Lecture time is 11:00 a.m. EST - 8:00 p.m.
South Asia is experiencing rising authoritarianism. The targets of right-wing movements are progressive forces who are increasingly viewed as outsiders threatening the imagined purity of the nation. The label of “foreign agent” is now widely invoked against political opponents who are accused of sedition. The sedition law was formulated and used by the British against anti-colonial activists. On the other hand, popular sovereignty was established in confrontation with Empire, creating an insurgent and rebellious conception of “the people”.
As someone who is under trial for sedition in Lahore, I witnessed how this law became a weapon in the hands of the state to silence internal dissent. Today, it is being used against academics, journalists, students and trade unionists to suppress critical voices. Contestations over the meaning of sedition and patriotism are at the heart of political struggles in contemporary Pakistan.
I explore three consequences for political theory emanating from discussions on sedition. First, I argue that foreignness does not denote geographical belonging but is a metaphor to describe those exceeding the normative frameworks of power. Second, the category of the internal “enemy” always maintained a subterranean existence in liberal political theory. This repressed history of violence and erasure becomes central for understanding politics in Pakistan. Finally, the criminalizing of dissent and dismantling of popular power impacts our understanding of sovereignty. The permanent state of emergency in Pakistan not only targets the category of “the people” but also undermines the concept of the sacred in the country’s polity, triggering a crisis of legitimation for the state.