of … seemingly antagonistic entities” (i.e., the state and Taliban), and she highlights “how scripts of gender and Muslimness become the very means through which sovereignty is performatively [and affectively] iterated in Pakistan” (3). This cultural and affective juxtaposition of seemingly nonintersecting, dichotomous, and hostile political entities, and making visible their shared performances, is a key argument and offering of this book.
To illustrate the continuous affective production of sovereignty, Khoja-Moolji structures her book around “gendered figurations,” or assemblages of constructed meanings, ideas, affects, and histories through which the state and the Taliban attach and “recruit strangers into relationships of trust, protection, fraternity, and even love” (194). In the first half of the book, she analyzes the figurations of the head of the state, the jawan (soldier), and the mujahid (one who participates in struggle). These figurations perform what Khoja-Moolji calls “Islamo-masculinity,” or an intersecting mobilization of both normative masculinity and normative Islam (17). Islamo-masculinity mediates relationships of sovereignty. For instance, in chapter 2 she delineates what she calls the dyad of the jawan-talib or soldier-militant, where the jawan performs Islamo-masculinity, combining the tropes of normative masculinity—such as exceptional physical strength—with sedimented models of Islamic warrior masculinity (69). Moreover, evoking love for the figure of the jawan is necessarily relational and contingent on creating disgust for the talib as sexually perverse, regressive, and a religious fanatic.
By illuminating these connections, Khoja-Moolji elaborates on how masculinity and Islam get hitched to the project of political violence. In the third chapter, the author undertakes a difficult endeavor in locating some hard-to-find Taliban magazines and videos to analyze competing sovereignties, and uses her data skillfully to establish the intimate connection between the state and the Taliban’s performance of sovereignty, where “both draw on shared cultural notions around faith, personal sacrifice, and morality to give their violence meaning” (83). The Taliban perform a specific variant of Islamo-masculinity, “mujahid masculinity” (101; other variants might include military, female, and athletic masculinity, chapter 1). In this construction, the mujahidin advance themselves as soldiers of God by combining pietistic practices with masculine prowess to bring salvation and God’s rule on earth. Khoja-Moolji’s theorization of Islamo-masculinity builds on recent work in masculinity studies and brings it into dialogue with Islamic and South Asian studies.
In the second half of the book, Khoja-Moolji focuses on figurations of women and how they contribute to the Islamo-masculinist claims to sovereignty. One important way in which the state and the Taliban instrumentalize these figurations is through manufacturing kinship feeling and affect toward constructions of the beti (daughter), behan (sister), and mother. In chapter 5, focusing on the beti and the behan, the author draws on various case studies to offer an especially thought-provoking and nuanced analysis of how the state and the Taliban construct some, though not all, women as the daughter and sister, repositories of the honor of men, and in need of protection and care. For example, Naureen Laghari, a terrorist, was recuperated by the paternalistic state as “quam-ki-beti (nation’s daughter)” (142), yet Mukhtar Mai, a rape victim-survivor who fought for justice, was cast as an “unruly daughter,” who defied the national patriarch or sought the help of another imperial patriarch (i.e., the US).
In a mimetic reflection of the state, the Taliban also manufactures kinship feeling for violated Muslim sisters and daughters. To illustrate this, Khoja-Moolji examines Taliban magazines and the frequently appearing representations of Aafia Siddiqui—a Pakistani woman alleged to have assaulted an American soldier and who is serving an eighty-six-year sentence in an American prison. Taliban writers invoke kinship metaphors of sister and daughter for Siddiqui to perform mujahid masculinity and to affectively justify both preemptive and retaliatory violence against the state and imperial kuffar or nonbelievers, and not necessarily the specific men who dishonored Muslim women (158).
Women are also constructed as “mourning mother[s],” who undertake emotional labor as “affective pedagogy” for other mothers who have lost their children, exhorting them to reinterpret loss as a sacrifice for the nation (176). Yet, some mothers also resist such framings and forge a counterpublic through melancholia or sustaining loss. Such “melancholic mothers” (193) refuse the feminine scripts made available by the state, upsetting the project of sovereignty. The diverse figurations considered in the book thus show how both political attachment and detachment are achieved.
Khoja-Moolji’s creative, vivid, and nuanced textual analysis provides a convincing bulwark for her central thesis: that sovereignty is an ongoing affective attachment that relies on religion and gender to gain its force. The book joins other recent texts such as those by Nosheen Ali and Maria Rashid, which bring to bear affect to the study of political formations in South Asia. The book would have benefited from an audience-based analysis of at least some of the texts. In the introduction, Khoja-Moolji also alludes to the applicability of her theorizations to other postcolonial contexts, and it would have been illuminating to see some examples of that. Yet these are minor caveats in a book that otherwise marks a significant interdisciplinary intervention. It will be of interest to scholars not only of Islamic and South Asian studies but also gender, sociology, and politics.
Shruti Devgan is assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College.Shruvti DevganDate Of Review:November 28, 2021