By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
The Muslim world is soaking in blood: from Yemen to Afghanistan, there is hardly a country where violence, oppression, inequality, man-made disasters and meaningless deaths are not the order of the day. Dreadful, draconian, and brutal regimes dominate the political scene. There is hardly a country where one can breathe freely. Economic poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate civic structures, malnutrition, illiteracy, and belittling social structures exist everywhere. Ruthless men rule hapless polities with iron fists. These discredited and despised rulers pay no attention to human suffering; all that matters to them is the prolonging of their rule, which gives them unlimited perks and allow them kingly lives. There is no concern for what is called human rights in the West, what to talk about the higher level of concern a ruler is supposed to have for his people in Islamic legal, moral and ethical system. All of this is common knowledge. But when one asks, “why”, common as well as uncommon knowledge dissolves in thin air, leaving behind speculations, conjunctures, short-sighted answers, which mean nothing in reality.
To be sure, it is difficult to find answers for this complex situation, but to dissolve the question with meaningless answers is to rub salt on open wounds. Thus, those who provide us the following answers should all be thrown out of the window: It is the curse of extremism; this is all due to Americans; no, it is the Taliban; it is because of al-Qaeda, and all variations thereof, to ad nauseam.
Muslim world is immersed in a sea of blood and violence; let us ask anew: “why?” and begin with some sound process of analysis which can at least give us an inkling of the greater forces at work which have produced this vast change in lands which were sleepy, silent, non-violent and almost medieval cities and towns just a few decades ago, where rural areas were certainly living in pre-modern times, with no electricity, no running water, no gas, what to talk of telephone and the internet.
A reasonable starting point is the decade after World War II. This decade witnessed the greatest reconfiguration of the political map of the Muslim world since the end of the sixteenth century, if not since the end of the Abbasid rule in 1258. This reconfiguration of the Muslim world emerged when it gained a certain degree of political independence from the European powers. The European powers, mostly France and Britain, but to a lesser extent Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands, had ruled various parts of the Muslim world over a century, in certain cases for two hundred years, directly and indirectly. Prior to the era of colonization, the Muslim world was largely made up of three powerful empires: the Ottomans, the Safavid and the Mughal, although there were certain independent areas outside these vast empires.
For most Muslims, the European dominance and the consequent colonization of the Muslim world was not a violent experience, although crimes committed by them certainly belong to the darkest side of human existence, yet the fact remains that most Muslims had little to do with them; they were silent spectators of what was happening in certain areas of the vast region where they lived. This was also due to the fact that most Muslims then lived private lives in which state had very little direct role. The greatest proof of this independence of the individual existence is the fact that their lives were not recorded in any state register; there were no national identity cards, no social insurance numbers, no data of births and deaths beyond the local level.
This independence was severely curtailed by the new state structures implanted by the European rulers. These new state institutions started to count human beings, record their existence in state registers, which also noted what they did to earn their living. All of this contributed to the arrival of “European modernity” in Muslim lands which were increasingly shackled in an international economic and political system dominated by the Western global agenda. While this was taking place, a small percentage of people from the colonial lands started to become alarmed about the state of their people. They received European education, learned modern politics from their colonizers and—driven by necessity, self-propagation, ambition, concern for their people, and various other forces—they initiated “independence movements” which, in turn, produced the greatest reconfiguration of the Muslim world in modern times.
All of this happened so quickly that the bulk of Muslim population had had little time to adjust to the new realities. All that they witnessed was a sea-change in their ways of living. Most of them lived in villages where farm machines started to arrive around 1960s, then electricity and roads came and finally a slew of new technological gadgets ushered them into modernity; now they are connected via the ubiquitous cellular phone. One recalls the time when many Muslim governments were taking pride in announcing the arrival of electricity in villages. Ministers would go and inaugurate such arrival by turning on a light bulb; light bulb, not light itself, was the most powerful metaphor of the time to indicate progress and development. But there was nothing behind this stunt, because the production of electricity was not matched by the huge investment in its supply. The result was a disaster and nightmare from which a very few Muslim countries are able to wake up.
Likewise, life in the cities was drastically transformed by the mid-1980s. Instead of sleepy and drowsy towns of a couple of million people being the largest city of the country, huge metropolises emerged all over the Muslim lands along with unbearable traffic jams; millions of cars were just dumped on the roads, turning them into huge parking lots. Those who allowed this to happen, had no idea what they were doing by importing or manufacturing cars which had no place to go. As if this was not enough, the oil-boom of the 1970s, the huge increase in city-dwellers, and most of all, the curse of constant Western intervention in the making of new polities contributed to the emergence of the Muslim world in which we now live.
(To be continued)