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Islam and Politics ( 25 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Reforms in the Muslim World


By Makhdum Mohiudin

September 18, 2013

Aijaz Zaka Syed, Middle East commentator blames west for the developments in Egypt. Riyaz Ahmad of Greater Kashmir rues this apportioning of blame in his column ‘Tragedy in Egypt’. Both premises are half baked.

An anatomy of developments in Egypt and Muslim world is required for understanding of afflictions besetting Egypt and the Muslim World. Egypt is not emblem of the Muslim world. The Muslim world is too complex and differentiated. Muslim countries are part of post-colonial and third world. The acceptance or the rejection of the modernity and the capacity to reform and ‘self reform’ as Riyaz Ahmad put it in his recent column in Greater Kashmir is variegated. The structured capability to accept or reject reforms is not exclusive to the Muslim world. All religions face this problem depending upon the encounters with the modernity. Other religions did not accept the modernity and reforms without any struggle. Any religious community does not accept reforms uniformly, the intelligentsia and social elites accept them readily.

However the Muslim world and Catholic Church have been accused of resisting reforms, the reasons for this resistance are said to be different. Modern science, a key instrument of reforms has challenged the dogmas of Catholic Church hence the dichotomy. Acceptance of modernity is integral to reform in any social or religious group. Modernity  came to the Muslim world riding the crest of colonial inroads. The experience of colonization in the Muslim world was most humiliating. It led to their steep fall from rulers to ruled. Muslim theology enjoying clout lost its power privileges during the colonial rule. So it became the instrument of hostility to the reforms and modernity.

Reasons for rejecting reforms are sometimes socio economic and psychological. Egalitarianism, a value, conspicuous in the percepts and practice of Islam found acceptance in poor and weaker sections of the people. For them religion is for inner solace and spiritual balm rather than rationality and reforms. Intellectual and modernist quest is daunting as it leads to uncertainties. Holding tradition and customs tenaciously comes easy.

Riyaz Ahmad bemoans indirectly the lack of critical voices in the Muslim world,  so looking inwards, identification of malaises and the endeavors to weed them out or rare. Certainly blaming west is delusional and the exercise in escapism. But west’s complicity is proven. Non Muslim world has its share of failures in democracy and other reforms. But the Muslim world and more so in Middle East these failures are made to look glaring. Academic pursuits and the media of the West is doing the prodding. It is a career. As “Orientalism is Career” as Edward Said wrote. Middle East is teemed with oil wealth. The West needs to  control it to minutest details. So orientalism is followed by the emergence of diversifying disciplines in western universities dealing with Arab and Muslim world. But the perceptions and the narrative are not allowed to morph. Edward Said wrote “Books and articles are regularly published on Islam and Arabs that represent no change over anti Islamic polemics  of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  For no other ethnic or religious group is it true that virtually anything can be written or said about it without challenge or demurral”.

The colonial enterprise continues in Arab and Muslim world. It is bold enough to wear any veneer of subtlety. The colonial masters have set up dictators and kings of their choice. Political reforms and democracy were throttled earlier. Toppling of Moosadeg regime in Iran is a classic case. West’s problems with the democracy in the Muslim and Third World are old, as old as colonial enterprise. Democracies tend to throw up independent and non-aligned foreign policies. Earlier nationalizations were the corollary of democratic process. These propositions were and continue to be unpalatable to the West. It did not brook them then, it would not now.

Muslim World is not without the examples of heroic resistance for the achievement of political pluralism, independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press. In Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan, west’s role in the transition to the democratic process was hypocritical. The paternalistic vetting came after the die was cast. The shift of emphasis from reforms to radicalism is to be analyzed and kept at bay. The yawning inequalities and abject failure of justice system definitely create yearning for historical “premier and pristine State”. This is Muslim utopia with recurring theme of equality and justice. Islamists use it for political mobilization. Secularists also have a dented record. The brutal repression of Atatürk    and Nasir of Egypt is too obvious to understate. Muslim world is in the dire need of peaceful, home grown transition to the democracy, imposition and the import of it are likely to fail.