By Abdul Sattar
August 8, 2017
The heart-wrenching picture of a Yemeni child drinking water from a leaked pipeline in the war-raged country has shamed humanity. The picture recently went viral on social media but failed to soften the heart of those who have orchestrated the Yemen civil war along sectarian lines, killing more than 10,000 civilians and wounding over 40,000 others.
The war has displaced over three million people, forcing them to live under subhuman conditions. The outbreak of cholera has gripped 21 provinces of the country and infected at least 269,608 people. The hapless country has suffered a huge destruction of infrastructure, causing losses worth more than $14 billion – a high price for the one of the most impoverished countries on earth.
It is not only Yemen that is going through a humanitarian catastrophe. Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Libya and a number of other Muslim states have either faced the same situation or are inching towards it. From the deserts of Africa to the centres of holy places, Muslim states across the world seem to be embroiled in visible or invisible chaos. State after state in the Muslim world is descending into anarchy and there seems to be no visionary leadership in sight to thwart the onslaught of retrogressive forces that are sowing the seeds of hatred, sectarianism and obscurantism.
Interestingly, forces like Al-Qaeda and numerous Islamic and militant outfits, which claim to benefit the Muslim world by revitalising the revivalist ideology, have turned out to be the most beneficial elements for Western imperialist forces. Islamic parties in the Middle East and elsewhere have helped the Western forces wipe out secular Arab nationalists and anti-West Muslim progressive leaders who were rapidly anti-Israel and posed a great challenge to Western monopolies or, what are commonly referred to as, multinational companies.
These progressive leaders had challenged Western imperialists and hurt their economic interests across the world. Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser startled the mighty imperialist forces by nationalising the Suez Canal, Iran’s Mohammad Mosaddegh threw out the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Sukarno in Indonesia put an end to the plundering of his country and vowed to use country’s vast natural resources for the benefit of the people. Even dictator Colonel Qaddafi dashed the hopes of Western companies of looting the natural resources of Libya and used oil wealth to improve literacy, the health system and the housing sector. Hafizul Asad and Saddam Hussain may have been tyrants but, at times, they also launched pro-people programmes and dared to challenge the blue-eyed boy of Western countries: Israel.
Saddam’s Iraq housed the second highest number of graduates in the Arab world after Palestine. Although the country had a Shia-Sunni rift, it was never as sharp and brutal as it is today. The dictator had put in place a highly subsidised social welfare system that was, to some extent, a source of relief and succour to those at the bottom layer of the social stratification. Hafiz ul Asad of Syria extended all forms of support to the oppressed Palestinians in addition to introducing a social welfare system that helped the marginalised sections of society. Najibullah and other progressive leaders in Afghanistan abolished child marriage and the interest system that devastated the life of peasants and ended the monopoly of five percent of landlords and tribal chiefs who held 85 percent of arable land in the country.
And what happened to these Muslim leaders (who were definitely anti-West and vehemently opposed to Western imperialism)? The Ikhwanul Muslimeen colluded with the Western powers to weaken Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ayatollah Kashani hatched conspiracies that culminated in the decline of Iran’s Prime Minister Mosaddegh and helped Western companies reclaim their monopoly over the country’s oil wealth. The Masyumi Party in Indonesia threw its weight behind dictator-general Suharto who toppled Sukarno’s government, opening the doors of the most populous Muslim country for Western powers that ruthlessly exploited its natural resources. Qaddafi was handed over to religious fanatics who killed him in a way that shamed even his critics and political opponents.
These progressive and nationalist leaders were not angels. They were not immune to mistakes and blunders. However, they at least believed in a modern definition of citizenship that advocates equal rights for all residents of a state irrespective of their religion, sect and creed. They saw modern education as a tool that could help Muslim states get rid of Western domination. They all held a view – with varying degrees – that the natural resources of a country should be in the hands of its people and be spent on their welfare. They all feared that allowing religion to meddle with the affairs of the state will fragment societies.
If you compare their thoughts with the clerics of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and a number of other Muslim states where religious leaders have occupied a great deal of social and political space, you will notice a stark difference. Most of these clerics want minorities and women relegated to the status of second-class citizens. To them, modern invention is a satanic conspiracy. They are against the very idea of modern education and science. They all want to divide their societies along sectarian lines, with one sect dominating the rest. Read the thought-provoking comments of our great scholars from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan about co-education, women driving cars and female modesty and form your own opinion about their intellectual insight.
Owing to these obscurantist ideas, the Muslim world has been divided along sectarian lines and is intellectually trapped in medieval times. While we may be churning out millions of graduates from religious seminaries where outdated syllabi are taught, we still struggle to name any prominent Muslim scientist or researcher whose work has shaken the world. At a time when scientists are trying to discover water on various planets and researchers are finding cures to a large number of incurable diseases, we are debating the right religious way of cutting a cucumber on live TV transmissions. This speaks volumes about the state of affairs in the Muslim world.
Abdul Sattar is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.