Palestine is tired and has given up. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace. Kashmir stands disillusioned. Lebanon is simmering. Libya has been tamed. Egypt and Syria are being chiseled anew. Pakistan is on ICU resuscitation. Iran is on notice. The Muslim world could not be more chaotic and more helpless. Surely these are critical times for the Muslim world.
I remember in the 1980s as he orated against the Soviet Union, President Reagan often quoted from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense with his vision of a United States great enough “to begin the world over again.’ Indeed, one of his Republican successors did it. President George W. Bush did begin the world all over again. But he turned it upside down. No wonder, we are today living in a difficult and turbulent world.
The ideological polarisation of the cold war in two rival blocs, the East and the West has given way to a new configuration of power in the form of unipolarity unleashing its own security challenges and problems for the world at large. The world now stands divided between the ‘West and the Rest’ and as before, between two unequal halves, one embarrassingly rich and the other desperately poor. While the West is endowed with abundance of wealth and affluence, the ‘Rest’ that comprises mostly Third World countries representing the overwhelming part of humanity languishes in poverty and backwardness.
Unfortunately, all is not well with the Third World. Most developing countries suffer from serious governance and rule of law problems rooted in their authoritarian and non-representative political culture. Some of them are mired in perpetual intra-state or inter-state conflicts. What is even more disturbing is that the world’s two largest regions, Africa and South Asia, both rich in natural and human resources, are the biggest victims of poverty and violence. Both continue to be the scene of endemic instability as a result of conflicts and hostilities, unresolved disputes, unaddressed historical grievances, and deep-rooted communal and religious estrangement.
And the Muslim world is in no better shape. It represents the tragic story of â€œMedusaâ€, the ill-piloted French naval ship in the 19th century that ran aground because of its incompetent captain’s blunders and his dependence on others for navigational guidance, leaving behind a sordid tale of helplessness, death and desperation. The Medusa’s wreck is still out there, lying stuck on the West African coast, and isn’t going anywhere. Like Medusa’s wreck, the mastless Muslim world is just lying there, aimlessly floating with no one to steer it out of the troubled waters.
The Muslim world is in crisis. Representing one-fifth of humanity with a global land mass spreading over 57 countries, and possessing 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and nearly 50 per cent of world’s natural resources, the Muslim world should have been a global giant, economically as well as politically. Rich in everything but weak in all respects, it represents only five per cent of world’s GDP. As a non-consequential entity, it has no role in global decision-making, or even in addressing its own problems.
Though some of them are sitting on world’s largest oil and gas reserves, the majority of Muslim countries are among the poorest and most backward in the world. Poor and dispossessed, Muslim nations emerging from long colonial rule may have become sovereign states but are without genuine political and economic independence. With rare exceptions, they are all at the mercy of the West for their political strength and survival and are politically bankrupt with no institutions other than authoritarian rule. They have no established tradition of systemic governance or institutional approach in their policies and priorities.
Every ingredient of political life in these so-called sovereign states has been faked; sovereignty is not sovereignty, parliament is not parliament, law is not law, and the opposition parties are as corrupt and wasted as the ruling parties. Even the independence following the colonial powers’ handing over of the reins of government to local rulers was not true independence. Other than being members of the United Nations, they remain virtual colonies of the West with no sense of freedom or dignity.
Since 9/11, Islam itself is being demonised by its detractors with obsessive focus on the religion of individuals and groups accused of complicity or involvement in terrorist activities. Islam is being blamed for everything that goes wrong in any part of the world. With violence and extremism becoming anathema to the world’s high-and-mighty, Muslim freedom struggles are being projected as the primary source of ‘militancy and terrorism.’
Global terrorism is now being used to justify military occupations and to curb the legitimate freedom struggles of Muslim peoples. Muslim issues remain unaddressed for decades. Palestine is tired and has given up. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace. Kashmir stands disillusioned. Lebanon is simmering. Libya has been tamed. Egypt and Syria are being chiseled anew. Pakistan is on ICU resuscita tion. Iran is on notice. The Muslim world could not be more chaotic and more helpless. Surely these are critical times for the Muslim world.
On its part, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that groups together the fifty-seven Muslim states has no role whatsoever in global decision-making. It is nave to expect the OIC to bring any change to the Muslim world which remains alien to peace, democracy, science and technology, socio-economic development, rule of law, equality, women’s empowerment, tolerance, harmony, moderation, fraternity and brotherhood.
The OIC is merely an inter-governmental organisation and cannot be expected to do things that only governments of sovereign states can do. It has neither the credentials nor any operational capacity to be the panacea for the ills of its member-states. Though its ideological basis gives it a unique character, it remains seriously handicapped by the absence of regionality and complementarity in its geo-strategic, political and economic interests.
We just had yet another OIC summit in Makkah last month coinciding with the 26th and 27th day of Ramadan. The only special feature of the event was its consecrated timing which may have not only brought about a new spirit for the otherwise totally non-consequential Muslim world but also given a much needed opportunity to its self-serving rulers for availing themselves of their presence at the holiest Islamic soil to do some compunctious soul-searching while begging forgiveness for the sins they have committed in mortgaging to the West not only the security and sovereignty of their countries but also the political and economic futures of their nations.
Muslim leaders are good at oratory promising to their subject paradises on earth. But the problem is that their self-centred visions will not bring change to societies that are among the most illiterate and most backward. Thanks to our obscurantist mindset, we have done nothing to secure our future in this alarmingly chaotic world. Societal mindsets will change only with political, economic and social advancement of the people. This requires, not ‘Oh I See’ proclamations but tangible actions at national levels for rationalisation of socio-economic priorities through reallocation of resources with high quality education and scientific knowledge becoming the top most strategic priority in individual Muslim states.
Things will not change unless the Muslim world fixes its fundamentals and puts its house in order. Angels will not descend to help or salvage it. Ironically, they have been busy helping the West. It must take control of its own destiny through unity, mutuality and cohesion within its ranks. Its wealth and resources now being exploited by the West should be used to build its own strength and for its own socio-economic well-being.
The key to reshaping the future of the Muslim world lies in its political and economic independence and military strength with each Muslim nation opting for peace and democracy, and for knowledge and technology as top priority. Only governments rooted in the will of the people, and sustained by stable and accountable institutions can lead the way to genuine and healthy transformation of their societies. Each one of them will have to revamp existing mindsets and opt for peace, progress and harmony through genuine democracy and good and accountable governance.