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.

Dealing Educational Poverty: A Nobel Approach

Educational poverty is most prevalent among the several diverse forms of poverty. It is the one that originates and amplifies the other issues for the poor, such as lack of opportunities, awareness, discrimination and so on. Therefore, development theory has declared this a fundamental factor contributing to poverty as a whole. Other forms of poverty such as income and health poverty are observed to increase the risk for people to remain educationally poor. This in turn is expected to make them further poor in other dimensions. Given this tangled situation, policy conduct is highly challenging to deal this deprivation at macro level.

It is observed that pro poor policies based on mainstream economic theories are almost everywhere ineffective. This is due to the fundamental flaws in development paradigms that propose assumption based solutions. Therefore, researchers at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Labs (JPAL) center MIT have proposed a radically different approach to tackle poverty. They opted to conduct experiments and observe what really goes on with the poor. Success or failure of development policies is then assessed by the effects of an intervention. Their evidence based solutions are very useful and have exciting effects at large. One significant finding bout the concept of poverty suggests that it is not a single big problem but thousands of small issues. This simple yet fundamental finding refers to various complex implications. In policy perspective it implies that a single tool cannot solve all the problems. So, it is required to find alternate policy solutions to reduce different deprivations. Nobel laureates and leaders at JPAL Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo view conflicting ideological notions of free market and socialism about interventions the biggest barrier to find effective policies. They emphasize that theoretical arguments of both paradigms are irrelevant distractions to find the real solutions.

To deal with educational poverty, provision issues must be considered to find effective solutions. It requires us to observe the mechanism of education at schools and reasons of failure. Studies show that both the private and public schools in Pakistan have miserable situation in terms of educational outcomes. In Banerjee-Duflo approach, solutions can be found by studying issues of each outcome separately. For instance, we can consider why there is high drop out and absenteeism among both teachers and students of public schools. As per JPAL procedure it requires to formulate a hypothesis about the reasons of this problem and then test it through experiments. There are several plausible hypotheses like parents send children to earn due to lack of awareness about returns to education. Perhaps, the demand for educated workers is lower. Studies evaluate many such hypotheses using surveys and experiments. Suppose all of these are rejected and we find parents are well aware of the benefits of education. The schools are affordable and demand for educated workers is also sufficiently highly. Nonetheless, children perform poor and drop out is high from schools, so parents have to engage them in other works to avoid sitting idly. To solve the unanswered mystery of ‘Why?’, readers are invited to follow the JPAL process and observe the process in real world.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emphasize lack of access to schools a key factor of poor education and required to increase enrolment rates. Several studies in Pakistan find that about eighty percent of students in third grade cannot read a paragraph of first-grade level. Obviously, even the hundred percent enrolment in such schools will not solve the issue. In free market ideology, it is supposed that failure is due to public ownership. Evidence suggest that teachers are well qualified and better paid but deliver poor results than their private school counterparts. However, it is observed that private schools perform just marginally better, not only in Pakistan but across the world. In Pakistan, only 55 percent of private school students could read a complete sentence in private schools. That is better yet unsatisfactory than the 38 percent students of public schools. This failure of private schools is significantly observed with effective intervention.

Banerjee-Duflo and their team introduced a programme ‘Balsakhi’ in India. They hired and engaged local young women with children lagging behind the basic learning skills. This delivered dramatic outcomes as high as learning by 100 percent children compared to just 40 percent from private schools. One important insight is community involvement in learning process. But most important finding from this experiment is surprising for many, that is role of expectations. Expectations playe key role to improve the performance. An experiment was conducted and students were given a fake exam. Teachers were informed about great potential of certain students based on the test. Performance of those students improved significantly because teachers expected them to perform well.

This experiment emphasize to inspire the teachers and observe the potential of each student. This is in accordance to Islamic tradition; human are like mines with hidden treasure. Here, setting unrealistic expectations is also a major obstacle. Most of poor parents suppose government job a prize of the education. Failure to get this means no benefit for them, this is like a lottery that is won by only few. Considering the low chance of their children to get reward, parents consider education and investment not worth their time and effort. This problem can be solved by changing the perception about education. Students, teachers and parents must understand that education is an incremental process that enhance capabilities and income stream. To develop this understanding, each year goals should be highlighted with respective achievements. It also requires introducing practical skills with real life application at each level of schooling. These skills must be aligned with the receptive audience such as knowledge of soil and cultivation for agrarian community and so on.

To tackle educational poverty in developing countries like Pakistan we must go beyond school construction and monetary incentives. It requires changing mind set of individuals, creating their trust and self-confidence. These solutions may be found in inspirational poetry of Iqbal.

The article is a slightly modified version of originally published article in “The Express Tribune”  on October 11, 2015 by Dr. Asad Zaman.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/971192/the-new-poor-economics/

Reading materials related to this can be found here:

https://sites.google.com/site/aznews0/home/the-new-poor-economics

Successful Development Strategies

If an alien species were to descend on Earth today hoping to learn about economic development from the human species, what would they take away from us? If they were rational, they would sift through history and take the bits that were the most successful in producing results. It follows that we should be doing the same thing to develop our own strategies for development going forward but for reasons that we explain in this article, we are not doing that. We continue to try and implement economic theories that have repeatedly failed and ignore the ones that have produced provable results. Why?

History is the conquest song of the victors. Since ancient times, these songs have glorified victors and grossly exaggerated their virtues, while denigrating and vilifying the losers. From them, the defeated learn an extremely biased picture of the world which prevents access to the truths necessary for liberation.

In graduate school, we learnt about Rostow’s theory of the stages of economic development. This theory places all existing non-European civilisations at ground zero and argues that development will require them to imitate the path taken by England in the 18th century in the course of its rise to global world power. This idea is patently absurd. Current global conditions bear no resemblance to those faced earlier by European countries. Contrary to the idea of ground zero, India had advanced shipbuilding, glass, and textiles industries. De-industrialisation took place as many of these industries were deliberately destroyed during the process of colonisation. Economic theory was used as a weapon to argue that India’s comparative advantage lay in supplying raw materials to British industry.

Another reason the comparison is flawed is political realities; European countries enjoyed a degree of sovereignty not available to current developing countries. Weak and corrupt governments and massive debt burdens allow rich countries to set policy. How can one make effective development policy while paying billions in interest on non-productive loans? Rostow’s prescriptions for growth do not take current political circumstances into account and are uninformed by history.

Despite numerous flaws, Rostow’s ideas undergird modern economic growth theories. This is a testimonial to the power of victors to dominate discourse. The spectacular accomplishments of the losers of World War 2, Japan and Germany – who went on to become economic superpowers – receive no mention in economics courses. Similarly, very little attention has been paid to the experience of the East Asian tiger economies, which accomplished something unprecedented in history: sustained rates of growth of seven per cent per annum. The famous Industrial Revolution that we struggle to replicate à la Rostow had growth rates of only 1.5 per cent, tripling the previous historical average of 0.5 per cent. This seven per cent growth rate has been justly labelled the East Asian Miracle. Their experience is far more relevant to modern development strategies than the 18th century experiences of England.

Not a single Nobel Prize has been awarded to an East Asian economist. Instead, it is deeply ironic that Milton Friedman, the prophet of the free market, received the Nobel Prize. Policies designed and supported by him were implemented to the last detail over a period of 20 years by a group of economists known as the ‘Chicago boys’, under General Pinochet in Chile. Despite Friedman’s repeated assurances that these would bring about an economic miracle, Chile experienced high unemployment, a sharp increase in income inequalities and poverty and a highly erratic economic performance. The Economist, a magazine which ardently supports free market policies, had to confess that the “hair of the Chicago boys has gone grey, waiting for the free market to give results.” Pinochet eventually fired the Chicago boys.

A similar disaster occurred in Russia, as a result of the implementation of Friedman’s ideas. After the collapse of communism, there was widespread agreement on the need for a transition to free market policies. The debate was only between the gradualists and those in favor of a rapid transition. Supported by the IMF, the ‘shock treatment’ party implemented a sudden shift to free market policies. As a result, production in Russia fell by 50 per cent in one year. In an economy previously able to feed its population, extreme poverty and starvation occurred on a large scale, accompanied by the creation of a new small group of billionaires.

Instead of looking to those responsible for numerous crises, including the recent global financial crisis, wouldn’t we be better advised to consult those few countries, including China, that have been success stories of development over the past few decades?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2010 by Dr. Asad Zaman: author page on LinkedIn. Links to Other Works: Index.

Successful Development Strategies

First Steps

This is a continuation of my previous post on “A Journey of a Thousand Miles“, which explains how I acquired an inner conviction in my heart that Islamic teachings are just as revolutionary today as they were 1440 years ago, even though this idea did not make sense to my head. The strong empirical evidence of the power and glory of the West which surrounds us, also suggests that the necessity of learning essential lessons from the West.  But this does create a mystery: If western teachings are necessary for progress, then how did the early Muslims create a spectacular civilization which led the world for a thousand years without these teachings?

The first major clue towards the solution of the mystery came from the brilliant book on “Orientalism” by Edward Said (A Palestinian Christian, Said is actually Sa’eed), my ex-colleague at Columbia University. This book was amazingly influential in discrediting an entire field of study. Departments of “Oriental Studies” shut down, and scholars discreetly dropped the label “orientalist”, replacing it by “area studies” and “regional experts”. The basic thesis of “Orientalism” was stark and simple. The European conquest of 85% of the globe by the means of incredible brutality, ruthless violence, and unbelievable atrocities inflicted on millions of people required an intellectual justification. The “Orient” was invented as a creation of European scholars to provide such a justification. Deep and serious scholars have proposed explanations of the “Rise of the West” by many distinguishing characteristics: honesty, thrift, initiative, respect for property rights, and openness to new ideas. rationality, science, technology, etc. The “Orient” is defined by the opposite characteristics — orientals, all the billions, are incapable of rational thought, science is beyond their mental capabilities, they are lazy, spendthrifts, lack initiative and originality, are born thieves with no respect for property rights, and so on. One might think that this is a gross exaggeration which no respectable scholar could make. James Blaut’s book on “Eight Eurocentric Historians” documents contemporary and influential historians who have propounded such absurd theses, characterizing billions of people via shallow stereotypes.

The idea that all good things known to man were invented by Europeans, and that human history is really European history because no one else on living on the planet ever did anything significant is such a wild exaggeration that it is unnecessary to produce empirical evidence to prove that it is false – there is simply too much evidence that can be used for this purpose. Despite the fact that these ideas are patently false, why are they so widespread and widely believed all over the world, in the West and in the East? In the long-run, this line of thought proved to be very fruitful, although at that time this was not at all clear to me. This is Meta-Theoretical thinking — or Meta-Thought. That is, we need to think about the nature of thinking itself. Why do people think like they do? Why do people disagree, especially on things which seem obvious? Why does person X believe belief B and person Y believe belief C? My education at MIT in Mathematics and logic had trained me to believe in Binary logic. Thoughts are ideas which are either true or false. If thought T is true than everyone should believe it, and if it is false than no one should believe it. If there is a disagreement between beliefs B and C, then one person is right and the other one is wrong. Our goal is to discover the truth – find out who is wrong and who is right.

Meta-Thinking rejects this way of looking at the problem. Instead of trying to find what is true and what is false, we think about how the idea B became the belief of X, and how the idea C became the belief of Y. This requires looking at the experiences of X and Y, and the kind of education and training they received.  Orientalism is Meta-Thinking at a very high level. Edward Said is examining the ways of thinking for all scholars trained in “Oriental Studies” and called Orientalists. He argued that these ways of thinking were created by the need to justify and rationalize the conquest of the globe by the European powers. Examining whether the thoughts were “true” or “false” was not a very interesting question from the historical perspective taken by Edward Said.

The dramatically ambitious scope of the Edward Said’s project was breathtaking and inspiring. Single-handedly, he successfully attacked an entire discipline. Scholars stopped calling themselves “Orientalists” because Said had shown that this was just a name for a prejudiced European way of looking at the world. The words “Developed” and “Under-Developed” and Modern versus Traditional societies reflected this prejudice and bias of Western superiority and Eastern inferiority.

For me, the work of Said created the hope and the dream that perhaps I could do something similar in Economics. That is, perhaps I could show that Economic Theory was also an Orientalist project, a way for the West to control and dominate the East. This was a very plausible conjecture. The field of “Development Economics” had its roots in “Colonial Economics” which was designed to teach the ruling classes how to govern the colonies in such a way as to create maximum revenue for the colonizers at minimum cost, while preventing revolutions or costly disturbances in the colonies. I did not think that “economics” was wrong (that thought came later). Initially, I just thought that it was the theory of the colonizer, and would not be helpful to the colonized in developing an independent economy.

An attack on Economics was just part of a larger project of showing that Western knowledge was not as all important and useful as it appears to be, and that Islamic ideas could help us develop alternatives which would allow us to achieve freedom from colonial influence. Edward Said’s book covered a vast range of literature spanning many centuries and covering many disciplines. It was clear to me that this was HUGE project. Attacking the entire discipline of Economics constructed over the past few centuries in the West could be a lifetime effort. I was encouraged by the example of Imam Ghazali who said that he took out ten years to examine the claims of the Sufi’s. Devoting large chunks of life to acquire expertise on a whole field of knowledge was justified by the importance of the project.

PRACTICAL ADVICE: As a practical matter of work-discipline, it is essential to break down huge projects into small bite-size pieces. I could not take down the entire discipline of Economics in one day. Instead, I would focus on very small manageable pieces, one at a time. Furthermore, even on a small piece, it is important to focus on subtasks which can be completed in one day. Organize the tasks – which involve reading, absorbing and understanding the material, and writing up an expression of your understanding – into units which are small enough. Then reward yourself for completing one small step. Count each completion of a very very small piece of the task as success, one step forward towards a grand goal. And make sure that you achieve at least one success every day. Give thanks to Allah for opening your heart to knowledge, and for whatever progress you are making, so that He will increase your blessings. Most students tend to do the opposite — instead of counting the small number of steps successfully completed, they look at the huge distance remaining to the goal, and get discouraged. Working in this way is essential for students engaged in research, especially Ph.D. research. The task of finishing up a Ph.D. thesis is dauntingly large. To do it, you should break it down into small parts, and make sure to make progress on one small part every day. This is a very important skill that must be learnt: how to break up a large task into small and manageable pieces. Slow and steady wins the race. For more details, see my post on Guidance for Research for M.Phil/Ph.D. 

RELATED MATERIALS: “Orientalism” is an illustration of an extremely important idea of Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge. In dramatic contrast to the binary theory of knowledge as being (true/false) which I had learnt at MIT and Stanford, Foucault shows that knowledge is a manifestation of power. The powerful do not control the world by brute force. At their maximum, there were only about a thousand Englishman who were physically present in India to control and dominate a population of millions. The controls exerted is psychological. Colonization is really a conquest of knowledge. Our minds are shaped by theories which inform us that being colonized is better for us than being free. This is done by creating a Deep Seated Inferiority Complex, which is the counterpart of the superiority complex created among the Europeans by their global conquest. This complex was created by a deliberate policy which destroyed the excellent indigenous systems of education, and replaced them with a system designed to create admiration and respect for the West, and hatred and contempt for our own heritage and culture. This system, designed by Lord Macaulay, continues to function with the same results today, creating an elite class which identifies with the West, and holds the “natives” in contempt. For more details see “The British Educated and Civlized Us?

Postscript: To get automatic notifications about later posts in this sequence, scroll up to the top of this post. A button marked “Follow” will appear somewhere near the lower part of the right hand side. Click on it and follow instructions register for automatic notifications about posts on this blog.

 

 

GNP as Statistical Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, but modern statistics uses a trick which is not found in the classical textbooks on this subject. Arguments about complex and unobservable realities are converted into arguments about numbers which represent reality. The heart of the argument lies in the process of conversion of the qualitative into the quantitative, which is always imperfect, and can always be challenged on many different grounds. This conversion process is hidden behind multiple curtains, and put out of the bounds of discussion. Candidate X has 12 publications, while Y has 9. End of discussion. The complex question about the unobservable is: How can we assess and compare the contribution that X and Y would make to our organization if we hire them to work for us? This is complex, multidimensional, and involves many qualitative and unmeasurable factors. We avoid this for a good reason: subjectivity, personal bias, and power politics, can and often does distort such decisions. But practical and pragmatic considerations should not be allowed to hide the fact that number of publications is a very rough and imperfect guide to what we are really trying to assess: the quality of research, and the potential for the future. The key change that I would like to make in the approach to statistics I am advocating in “Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach” is the following. Shift attention from the debate about numbers to the debate about the real world issues which are represented by the numbers. Training in conventional statistics systematically cripples our abilities in this direction, by explicitly teaching us that the statistician should NOT go beyond a purely objective analysis of the numbers. “Real Statistics” means that numbers should always be considered in the context of the realities that they are supposed to measure. In this article we show how ignoring the larger context, and confining attention to numbers, has caused great harm in the particular context of measurement of GNP per capita. For more general arguments about how attempts to measure and quantify can cause harm instead of gain, see Beyond Numbers and Material Rewards and Corruption: Measuring the Unmeasurable, Continue reading

IE2019 Final: Eurocentric History

As I have come to realize recently, modern Muslims no longer believe that the Quran offers complete and perfect guidance for our modern problems {see “The Quran: Complete and Perfect Guidance“}. This is reflected in our thoughts and actions: The Ummah as a whole is investing a huge amount of time and effort in learning newly developed knowledge of the West, and neglecting our own thousand years of intellectual heritage. There are two important reasons for this failure. Over the past two centuries, the Ummah as a whole has suffered major defeats on multiple fronts. The process of colonization of the globe by the Europeans created a superiority complex in them {see “Orientalism“} and a corresponding inferiority complex in the colonized {see “Deep Seated Inferiority Complex“}. This is reinforced by a Western education, which trains us to believe that the purpose of life is to earn money and enjoy life.  One we accept this idea, then we evaluate the teachings of Islam in terms of how much we can earn by using them, and find that these teachings do not appear to have much value — we cannot get jobs, and have successful careers, by learning Islamic teachings . This is what leads us to prize and value Western knowledge, and neglect and ignore our own intellectual heritage. The Ghazali Project has been designed in the light of these understandings.

The course on Islamic Economics 2019 which I taught last semester at IIIE, IIUI {see IE2019 – bit.do/ie2019} was designed to enable students to see through the illusions created by our colonization, and our Western education. In previous posts, I have discussed the first two questions on the Final Exam for this course:

Q1: What does Economic Theory teach us about the purpose of life? This post shows how economic theory teaches us to believe that the purpose of life is the pursuit of desires, without our being aware that we are being taught to believe this.

Q2: Useful Knowledge: Once we come to believe that the purpose of life is to earn money, then only Western knowledge appears useful to us. To understand why the teachings of the Quran just as powerful today as they were 1440 years ago, we must realize that we are human resources – commodities for sale in the labor market — as Western education teaches us to believe. Once we understand that we are the most precious of the creations of God, and that our goal in life is to develop the hidden amazing potentials with which we have been created, THEN and only then can we understand the value of the Quranic teachings.

This post provides a discussion of the third question on the Final Exam for IE2019, which deals with Eurocentric history. This is a set of lies about history which are at the foundation of a Western education. To undo the damage which they cause, we must learn to recognize them, and understand why they are false.

Q3: According to Eurocentric History: (A) history starts with the Enlightenment of Europe starting around the sixteenth century. Since then, (B) Europe has made fantastic progress on all fronts, leaving the rest of humanity behind. (C) Europe conquered the globe as part of their civilizing mission, to spread their knowledge and advanced civlization to the whole world, which was in darkness. What is the COUNTER-NARRATIVE? That is, explain why A,B,C, are false, and explain what Islam says about these three items

Ans 3A: The idea that the whole world was in darkness until the sun of reason first rose in the West, sometime in the sixteenth century, has been debunked by many Western historians. In particular, Fernand Braudel, Henri Pirenne, and followers who developed World systems theory, have emphasized how all human civilization have participated in weaving the colorful and rich fabric of human history.  The basis for an Islamic counter-narrative is provided by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s important book: “What the World Lost due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization“. This shows that it was the teachings of Islam which enlightened the world, and removed the darkness of the age of ignorance – Jahiliyya. Furthermore, the Europe was in its own dark ages, while the Islamic Civilization of Al-Andalus was far more advanced. After seven hundred years — far longer than current European civilization — Islamic Spain learned to love the pursuit of luxury and went into decay and decline. This “Rise and Fall of Civilizations” is an iron law from which there is no escape.  This decline made possible the re-conquest of Spain, which was completed in 1492, and gave Europe access to the treasures of knowledge contained in millions of books in the libraries of Islamic Spain. Thus it was actually the light of Islamic knowledge which ended the dark ages of Europe and created what is called the Enlightenment of Europe. This fact is suppressed in European accounts, which make it seem like the Enlightenment happened spontaneously, without any cause. In particular, it is widely believed that “science” originated in Europe, and is a unique European contribution to the body of human knowledge. In fact, famous sociologist Max Weber went so far as to say that the European civilization was uniquely capable of rational thought, and this was what enabled them to develop science, unlike any other human civilization. In fact, science originated in the Islamic Civilization, and was absorbed and adopted by the West from the Islamic textbooks which they acquired in the conquest of Al-Andalus. For details see “The Islamic Origins of Science”

Ans 3B: Has Europe made fantastic progress on all fronts? From the Islamic point of view, progress does not refer to becoming wealthy. Progress means learning to better human beings. This is reflected in Mahbubul Haq’s concept of Human Development, which is based on Islamic foundations.  Again, a western education indoctrinates us into believing that “progress” means accumulation of wealth and power. Once we accept this idea, then the Eurocentric thesis automatically becomes the truth. However, if we look at Islamic ideals, the best of times was that of our Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. The early Muslims were not distinguished by their wealth and power. Instead, Islam taught them how to be better human beings. Indeed, they became models of excellence for all of humanity to follow. People who were killing each other for minor causes, burying their own daughters alive, and acting in many types of savage and barbaric ways, were transformed by the message of Islam. As the Quran testifies, their hearts become united by bonds of love, they developed compassion and kindness, they learned to feed others while themselves being hungry. This is the meaning of progress according to Islamic standards. See posts on “Re-Defining Development” and ” Re-Defining Prosperity” to see how Western definitions of development and prosperity are radically different from the Islamic definitions. Once we change our perspective regarding progress, then we can ask: has Europe made progress on the human front? Have they learned to be better human beings? There is an enormous amount of evidence that the opposite is the case. There has been a significant decline in morality in the West. The concept of building character has been removed from Western education; see “The Marginalization of Morality” and “The Higher Goals of Education“. The Global Financial Crisis occurred because of massive fraud — large numbers of people in the finance industry collaborated in schemes which would make them rich, and wipe out the lifetime savings of millions of poor people. Today, an environmental catastrophe threatens the future of humanity on the planet, because selfish greed for quick profits is over-riding considerations of the future welfare of all. Judged in terms of morality, and development of character, the rise of Europe has been a disastrous failure.

Ans 3C: By the early 20th Century, Europeans had conquered about 85% of the planet. The question is Why? Why did they conquer the world? The Eurocentric story is that they did it for the welfare of humanity, in order to bring the benefits of their advanced civilization to lesser beings, living in darkness and ignorance. A Western education indoctrinates us into believing this story, which teaches us that we were all ignorant and backwards, while the West was an advanced civilization. This story is called “The White Man’s Burden” or “The Civilizing Mission” of the Europeans. In fact, this is just a cover story, developed to hide the real motives of loot and pillage of the rest of the world. We have all seen this process of covering up true motives in the recent destruction of Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was conducted on the pretext of freeing the population from an evil dictator, bringing them the benefits of democracy, and protecting the world from weapons of mass destruction. The truth was revealed when aerial bombings destroyed all  Iraqi infrastructure (schools, hospitals, factories, power plants, etc.) throwing one of the most advanced and developed countries in the area into the stone ages. The not-so-hidden real plan was to control and exploit the vast oil reserves of Iraq, and to bomb the country into becoming dependent on US aid for development.

For a more detailed discussion of the points above, with links to further references, see “Central Myths of Eurocentric History“.

Operationalizing Riyasat-e-Madina

IBA Iqra Society held its Annual Islamic Conference (AIC 2019) on Sunday 28th Apr. 2019. The theme of the conference centered around the question of: What can we do to convert the dream of re-creating the first Islamic State in the 21st Century?. My talk focused on the conceptual obstacles in the path of achieving this goal. These obstacles exist within our minds, and removing them requires re-organizing our fundamental frameworks of thought. For two versions of the talk in Urdu, and slides for the talk, see “The Road to Madina“. An 85 min video for the English version of the lecture, together with a 1300 word summary is given below:

1300 Word Summary of Talk about Operationalizing Riyasat-e-Madina:

We must first clarify the nature of “Riyasat-e-Madina”. Why is it a desirable goal, even now, in the 21st Century? Haven’t we made tremendous progress since those ancient times of more than a millenia ago, and can’t we now do much better? To understand the answer to this question, we must learn to re-conceptualize the nature of progress. Progress means human development – learning to be better human beings, and learning to realize the potential to become the best of the creation. As the Quran testifies, we have all been created with this potential, as well as with the potential to be the worst of the creation. An excellent articulation of the nature of the state of Madina is presented by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi in his book on “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”. The revolutionary message of Islam, implemented in personal lives and communities, led to the spread of brotherhood, cooperation, social responsibility, and generosity. It led to the use of power for protecting the weak, and wealth for giving to the needy. The state of Madina is not built with bricks and stones; it is built on the foundations of deep love for Allah, which creates love for the creation of Allah.

How did it come to pass that the message became a stranger to the Muslims, who were supposed to carry this to all of mankind? How is it that the darkness of Jahiliyya, much like that of the pre-Islamic world, envelops the world today, and threatens to destroy mankind? More importantly, do the teachings of Islam have the same power today as they did fourteen centuries ago, to lead the world out of the darkness, and into the light?   Can we re-create the revolution that created the state of Madina, using the same message, and the same approach? If this is indeed possible, then why are the Muslims failing to exercise their responsibility, as bearers of the final, complete, and perfect message of God, to show the world the path out of the corruption and evil which is spread through the land, the sea, and the atmosphere itself?

To answer the last question, we note that most Muslims no longer believe that the Quran offers us complete and perfect guidance. Today, the vast majority are looking to the West, the creator of problems currently facing mankind, for the solution to our problems. The vast majority of Muslim children are learning math, chemistry, physics, biology, and the social sciences of the West. The public is convinced that acquiring Western knowledge, technology, expertise, and institutional structures is the only solution to our present problems. The ancient message of the Quran is not relevant for our modern times, and does not offer us any guidance on the pressing issues facing us today.

The only path to the state of Madina lies in the realization that the message of Islam is still complete and perfect, sufficient for our needs of today. But to arrive at this realization, we have to break the chains wrapped around our minds by the process of colonization. When Europeans conquered 85% of the globe by the early 20th Century, the frameworks of thought required to support this conquest spread throughout the world. In particular, the idea that progress and development means learning to be like them, to think like them, and to act like them was spread throughout the world by the European educational systems which we have all adopted. Once we accept the idea that development means creating London, Paris, and New York, then it becomes impossible to create the State of Madina.

The Quran (3:196) warns us: “Do not be deceived by the prosperity and power enjoyed by those who reject the faith”. Undoing this illusion, of the power and the greatness of the West, is the first step on the road to Madina. Allam Iqbal, Poet Laureate of the East, writes that my eyes were not dazzled by brilliance of Western knowledge, for they were protected by the Kohl made from the dust of Madina and Najaf. This pinpoints the problem that currently faces the Ummah – our eyes have been dazzled by the West, and we have been deceived by their prosperity and power.

Undoing this illusion requires breaking the many chains that enslave us to our former colonizers. The first chain is the conquest and colonization itself, which serves as proof of their superiority and our inferiority. This creates a superiority complex in the conquerors (Orientalism) and an inferiority complex in us, who were conquered and colonized. This inferiority complex creates awe and respect for the conquerors, and contempt and hatred for our ancestors and heritage. To overcome this, we need to replace Eurocentric history, which we have learnt during our Western education, with an Islamic Worldview. Very briefly, Eurocentric history teaches us that the world was in darkness and ignorance, and the Europeans colonized the globe to bring us all the benefits of their advanced civilization. To understand the truth, we only need to look at Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was carried out on the pretext of bringing democracy and progress to the Iraq, of protecting the world from weapons of mass destruction, and of liberating the people from oppression by an evil dictator. The reality was that more than a million civilians were killed, all infrastructure (hospitals, schools, power plants, factories) destroyed, and one of the most advanced nations of the era was sent back to the stone ages. Similarly, European colonization and conquest of the globe was carried out for looting the riches of the world, exploiting global resources for self-enrichment.  We can find the path to Madina only after we overcome the illusion that civilization means having the largest army, the largest war weapons and technology industry, imposing our will on the globe by force, ruthlessly and mercilessly destroying any nation or group which stands in the path of our domination of the world.

The key to Madina lies is the realization that human beings are the best of the creations of Allah. The Quran states that saving a life is like saving all of humanity. This means that all of us have been given the potential to change the lives of billions. To realize this potential, we must learn to be human beings. This is made difficult by our current educational models, which are designed to teach us to be human resources, valuable as inputs in processes for the production of wealth. To realize our potentials, we must undo this deception, and “Learn Who We Are”. When we recognize our true identities, and develop our potential to be the best of the creation, we will become the bricks with which the state of Madina is built. The architectural plans require Ijtihad – that is, we must learn how to apply the revolutionary teachings of Islam to the solution of modern problems. The construction of the State of Madina requires Jihad, the struggle to make the Islamic values of brotherhood, cooperation, unity, and social responsibility come alive in our hearts, in our communities, and in the world as a whole. It is forgetting this message which has reduced us to our present destitute condition, and it is remembering it, and putting it into practice that is the only solution to our current problems.