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Sunday, September 13, 1998 Published at 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK

World: South Asia

Screening the life of Jinnah

"I have one underlying principle in mind: the principle of Muslim democracy"

By the BBC correspondent in Islamabad, Owen Bennet-Jones:

Pakistan has just marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Mohammed Ali Jinnah - the founder of the nation. Later this month, a major new film about his life is due to be released.

Intended to change the way the world thinks of Jinnah, the film has turned out to be almost as controversial as the man himself.

In the West, the man is inextricably linked with the partitioning of India, and has tended to get a rather negative press.

Unlike his Indian counterpart, Mahatma Gandhi, he is seen as an austere, unlovable man who broke up the sub-continent to fulfil his own personal ambitions.

But in Pakistan, Jinnah is universally revered as the Quaid-i Azam or Great Leader.

One underlying principle

In 1948, Mohammed Jinnah set out his hopes for the country he had created:

[ image: Jinnah: austere image]
Jinnah: austere image
"I have one underlying principle in mind: the principle of Muslim democracy. It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great lawgiver, the Prophet of Islam."

But Pakistanis, though united in their reverence for Jinnah are divided over what kind of society he stood for.

For some, like Senate opposition leader Ataha Zessen, Jinnah was a liberal who wanted to separate religion from the State.

[ image: Pakistanis are divided on what Jinnah intended for the country]
Pakistanis are divided on what Jinnah intended for the country
"I think personally that what Mr Jinnah wanted to establish was a separate homeland for the Muslims, and thereby a Muslim state, but not an Islamic state," says Mr Zessen.

"He espoused the cause of a civil society ruled by democratic means, not by dogma."

But others disagree. The Director of Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs, Bashir Hussein Nazim, believes that Jinnah is with the Islamists.

"If we go through his statements, we come to know that he wanted Islam in Pakistan. While writing a letter to Mr Gandhi, he said: "You should know that the Koran is our destination," he countered.

And the debate over Jinnah will be fuelled later in September when the new movie on the man is launched in Hollywood.

Positive image

Many Pakistanis feel that Richard Attenborough's film "Gandhi" portrayed Jinnah negatively, as austere and aloof.

[ image: Christopher Lee stars in the controversial new film ...]
Christopher Lee stars in the controversial new film ...
In the new film, actor Christopher Lee tries to emphasise Jinnah's human side. In one scene, he is shown crying, talking to Muslims who had lost loved ones in the post-Partition violence.

Despite the fact that the film is expected to give a very positive image of Jinnah, Pakistan's government withdrew financial support from the movie.

When scenes were being shot in Pakistan, ministers became afraid that even a sympathetic reassessment of Jinnah would prove highly controversial.

[ image:  ... in which he is shown with a human side]
... in which he is shown with a human side
Akhbar Asamed, the film's executive producer, says it is understandable.

"People were nervous. Mr Jinnah affects how people see Pakistan, how people think about Pakistan. And there are 135 million Pakistanis."

Jinnah remains a hero for Pakistanis of all political persuasions.

But, even if the new film contributes to a broader understanding of the man, it's unlikely to settle the debate about his political legacy.

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