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Islam and Politics ( 30 Oct 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Heroic Isolation Behind Fall of the Muslim State

By Khaled Ahmed

Pakistan was 'liberated' from the so-called British-Hindu stranglehold in 1947, and Muslims in it were to enjoy living in it as if in a Castle of Islam and presumably enjoy being Muslims that they could not see themselves doing in undivided India. When Bangladesh 'liberated' itself from Pakistan in 1971 it thought it could live better as a Bengali society with a secular constitution. Many Muslim states came into existence around the middle of the 20th century after the colonial masters let go of them. Have they prospered after that?

The despotic-royal-dictatorial model postponed the collapse of the Muslim post-colonial state but even that is crumbling. Liberal democracy will fail again, because the masses confuse Sharia with democracy

It is clear that almost all post-colonial states in Africa began romantically as cradles of freedom for people who dreamed to be free. All of them except South Africa failed or are in a bad way, while one has actually asked the UK to come back to re-establish its colonial rule and give it the good governance it has forgotten about. In the Balkans some states went under dictatorships because of the Balkan tradition of intense nationalist passions. (Nationalism expresses itself best under a charismatic dictator.) But because of civilisational connections to Europe the Balkan state has recovered after internal upheavals that lost it many decades of normal evolution.

Muslim states are in a bad way even in South Asia where the colonising state ruled it more benignly than in many other parts of the world. India has emerged as the successful state, followed by Sri Lanka, while Muslim Pakistan and Muslim Bangladesh remain troubled. Only in Southeast Asia the Muslim state seems to survive because in the ASEAN region the model is that of the market state, but there is the shadowy negative role played by Muslim passion against non-Muslim minorities - in this case the Chinese minority - that continues to eat at the foundation of state institutions. In the West Turkey seems to emerge as the exception to the rule - the yardstick being economic success under democracy - but bets are off on what Turkey will ultimately do as it exorcises its secular demons.

The despotic-royal-dictatorial model postponed the collapse of the Muslim post-colonial state but even that is crumbling and it looks as if the masses who shout Allahu Akbar in the streets as they assault the fastnesses of their rulers want liberal democracy. But liberal democracy is the model that failed in its earlier model forcing idealised dictators to take over with utopias shining in their eyes. It looks like failing again because in the years of independence under the dictators the masses have imbibed Sharia as governance which they confuse with democracy. Now that Hosni Mubarak is gone Egyptian youths in the Liberation Square want democracy little knowing - as they say their mass namaz - that the only governance they can accept now is Sharia, and cannot understand why someone is killing the Copts.

Muammar Gadafi, probably suffering from bipolar disorder as most despots do, had transnational appeal in the Muslim world while he was going through his antics. Pakistan is to blame to some extent for boosting the sociopath's megalomania during the 1974 Islamic Summit, allowing him to dominate the conference, and then naming a stadium in Lahore after him. (Today Pakistan's leading filmstar is named after him.) He was always grotesque but the Muslims could not see it. It was important that he had defeated the monarchy in Libya and replaced it with people's dictatorship complete with Gadafi's blue book. When he was finally killed in 2011, the 114 tribes in Libya were still in vendettas and the country's oil wealth had not caused the common man to become educated enough to understand what he will do after killing the great leader.

My favourite Pakistani diplomat Jamsheed KA Marker in his memoir Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan (Oxford University Press 2010) tried to understand the post-colonial state in Africa. The process of disenchantment began in Ghana, his first posting. His description of Nkrumah was to fit a lot of other socialist leaders of Africa that he got to observe, and of course Bhutto of Pakistan whom he would serve later on: 'Nkrumah's policies, an amalgam of dynamic idealism, vainglorious self-promotion and ruthless repression, constituted a vivid enigma whose early impact continues to resonate on the African continent' (p. 15). Charisma accompanied autocratic enforcement of socialist utopia tipped with nationalisation and state sector dominance. Crass dictatorship grows out of this recipe.

There were two subordinate categories into which the charismatic leaders would fall: Nasser of Egypt, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia; Moktar Ould Dada, of Mauretania, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Modibo Keita of Mali, William Tubman of Liberia, Milton Obote of Uganda, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. Some of them retained political and cultural liaison with the colonial states who once ruled them; others aggressively cut themselves off in a gesture aimed at complete separation. Here comes irony: those who cut themselves off, made their countries suffer more than the others. Marker told Nkrumah that Ghana was a rich country with poor people.

There is wisdom in this remark. The post-colonial presumption was that the resources the colonial states exploited were now all in the hands of the liberated nations and that, by replacing capitalism with socialism, these resources will enrich the people. It must be under this presumption that most liberated states thought of distancing themselves from the former masters responsible for the 'painful birth' of the new state. On both these counts, they were wrong. And it has taken half a century for everyone to realise this. Charisma, ideology and socialism - unless the last-named is structured within a capitalist matrix - have caused suffering and retarded state development.

The biggest tragedy of the Muslim state is the death of intellect and the rise of the clergy as the only authority posing as arbiter between life and its principles of survival. The intellectual flourished under colonial rule but was gradually ousted from society by the rise of ideology. In Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the clergy as arbiter of the state is already visible and the rebels shouting Allahu Akbar are vulnerable to it. Libya's transitional government has a number of Muslim Brothers in it.

Pakistan's assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, dreaming of an ideal Muslim state, wrote, 'And the living reformers like Muhammad Arkoun, Abdur Rahman Wahid, Wahiddudin Khan and Khalid Masud would be able to preach and teach their modernising theology without facing repression or marginalisation by the state' (p. 284). All these intellectual religious scholars have either been exiled or abominated.

Khalid Masud came under attack from the orthodox clergy in Pakistan. He was chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in Islamabad. Muhammad Arkoun was an Algerian genius who was recognised in the West as the most gifted exponent of Islam who was able to live in Algeria. Abdur Rahman Wahid, an Indonesian religious and political leader, served as the President of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001. Maulana Wahiddudin Khan is the Indian moderate scholar whose message is appreciated all over the world but is rejected by the Muslims because of the dominance of extremism in their thinking.

Benazir Bhutto mentioned our CII chairman Dr Khalid Masud because of his scholarly contribution to our fundamental understanding of Islam, including the Sixth Lecture of Allama Iqbal where the national philosopher had bravely 'reinterpreted' the concept of Hudood in Islam, recommending that punishments such as cutting of hands not be imposed in our times.

The Muslim state survives a little bit better if it becomes a market state, as in the Gulf States. Within the nation state paradigm it starts killing itself gradually through a love of heroic isolation, which is today the ideal of all Muslims, which makes Iran the most envied state. Pakistani generals are following this model and will have to carry the stigma of having killed Pakistan after being pushed by APCs and parliamentary joint declarations into placing Pakistan in the crosshairs of isolationism even as clergy and lawyers bay for the innocent blood of non-Muslim blasphemers; and non state actors kill Shias to claim place in a Sunni paradise after death. The Muslim genius flourishes when ruled over by a colonial master. His intellect dries up under the merciless oppression of a pre-modern vision that the Muslims simply cannot review and modify.

Source: The Friday Times, Lahore