Blaming the victims

This blog is based on Dr. Asad Zaman’s work “Is Development Accumulation of Wealth? Islamic Views” published in “Afro Eurasian Studies” in 2013.  This work challenges the existing development paradigm and highlights the superiority of the Islamic concept of development in which the moral and spiritual development takes the center stage.

It is widely believed that development is synonymous with the accumulation of wealth. The Islamic concept of development is antithetical to the prevailing concept of development. Islam focuses on the spiritual and moral development with a view to creating a society with distinctive institutions and ideology. Islam seeks to actualize this worldview through the inner revolution. Western concept of development is more mundane. Western development trajectory is inextricably linked with their colonization of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The colonization agenda was fulfilled at the cost of uncountable human lives, the destruction of major civilizations, loot and plunder of the resources of the local people. A range of myths was meticulously made up to justify Western colonization. Myth 9 relates to blaming the victim.

MYTH 9. BLAMING THE VICTIM.

Suppose a person hits another person’s skull with a hammer and crushes it. A team of renowned doctors does the post-mortem and concludes that there was some serious manufacturing issue because of which the deceased could not withstand the hammer blow and his skull cracked. Ridiculous as this story may look like, the fact is that even more ridiculous myths of this nature have been made up and perpetuated to justify the colonization by the Western powers.

In his book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Professor David S. Landes (1999) contrasts the characteristics of successfully industrialized nations–work, thrift, honesty, patience, and tenacity–with those of nonindustrial countries. Thus the failure of the East to develop is attributed to the fact that the people in the East are lazy, dishonest, extravagant spendthrifts, and lack the strength of character to persevere in face of difficulties. The matter of the fact is that the successfully industrialized nations have created such conditions (political and economic instability and wars, to name a few)  in large parts of the world which have systematically blocked the process of industrialization in these regions. When the culture of violence necessary for global domination led an unstable youngster, Adam Lanza, to murder 20 children in a USA school in cold blood, the nation mourned. No compassion or sympathy was expressed in the press for the death of over a million civilians, and damage to the life, limb, and property of over 40 million people in Iraq.

Hernando de Soto (2003) propounds the influential thesis that secure property rights in the west led to the development, and lack of them in the East led to its failure to develop. The fact is that property rights were largely secure in India before the onslaught of colonization. Secure and accurate systems for demarcating and settling property rights had functioned for centuries in India. In a land grab typical of imperialists everywhere, “Resumption” officers demanded documents of ownership, and declared them invalid at the slightest pretext, seizing all undocumented property for the British. This led to closure of schools, hospitals, and indigenous social welfare organizations funded by trusts, throughout India.

Different authors have attributed our current poverty to our lack of creativity, inability to think rationally, authoritarian traditions, which led to our failure to have an industrial revolution. Kennedy (1989) provides evidence for the strong industrial manufacturing sectors of India on the eve of colonization. In textiles, shipbuilding, steel industry, and glass blowing, among others, India was second to none. The Indian manufacturing sector was creative and efficient, and many technologies flowed from India to England. However, the adoption of power looms in India posed a threat to British textiles and was banned. When muslin weavers shifted to hand production, their thumbs were cut off to prevent the production of competitive muslins.

In a confidential note, William Bentinck, Viceroy of India stated that “the bones of the cotton weavers are bleaching the plains of India. The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce” (see Ghosh & Ghosh, 2011, p 26). It was not that we failed to industrialize – rather, we were de-industrialized in the process of colonization.

Slavery remained a thorny issue for a very long time in the United States, which led to a bloody Civil War between the white-dominated United States of America and black dominated the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. Negroes were not taught how to read and write since they were not considered capable of learning these skills. At the same time, their general inability to read and write was cited as proof of their poor learning skills and as a justification for their continued enslavement.

TRUTH 9: OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE SAME COIN

More baffling than what is being said about the cause of the development is what is NOT being said. In early twentieth century, European powers had direct or indirect economic control of about 90% of global resources, which they ruthlessly exploited to the hilt, not being constrained by moral considerations. The imperialists became rich, and the colonies became poor in the process. Is this such a mystery? None of the authors listed above mentioned this as a possible explanation of why rich countries are rich and why the poor countries are poor.  This is such a simple explanation that it is a mystery why no one refers to it, and the solitary text which provides detailed documentation validating this thesis has been out of print for decades. We quote from Stavrianos (1981):

The “backwardness” of colonial peoples was taken for granted. The “natives” were viewed as inherently different from and inferior to, their European rulers. … Colonial rule generally was considered to be not the cause, but the only feasible solution for the prevailing backwardness.

…it is beginning to be realized that the underdevelopment of the Third World and the development of the First World are not isolated and discrete phenomena. Rather they are organically and functionally interrelated.

LESSON 9: POWER AND KNOWLEDGE

The truth is very damaging to the colonizing powers, who are still very much in control of the world. This truth has been ignored or suppressed, and myths have been developed to distract attention. It is thus that structures of knowledge support existing structures of power. Dangerous knowledge, of the type being discussed here, is a threat to the status quo.

POSTSCRIPT:

Development: Myths and Truths describes 12 myths about development.  Materialism Versus Idealism –  covers the first 3 myths: Central Myths of Eurocentric History: Covers myths 4,5,6 regarding the Rise of the West. The seventh myth is covered in Myth 7: Racial Superiority of Whites.  Myth 8 states that governance systems in Europe in infinitely superior to those of the East – this is discussed in The Myth of Oriental Despotism.

Zaman, Asad (2013) “Is Development Accumulation of Wealth? Islamic Views,” Afro Eurasian Studies, Vol. 2, Issues 1&2, Spring & Fall 2013, 144-203.

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