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What Muslim societies are grossly lacking

What Muslim societies are grossly lacking

Author: Kaiser Bengali
Publication: Dawn, Karachi
Date: November 28, 2001

The November 22 newspapers carried the report that the US has asked Pakistan to close the Taliban embassy. And Pakistan has duly obliged.

Briefing reporters in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that "while we still had two Americans detainees and other foreigners detained in Afghanistan, we felt it was useful for (the Taliban) office to be there, to be open to offer the possibility of communication on the subject of our detainees should that be necessary. Given the developments of the past week - the fact that the detainees are out - at this point we don't really see any particular reason for that so-called embassy to stay open."

If ever there were any doubts as to where Pakistan's foreign policy is made, they should now be set aside. And if evidence was required about whether Pakistan is a vassal state tied to US apron strings, the proof is now here in unambiguous terms. Earlier too, statements by US government functionaries to the effect that they are mindful of Pakistani concerns in this regard were mere eyewash. In fact, at the very time the US President was assuring General Musharraf that the Northern Alliance will not be allowed to enter Kabul, US bombers were carpet-bombing Taliban defences on the Kabul frontlines.

At best, the US president was humouring General Musharraf; at worst, he was lying. The British prime minister also undertook a mission through the Middle East and it appeared that the West was finally serious in promoting a just solution to the crisis in Palestine. With the favourable change of fortunes in Afghanistan, US language has reverted to what it was before September 11.

The turn of events raises questions about why Muslim countries are always taken for granted. The US is, of course, pursuing its self-interest. It is under no obligation to account for our interests. The onus for pursuing our interests lies with our leadership. But the leadership in almost all Muslim countries have been found wanting in this respect. Almost all Muslim societies are grossly unequal and unjust. Almost all Muslim regimes are undemocratic, represent elite interests, and are at war with their own people. It is a situation that the US has found most convenient to its requirements. It has lent support to these monarchist and military regimes in return for their tacit agreement to be more loyal to US interests than to their own country or people.

There are critics of these regimes. However, the strategy that the 'rebels' in these countries have adopted is seriously flawed. When Osama bin Laden announced that he would retaliate with chemical and nuclear weapons, he merely reduced himself to the level of George W. Bush.

Undoubtedly, the people of Muslim and all developing countries have a long list of complaints against the US. From Vietnam in the east to Chile in the west, and including Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, South Africa, etc., the number of people killed by the US or US sponsored regimes over the last half a century will easily top a million. And the number of lives shattered and wasted will add up to several million.

However, we cannot and should not lock ourselves in the reactive mode. If we try to respond in kind, we would only debase ourselves. Our centuries old values based on our lofty traditions and religion provide us the basis for holding on to the high moral ground. We cannot and should not resort to terror and murder tactics. We cannot and should not compete with the US as to how many people each one of us is capable of killing. We cannot and should not stoop to the level of the US.

If we are to successfully resist US aggression and hegemony, we have to begin by reforming ourselves. To begin with we need to dispense with world views and policy formulations based on concocted ideological premises. We need to recognize the reality as it is. And one reality is that, howsoever odious the US government role may be, the American people possess many sterling qualities. The US has not become a superpower by the strength of military prowess alone.

In fact, its military power is a product of its tremendous achievements in science and technology and in industrial organization and production. The US is not just a superpower in economic and military terms but in arts and culture and music and sports as well. Their domestic judicial and political system ensures a broad measure of equality and dignity for all its citizens and has provided the framework for these achievements.

We also have to dispense with the propensity to hark back to our past glory or to look for a Jewish conspiracy with everything that goes wrong for us. We have to acknowledge all that is wrong with us. And there is plenty that is wrong. Almost all Muslim societies have elite regimes that perpetuate their rule and their privileges through lies and hypocrisy. We harp upon the glory of Musawat-i-Mohammedi, but our societies are ridden by a range of cultural, social, economic and political inequalities.

We laud Hazrat Omar's questioning about the extra cloth for his robe, but such examples are found more in the questioning of the Richard Nixons and Bill Clintons in the US and none in our own polity.

We ritually observe Imam Husain's example of holding on to principles even at the cost of his life, but routinely sacrifice principles for the sake of petty material gain. Our leaders orate about the rule of law, human rights and democracy, but these are merely subjects of drawing room discussions and political speeches by politicians and generals. Pledges are made about poverty eradication, but all anti-poverty programmes only enrich the already rich.

Under the circumstances, equality of opportunity is a direct casualty and talent is sacrificed at the altar of social elitism and religious bigotry.

A society that shuns the country's only Noble prize winning scientist of international acclaim because of his religious belief cannot but be expected to be where it is today.

The principal factor underlying US technological superiority is the strength of its human resources, born out of its educational system. Their curriculum is updated to the latest levels and there is a high degree of interaction between universities and scientific, space, military and industrial organizations. University students generally work on their thesis and dissertations as part of real world projects. Even high school students have been engaged in experiments in the US space programme.

On the other hand, there is not a single centre of learning in the entire Muslim world that can match the numerable centres of learning in the US. The last one hundred years has seen the development of scientific and engineering inventions and innovations that has changed our world. Revolutionary advances have been made in production processes, transport and communications, medical technology, etc., that were in the realm of science fiction only a quarter of a century ago. None of these developments can be claimed by any institution in a Muslim country. And Muslims who have contributed to these developments have had to emigrate to the US to reach their maximum potential.

Education is not just a benign commodity provided to the people as a welfare function. It is a powerful political tool. The ruling elite in any society shape education according to its needs. The composition of the ruling elite is a function of the power balance in society. In unequal, undemocratic societies, the ruling elite commands a monopoly of political power and treats the people as subjects rather than citizens.

Such an elite is likely to ensure that education is controlled so that production modes and relations do not change, as any such change can challenge their package of power and privileges. In relatively equal and democratic societies, weaker sections of the population with higher efficiency in production modes and relations do have the opportunity to move into positions of economic and political power. And their growing strength can translate into growing strength for the country as a whole.

Most Muslim societies are grossly unequal, where the economic and political structure is postulated on an archaic feudal-tribal monarchist or military order. If crop yields in the Nile and the Indus valleys can be raised to the level prevalent in the US, Europe, Japan or Israel, Egypt and Pakistan together possess the potential to become the granary of the Muslim world. However, such a technological revolution has a social prerequisite, i.e., the reorganization of production relations.

The military is another example of archaic organization. Traditionally, the infantry is the largest and, politically, the most powerful unit within the military. Modern warfare - a la Gulf and Afghanistan wars - has, however, shown that the infantry is now an obsolete element of the armed forces and it is the hi-tech units that win or lose wars. Necessity demands that resources are reallocated and the amounts transferred to the promotion of science and technology.

If the Muslim world is to acquire a respectable place for itself in the international order, we will have to reconstruct our societies and states along modern, social democratic lines. We will have to make a genuine commitment to creating a just society, which ensures human rights and democracy. And these rights will have to include not only civic and political rights such as, the rights to equality before the law, freedom of conscience, speech and assembly, the right to cultural development, and the right to representative government, but also economic rights, such as, the right to livelihood, housing, education and health care.

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