WEALTH AND FREEDOM ARE MISLEADING MEASURES OF DEVELOPMENT

If you ask a typical Pakistani about the geographic distribution of global wealth, the most probable answer you will get is that the West is the wealthiest part of the world. Similarly, if you ask him in which part of the world, maximum individual freedoms are guaranteed, you are almost sure to receive the same answer. Do access to large riches and substantial individual and social freedoms make a nation developed? Not really.

Considering economic development as synonymous with the West is one of the most fundamental myths about economic development. Mad pursuit of wealth is considered as a symptom of moral decay across nearly all civilizations, cultures, and religions of the world. The Bible states that the “love of money is the root of all evil” and that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Lao Tzu said, “Do not race after riches … or you will let slip the Heaven within you.” Similarly, Islamic teachings condemn greed, selfishness, and hoarding of money and praise generosity and spending for the sake of Allah.

In nearly all societies, people are praised and honored for character, spirituality, wisdom, heroism, literary, artistic, and many other accomplishments, but not for the acquisition of wealth by loot and plunder. However, in modern society, wealth trumps all other accomplishments. There are no moral bars to the most powerful country in the world, making a naked unprovoked attack on a weaker country, killing one million civilians, and destroying the lives of forty million to secure oil supplies and making profits for the military-industrial complex.

It is only recently that many spectacular failures have led to a questioning of these assumptions. Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi (2009) believe that GNP measures production but not destruction or depletion, such as using up exhaustible resources, damaging the environment beyond repair, and destroying species of plants and animals. Many intangible social costs are ignored. Worse, if environmental hazards lead to sickness, expenses on medical care add to the GNP. Other intangible assets such as stability of families, high moral standards are very important to human welfare, but not accounted for in GNP.

Like material wealth, freedom is highly prized in the West. The French Revolution pro­voked Hegel to believe that “the History of the World is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom.”  There is no doubt that certain types of freedom are extremely valuable. However, freedom is a plastic word and can be reshaped to have many different meanings. Should the poor be free to sell their organs to the rich? Pedophiles are currently demanding the freedom to practice their perversion. This is not what Hegel or other principled advocates of freedom, had in mind.

The use of freedom as a defense of capitalism is one of the most egregious abuses of the word. On the surface, laissez-faire, or let everyone do as they please, appears to be a most egalitarian philosophy. All are to be given freedom. The laborers are free to sell their labor for the market wage, and the capitalists are free to earn suitable returns on their wealth. The grossly inequitable nature of this freedom is not immediately apparent. Millions were given the freedom to starve in Irish and Bengal famines to preserve the freedom of the markets. Grains guarded by the military against hungry mobs were shipped out of Bengal at the height of the famine because higher prices were available elsewhere.

Economic freedom is ideal if the playing field is level, but when a few are enormously advantaged, then “freedom” is equivalent to freedom of the rich to enslave the poor. The poor have no choices, and cannot take any advantage of their supposed freedom.

The truth is that both wealth and freedom could be double-edged swords. As Aristotle noted: “wealth is not the good we are seeking, and is merely useful for the sake of something else.” This knowledge was lost in the West. In a secular society, goals of life were left to be determined by individuals, since common social goals could not be agreed upon. In the absence of common goals, the social agreement was only possible by providing freedom and wealth as the means to all possible goals.  Gradually, failure to prescribe realistic and meaningful life goals at the social level led to these instruments and means becoming prized and valuable goals.  This has led to a social disaster. This apparent paradox is expressed in the Quran as follows:

They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom (Quran 9:34).

This is in direct contrast with the wisdom of Keynes, currently being pursued with vigor all over the world:

The love of money as a possession (… is …) somewhat disgusting morbidity … But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years, we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not” (Keynes, 1930 cited in Skidelsky, 2001).

Exactly as wealth has a dual nature, so freedom has a dual nature. If used wisely in the pursuit of good ends, it is extremely valuable. If used unwisely to pursue bad goals, it can cause tremendous damage to all. The Quran contains a clear message:

Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains:  but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up –  verily, he has proven to be most wicked, most foolish (Quran 33:72).

Freedom places a tremendous responsibility on our shoulders – the heavens and the earth shrank from bearing it. This is our responsibility to be wise (have knowledge of the good), and to be virtuous (to act on this knowledge).  In general, human beings have failed on both counts. They have been foolish, in failing to learn what is the best course of action, and they have been wicked, in failing to act on the knowledge of the good, even when they had it.  Thus, instead of being a blessing, freedom has been the bane of humanity. Those with wealth and power have abused their freedom by using these to exploit the poor and powerless:

Corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought (Quran 30:41).

It is certainly possible to use our freedom for the benefit of humanity, but this requires wisdom and virtue.

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. Myth 9, “blaming the victims” highlights well-orchestrated propaganda of the imperial powers to blame the masses in the colonies for their underdevelopment.

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

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.

The Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics

[bit.do/aztts] This is the third post on my paper “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, March 2019. Previous two post were “Islam’s Gift” and “Materialist VS Spiritual Economics”. Both posts provide some background material upon which the main arguments of the paper are constructed.  This post describes the origins of the paper, and explains the two introductory sections. This was covered on Friday 3rd May, 2019 in Lecture 9 of Islamic Economics 2019 at IIIE, IIUI; Course website bit.do/ie2019. A video recording of the urdu lecture is linked below. It is followed by an English summary of the lecture contents.

 

Genesis of Paper:

The paper originated with a request by Clifford Cobb, editor of AJES for a paper on Islamic Economics, for a special issue which shows that Neoclassical Economics is a religion. In the past, Colonialism was carried out by the power of the gun and had the ideology of the Bible. Today, the rich countries can extract trillions of dollars from the former colonies simply by convincing Western-trained elites that neoclassical economics and other branches of Western social science are “objective” and “scientific”. Once this belief is instilled, then they willing pay billions in tributes to the rich countries in the misguided belief that this is the best path to progress. Getting people to believe in obviously false theories as being objective facts is a magic even more powerful than the creation of thousands of snakes by the magicians of Pharaoh’s court. This post analyzes how this magic is done.

Cliff’s List of Questions for Islamic Economists

Q1: Traditional societies are parochial.  How did Islam overcome that problem?

A1: All men and women are brothers and sisters, children of Adam and Eve.

Q2: Power and wealth tends to concentrate in a small minority and create rigid social structures based on levels of wealth. Has Islam found a way to counter that tendency?

A2: Generosity, Social Responsibility, and the idea the wealth and power are given to us to serve the poor and help the powerless. The Leader of a group is the servant.

Q3: check original and link

.  Capitalism envisions a self protected by an almost impenetrable wall, and communism envisions a self without boundaries.  Both of those ontologies fail, and yet there is remarkably little work that aims to define the nature of a self born into a world of social obligations and with an aspiration toward self-transcendence.  What kinds of laws and institutions will serve to promote that sort of self?

.  I particularly like your statement: “The fundamental economic problem is a normative one: what should an individual (and a society) do with surplus wealth?”

Forward:

How does the West perform the magic of presenting an ideology as an objective and factual science? This is done by hiding the historical origins and context of the emergence of social science theories, and by pretending that these are universal and objective realities, valid for all human societies at all times. This makes it seem that a thousand snakes are dancing in front of eyes, and strikes fear into our hearts. One can undo the effect of this magic by looking at the hidden strings which pull the snakes. This requires analyzing the origins and historical contexts of social science theories. Michel Foucault has created the “Archaeology of Knowledge” as a way of digging up the historical roots and origins of theories, which is extremely helpful in understanding them, and thereby liberating ourselves from the power they exercise on our minds.

Edward Said’s book entitled Orientalism is an excellent demonstration of Foucault’s Power/Knowledge thesis. Europeans conquered about 85% of the planet by the early 20th Century. Edward Said has shown that all “knowledge” produced in the West about the East is colored by the need to justify this brutal conquest and colonization, which dealt death and destruction to millions across the globe. Western literature about the East takes an attitude of superiority, treating the Eastern as undeveloped, irrational, and otherwise inferior. Economic theory is also geared to justifying the wealth of the wealthy, and relegates morality to the dustbin, thereby making questions of justice irrelevant.

Economic theory was designed to justify capitalism, and the exploitation of labor. It does so by making the pursuit of wealth the primary objective of rational individuals, without any social or moral constraints. In the Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi has studies the historical origins of this system of thought. His study provides deep insights into the structures of capitalist economic theories.

As opposed to the materialist worldviews of capitalists and colonizers, Islam emphasizes the primacy of the spiritual world. Unfortunately, the colonization process created shock-and-awe of the West in the Muslim world, leading to widespread acceptance by Muslims of Eurocentric worldviews embedded into a modern education. This indoctrination prevents emergence of genuine Islamic theories, ideologies, and institutions. In many articles, I have explained the dramatic conflicts between neoclassical theories and Islamic views, which are constructed on entirely different foundational beliefs regarding the nature of human beings and the purpose of our lives. Genuine Islamic views match traditional European views, but are alien and strange to modern secular European thought which emerged after rejection of tradition and Christianity. However, a lot of work on modern Islamic economics rejects traditional Islamic views, and attempts to create conformity between secular modern views and Islam.

My paper “Islam’s Gift” argues that in order to explain “genuine Islamic economics” to a Western audience, we must challenge the self-conception of Western Social Science as being objective, neutral, and value-free. It is easy to expose the values hidden within an apparently objective framework, and many authors have pointed them out.  Many Western observers recognize that Social Science is laden with values; the paper quotes Mitchell, Foucault, and Hausman and MacPherson in this connection. My own paper on the “Normative Foundations of Scarcity” shows how scarcity pretends to be objective, but is actually based on three different normative principles.

In particular, Hausman and MacPherson reveal how economic theory creates the illusion of objectivity and neutrallity. They write that the assumption of rationality is a Trojan Horse which sneaks in questionable moral assumptions into the citadel of economics. While no one would argue against “rationality” as a general principle, economists use it in a very special way; this is what Amartya Sen has called “Rational Fools”. Human societies function with cooperation and trust. Putting self-interest ahead of social welfare will cause loss of social networks which are essential to our lives.

The question arises that WHY does WSS pretend to be objective, scientific, neutral, value-free? Especially when this is so easy to prove false. It is so easy to find the values embedded within the apparently objective frameworks of modern economic theory. Utility maximization states these values explicitly: life is about the maximization of pleasure that we get from consumption of goods and services.

As Clifford Cobb pointed out, the pretense of objectivity is essential to spread this new religion of worship of wealth. Once we can convince the elites of our ex-colonies that rational behavior is to look for self-interest and maximize personal wealth, then we can buy them for money. This continuing colonization of minds provides a far cheaper and safer way for the capitalists, those who have the money, to exert control over those who don’t. Capitalism is the new religion of mankind. Money is God and all must worship it. Today, students are educated to believe that they are human resources, for sale in the labor market.

Theology of Capitalism is spread by deception. It enslaves us all, and prevents us from learning our true nature as human beings.

“Rationality” – interpreted in a special way – is a key strategy used for deception. While no one would advocate “irrational” behavior, economists use “rationality” in a very special way which arises from the historical context of the European Enlightenment. According European philosophers, reason cannot prove the existence of God, Angels, Afterlife, Revelation, Wahy, etc. Whereas the Quran starts by defining the believers as those who believe in the unseen, Western “rationality” is defined as the rejection of the unseen.

Introduction

The Narrative: The Western Social Sciences tell us a story about themselves – that these are objective universal laws, established using empirical evidence and reason. The dominance of the West, and the impressive advances in Physical Sciences leads us to give the same status to the social sciences, without realizing that the word “science” is being mis-used when it is applied to the unpredictable behavior of free human beings. But it is not enough to criticize; we must provide an alternative story to explain the nature and origins of Western Social Science. This is called a counter-narrative.

The Counter-Narrative: We reject the claim that Western Social Science is universally applicable to all human societies, without regard to time and place is born from historical context. Instead, we argue the “social science” is a study of human experiences, and Western social science attempts to derive lessons from the historical experiences of European societies. This has been clearly recognized by many Western authors who are quoted in the paper (Mitchell, Foucault). We can illustrate this the concept of private property.  In the West, one has absolute rights to Private Property. Theoretical economic models assume people own property, and they have absolute rights to the use of this property; there are no commons with shared ownership in standard models. This theory reflects the structure of a capitalist economy. Marxism noted that massive inequalities in wealth and power result because a few capitalists own the means of production. To avoid this, he recommended that all capital should be owned by the state. Modern economic theory does not allow for this possibility, but does not mention that this is a subjective and normative decision. Similarly, the Cherokee constitution says that all hunting grounds are common property; they cannot be privatized. An economy where all resources are common property functions completely differently, and requires a different type of economic theory. Similarly, Islam says natural resources are gifts of God to man and cannot be privatized. Also, people are only temporary owners of private property, which is given to them as a trust by God. So they do not have absolute rights to use this as they please. All this just illustrates that the structure of modern economic theory reflects the European historical experience and is not an objective and universal truth about all human societies.

Just as Western economics cannot be understood without being placed in historical context, so Islamic economics is also a product of particular historical circumstances facing the Muslims in the twentieth century. It is not a universal set of principles which apply across time and space.

CLARIFICATION: Here let me pause to clarify the nature of Islam. The Quran and Hadeeth give us some general laws, plus some specific interpretations that were used in the early periods of Islam. How the general principles apply is always dependent on local historical context. For example, there is a principle that we must defend the Muslims from attacks by enemies. At one time the application of this principle may demand learning to ride horses and archery, at another time it may require us to learn to build forts and cannons, and yet another it might require building bombs and airplanes. The Islamic scholars have developed FIQH, which is the study of the principles of HOW to apply general laws to particular situation. FATWA is achieved by apply the methodology of FIQH to derive a ruling on what to do. Islamic Laws are Universal Invariants. But Historical Context is ALWAYS changing. Ruling can change continuously according to evolving historical context.

Historical Context of Islamic Economics:  Islamic Economics was born as a response to assertions of dominance of Capitalism and Communism as global theologies, rejecting religion.  Capitalism asserts that is the best economic system. Communism asserts that it is the best economic system.

When the World Wars broke the power of Europe – killing 50 million people, and especially the young men of Europe – the colonized world had a chance at liberation. Liberation requires an ideology, and the Islamic Economics was offered as an ALTERNATIVE to capitalism and communism. Early IE – first generation – was a SYSTEMS theory, like capitalism and communism.

Just like conventional economics, understanding Islamic Economics ALSO involves understanding its historical context. See “Three Generations of Islamic Economics” for further details on how the theory of Islamic Economics has evolved and changed in response to changing historical circumstances.

This is the end of the Introductory section. Subsequent sections will be discussed in later posts. You can download the full paper from the link: “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, March 2019. Previous two post entitled  “Islam’s Gift” and “Materialist VS Spiritual Economics” provide additional background information about the paper.

Central Myths of Eurocentric History

[bit.do/azmeh] One of the deepest poisons that we absorb in our Western education is the Eurocentric WorldView. This is even more deadly because it is a sub-text, not explicitly mentioned, but concealed in the background and foundational assumptions. It is taken for granted without discussion, which makes it difficult to understand and counter. Among the most important needs of the Ummah at this time is the development of an alternative “An Islamic WorldView“.

In a previous post on “Development: Myths & Truths: Materialism vs Idealism” {shortlink: bit.do/azdmt}, we discussed the first three myths about development which we learn via a Western education. The first myth is that materials are powerful and important while ideas and visions are not. The truth is that the reverse is true. The second myth is that our history and our future prospects depend on our material circumstances, whereas the truth is that it depends on our courage, vision, and spiritual strength. The third myth is that our past history is objective, etched in stone, and this history limits our future possibilities. The truth is that our past is a rich collection of millions of good and bad events, and we can select the best of these to create a bright past for ourselves, which will give us hope and energy to create a better future. In this post, we continue our discussion of the myths that we learn as part of our Western education. This set of three myths is about the rise of European power, and the conquest of the globe by Europe. Later posts discus Myth 7: Racial Superiority of Whites and Myth 8: Oriental Despotism.

The video lecture, and the detailed post below, discuss three of central myths of Eurocentric history, which seeks to place Europe at the center of human history as the most advanced civilization on the planet, compared to which all others are not even fully human. Debunking this myth is essential to freeing ourselves from the chains of colonization which bind our thoughts. This 68m video lecture is in urdu, while the detailed outline of the lecture given below is in English.

The lecture covers myths 4,5,6 of the dozen myths about development discussed in detail in my paper: “Is Development the Accumulation of Wealth? Islamic Views“. The first three myths are discussed in a previous post on “Development: Myths and Truths – Materialism vs Idealism”

Myth 4: The central assertion of Eurocentric history is the idea that history began in 16th Century Europe. Before that, all mankind was living in the darkness of ignorance and superstition. In the 16th Century, the sun of reason first rose in Europe, ending the dark ages of mankind. In the light of reason, the Europeans made tremendous progress in all fields of human endeavor, inventing science, technology, democracy, human rights, and every good thing known to man today.

This myth of the “spontaneous” Enlightenment of Europe needs to be countered by the truth about how the European Enlightenment took place, and exactly what this was.

Truth 4: All Humans Participated in Creation of History
Many historians have pointed out the biases in this Eurocentric view which puts Europeans at the center of World history and excludes all other great civilizations from the picture. Immanuel Wallerstein and others have developed the World Systems point of view which stresses the linkages between all the human beings living on the planet, and the collective participation of all civilizations in weaving the fabric human history. In Theft of History, Jack Goody (2012) documents how Europeans borrowed and adopted inventions of other civilizations, and claimed them as their own. The Incas were master botanists and created maize by cultivating and cross breeding inedible and poisonous plants. Their inventions continue to feed the planet. Four great Chinese inventions of compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing have had a lasting impact on human history. Indian contributions in arithmetic, philosophy, manufacture of sugar, have been largely forgotten. Muslim discoveries in cartography, heliocentric astronomy, physics, optics, pharmacopeia and surgery have been largely suppressed, and European imitators have been put forth as originators of these ideas in current histories.
In How Islam Created the Modern World, Graham (2006) writes that while Europe was in the dark ages, Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, and described the tremendous contributions of the Islamic Civilization to the creation of the modern world. Of greatest importance is the advanced civilization of Al-Andalus, or Islamic Spain. Over a period of more than six centuries, this civilization followed the cycle of vigorous youth, maturity, and decay into luxury. Following the patterns first described by Ibn-e-Khaldun, decaying civilizations in old age are conquered by young, energetic, barbarians to start the cycle once again.  Youthful and vigorous, but uncivilized Spaniards completed the re-conquest of Islamic Spain in 1492, acquiring a vast treasure of millions of books in the libraries of Islamic Spain. It was this treasure of knowledge gathered from around the world that ended the dark ages of Europe and led to the Enlightenment. As shown in The Enlightenment Quran by  Ziad El-Marsafy (2009) Enlightenment thinkers were profoundly influenced by the ideas of the Quran. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders by Denise Spielberg documents the effect of the Quran on Jefferson’s thought and on the shaping of the liberal and enlightened values embedded in the US Constitution. Counter to the myth of spontaneous emergence of Enlightenment in Europe, we learn that it was the light of the Quran that ended that dark ages of Europe.

Myth 5: The White Man’s Burden & the Civilizing Mission

By the late nineteenth century, people of European origins had control of about 90% of the planet Earth. Why and how did this happen? The answer to this question is crucial to understanding the world we live in today.  The standard story, which is widely believed, ties in to the Enlightenment myth. After having been given the gifts of reason, science, technology, democracy, and other treasures, the Europeans looked around them and saw that the entire world was in darkness. Ignorance, cruelty, superstition, despotism, and all kinds of evil were spread throughout the world. The Europeans had grown up, while all other human beings were in the stage of infancy. Like Prometheus, they felt burdened by the responsibility of taking these gifts of the Gods to the entire mankind. Out of this sense of responsibility, they sacrificed the comforts and luxuries of their homes, and undertook the hardships of strenuous journeys to all corners of the globe in a noble effort to spread these benefits to all of mankind. Ignorant barbarians who resisted these advances were eliminated in the “savage wars” to bring peace and enlightenment to the planet. As Edward Said has argued in his landmark book Orientalism, this cover story which provides a noble justification for European conquest of the globe is reflected in a superiority complex which permeates all European literature about the “under-developed” East. Of course, this is also absorbed by the colonized countries in the form of an inferiority complex.

Truth 5: Loot and Pillage of the World

To see through mythical cover story which creates a noble purpose and a higher sense of mission for the brutal and savage global conquest, it is useful to see how the process works in contemporary history. The announced purposes of the US Invasion of Iraq were to free the populace from the clutches of an evil dictator, to bring them democracy and good governance, as well as to protect the world from Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of a madman. The truth is that Senior White House officials like Henry Kissinger, Paul O’Neill and Alan Greenspan have stated that Iraq war was planned for the control of the vast oil reserves of Iraq. The tremendous gap between the cover story of liberating the civilians, and the reality of killing of millions, and the destruction of all infrastructure – schools, hospitals, factories, power grids, etc.  is a reflection of the tremendous gap between the cover story of the civilizing mission, and the savage and barbaric loot and pillage of the world that took place in the process of global conquest by the Europeans.

To be able to see through the myths, we need to compare the cover stories with the realities. For instance the cover story of Columbus, the heroic explorer who discovered America, need to be replaced by the ruthless cruelty with which he destroyed and enslaved friendly and hospitable Indian tribes (see: Re-Learning History, and The Myth of White Man’s Burden). Whereas in India, we are familiar with the cover story of the British bringing railroads, education, good governance, democracy and civilization to India, the true story of ruthless exploitation is only now coming out – see Shashi Tharoor: An Era of Darkness. Similarly, King Leopold’s Ghost documents how Belgian King Leopold civilized the Congolese Western and taught them work ethics: the Belgians took wives and children hostage and kept them in subhuman conditions until their African husbands fulfilled their quotas harvesting rubber. Soldiers would torture, chop off hands, or kill the inhabitants if they faltered in their work. This resulted in the deaths of 4 to 8 million Africans in the Belgian Congo. This dirty work was advertised as a Christian charity for the benefit of the Congolese natives by the Belgians. See Colonial Atrocities for a few more examples. In fact, the whole history of the incredibly barbaric process of colonization is so horrendous, that it has been systematically erased and covered up. Occasionally the mask of civilization slips, as for example when Madelene Albright said on public TV that the lives of a million Iraqi children was an acceptable price to pay for achievement of US Political goals in the middle East.

Myth 6: Secrets of European Conquest.

Granted that global conquest was not achieved via surgical strikes which precisely and accurately eliminated evil, without affecting the good.  Admittedly, there was a lot of collateral damage; millions of innocents lost their lives in the “savage wars of peace” meant to bring enlightenment to the planet. Nonetheless, we must admit that the Europeans did conquer the world. This is not a small feat. They must be superior in many ways in order to achieve it.

Many have searched for reasons and explanations for this European superiority. To the early writers, it was obvious that the White race was superior to others, and this was the reason why they conquered the world. Blaut (2000) has listed thirty Eurocentric explanations for the rise of Europe to global dominance. Even though he has debunked them all, these explanations are offered by very respectable and influential academics, whose views continue to be cited and to shape mainstream views of history. As an illustration, we list five of these thirty reasons below, many of which have popular books devoted to amplification and justification.

  1. People of the white race have an inherited superiority over the people of other races.
  2. Europeans were uniquely rational, innovative and progressive.
  3. Europeans were uniquely capable of creative and scientific thought.
  4. Europeans uniquely, in ancient and/or medieval times, developed the concept and institution of private property and/or that of markets.
  5. Europeans were uniquely venturesome, uniquely given to exploration and overseas expansion.

Several authors have debunked these myths, showing that Europeans were not unique in the ways imagined above. That still leaves us a puzzle: how to explain the rise of the West? We offer a simple alternative to the dominant theories listed above. Throughout history, advanced civilizations become decadent, and are defeated and destroyed by youthful, energetic barbarian tribes. Ibn-e-Khaldun (2004) noted this as a regular cycle in his history. The defeat of Muslims at the hand of Europeans has striking similarities to the earlier destruction of the Muslim civilization by the Mongols. More specific evidence is provided below.

Truth 6: A Comparative Advantage in Violence

An amazingly large number of different ideas have been presented as causes of the Rise of Europe, and new theories continue to come up. The vast majority of these are materialistic explanations, based superiority of European lands, or resources, or humans. We would like to propose an idealistic explanation. Certain unique European ideas, different from those prevailing among the rest of humanity, led to the global conquest. We list three European inventions which eventually led to the conquest of the globe by Europe.

6.1: Glorification of War

Unlike all other world civilizations, which preferred peace to wars, Europeans actually glorified war over peace. In Europe, the kings and princes had been raised to fight one another, with toy soldiers, pikes, and firearms as children and actual training in their youth. Advisor to princes, Machiavelli taught that princes “ought to have no object, thought, or profession but war.” Nearly three centuries of continuous warfare in Europe gave them a “comparative advantage in violence” In contrast, the vast majority of the rest of humanity enjoyed and preferred peace to war. For example, Hoffman (2012) writes that the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, who died in Peking in 1610 after spending 28 years in China– noted that although the China could easily conquer neighboring states neither the emperors nor Chinese officials had any interest in doing so. “Certainly, this is very different from our own countries [in Europe],” he noted, for European kings are “driven by the insatiable desire to extend their dominions.”

Children learn from the popular computer game “Civilization” that the goal is to achieve global dominance by destroying other civilizations. Among societies which have experienced it, civilization has an entirely different meaning. As Gandhi put it: “Western civilization? I think it would be a good idea.”

6.2:  Hatred, Nationality, Racism, and Perpetual Warfare

For reasons too complex to describe here, Europeans never managed to develop the cosmopolitan culture of the Ottomans or of Islamic Spain. The history of Europe is built around the hatreds of German, French, English, Russians, etc. for each other.  It is hard to tell if the perpetual warfare in Europe was a cause or an effect mutual hatred; it seems likely that there was mutual reinforcement of inherent tendencies. One of the driving forces behind the development of the European Union was the hope that tying the countries into interlocking economic relationships would be a way to prevent the warfare which has characterized European history.

This warfare eventually led to the development of “nationalism,” perhaps the deadliest philosophy invented by man. Millions died for their countries in the two conflagrations named as world wars in the twentieth century. The idea that perpetual warfare is the natural state of being between different nations has become deeply ingrained in the European psyche. Countless fictional works (like the War of the Worlds) as well as academics assume that encounter between different nations must necessarily be on hostile terms. The most recent example is the “Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel P. Huntington (2011). The idea that two civilisations can meet, learn from each other, trade, enjoy benefits of mutual friendship simply does not occur to Huntington and similar scholars in the European tradition. It is assumed that war, conflict and attempts by one to dominate the other must inevitably result from contact as this is the lesson of European history.

Racism was rampant, and there was near consensus that non-white races were not fully human. Thus Europeans had no compunctions in hunting Australian aborigines like animals, and in shooting and killing the inferior races. The US Supreme Court Dred Scott decision declared negroes to be “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Lord Cecil Rhodes (1902) declared that “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. …(Other races are) … most despicable specimens of human beings.

6.3: All is Fair in Love and War

Since warfare in Europe was often justified on religious grounds, European intellectuals sought a secular political philosophy as an alternative to religion. The “social contract” became the secular basis of morality. Hegel noted that the social contract was by consensus within a nation-state. If the state lost a war, then the conquerors would re-write the social contract and thereby re-write morality. To defend themselves, states could act in ways that went beyond any moral codes – states create morality and therefore are not bound by it. This creates a justification for any atrocity “for reasons of the state.” Glover (2012) has noted the dark record of the many atrocities committed in the twentieth century. For example, continuation of British blockade of food to Germans after the surrender of Germany, led to death by starvation of about 800,000 Germans. Bauman (1989) has analyzed the Holocaust, in which million of civilian Jews – men, women and children – were scientifically exterminated in specially designed ovens. Baumann argues that the rational philosophy that ends justify means, which continues to be taught at leading universities, was, in the final analysis the cause of the holocaust. That is, lack of absolute moral codes have caused, and will continue to cause human disasters.

Another unique European invention is the philosophy of social Darwinism. The advent of British colonization of Africa coincided with the era of scientific racism as represented by social Darwinism (survival of the fittest). The British believed that because they had superior weaponry and were therefore more technologically advanced than the Africans, that they had a right to colonize and exploit the resources of the Africans in the name of promoting civilization. It is, of course, inherently contradictory for an invading force to usher in “civilization.”

Similarly, no other civilization can offer a parallel to Machiavelli, whose wisdom continues to guide Western leaders. He advised princes to be cunning and duplicitous, to command by fear, rather than love, to deceive by making and breaking promises, and to be ruthless in treatment of enemies. This was taken to heart and made the base of western politics; political scientist Ludlow (2005) has documented how faithfully US Politicians follow Machiavellian prescriptions. The western conquest of the globe was accompanied by unmatched ruthlessness and treachery, as has been documented in numerous “subaltern” accounts that have emerged – for a moving example of the native American perspective on the English-American conquest of the continent, see Brown (1991). As Machiavelli had correctly foreseen, the vast majority of people are simple and honest, and hence easily deceived.

Lesson 6: Finding Other Pathways

The primary lesson of “modernization theories” is that Europeans have reached the apex of civilization, and we must imitate them to achieve their success.  There are two fundamental difficulties with this idea. Firstly, it is not possible for us to conquer the globe and the loot the wealth of other civilizations, in order to imitate the European formula for success. Secondly, even if it was possible, it would not be desirable for us, as human beings, to achieve the comparative advantage in violence, ruthlessness, and treachery that led to the European conquest of the globe. Simplicity and honesty are precious human qualities, to be prized over cunning and ruthlessness.

It is true that the so-called “underdeveloped” world is in very bad shape. We were living peacefully, when alien invaders came and destroyed local institutions and cultures. All natural resources were captured as raw material to feed capitalist production processes. All of the population was turned into cogs of a capitalist machine designed to maximize production and wealth at the center. Instead of developing human potential, an educational system was designed to teach students that the goal of life is to sell their labor for money. Those who did not cooperate were ruthlessly eliminated as being obstacles to progress. Our best minds have absorbed these lessons of a western education, and sell their services to the west for high salaries, depriving the Ummah of precious manpower.  The ideals that service to mankind and Ummah takes precedence over a life of personal luxury have been forgotten. It will be very difficult to recover from this damage. Creative strategies are required. The first step is to liberate ourselves from the narratives of Eurocentric history, which prevent us from looking in the directions required for progress. See “Divide and Rule” and “The British Educated and Civilized Us?” for some of the myths created by colonization and conquest which still rule our minds today.  This essay provides the foundations for alternative sketch of history.

Lesson 7: The Ethics of Imperialists

We have all absorbed the dominant myth, that we are now modern and “civilized” and far more advanced than any other civilizations of the past. It is time to take a deep breath and consider an alternative, frightening possibility. Temporarily forget current history and world situation and make your mind a blank slate. Consider for a moment, a situation where barbarians, like the Huns, and  Visigoths and Mongols, who razed cities and enjoyed building mountains of skulls of innocent victims, take over the world. What kind of ethics would they promote? What would be their philosophy of life? In other words, what is the opposite of civilization?

A key element in a barbarian philosophy would be the law of the jungle: might makes right. If we can get it by force, than it is rightfully ours. Another element would be lack of compassion and sympathy; we cannot afford to feel pity for the victims of our loot and pillage. Destroying cities and nations, and killing millions of innocents should not disturb our conscience or cause loss of sleep. Another element would be that life is about gathering wealth and enjoying the luxuries and privileges that it entails, without any regard for others. Similarly, the philosophies of cut-throat competition and let the best man win would be a good match for a barbarian life style. Betrayal of oaths of fidelity to intimate relations would be a joking matter, rather than a serious breach of integrity. Barbarian children would play games teaching them to shoot and kill and enjoy watching blood, gore and guts spill out of random strangers, or even friends. Movies and media would teach people to enjoy sadism and senseless violence, and to regard assassins, thieves, prostitutes and other highly immoral characters as normal human beings.

Now open your eyes and consider the world we live in. The world leader USA felt no compunction in launching the Iraq war under false pretenses which has resulted in the loss of more than a million civilian lives. Deliberate destruction of Iraqi infrastructure including hospitals, schools,  and water/sanitation works, ruining the lives of millions of Iraqis, was carried out to create profitable business opportunities for the “re-construction” of Iraq. US Secretary Madeleine Albright stated on public TV that death of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying for achievement of US policy objectives. In the first lecture on Justice to the future world leaders in a Harvard undergraduate course,  Professor Michael Sandel (2013) constructs complex artificial situations where it might be necessary to do murder or cannibalism for the greater good. He states that moral questions have been argued for thousands of years without reaching any resolution. The goal of the lecture is to show that there are no absolute standards for morality, and evil acts may be justified if they lead to larger benefits. This is essential training for future leaders who may have to condemn millions of innocents to violent deaths, in pursuit of higher goals like corporate profits. Dominant economic theories state that the object of life is to maximize consumption, without any regard for others. Thus we live in world where 25,000 people die every day from diseases related to malnutrition, when the money spent on fighting obesity and obesity related diseases would be enough to end hunger on the planet. Ph. D. economists learn to value academic careers, but do not learn anything about how to help improve the lives of the impoverished bottom billion. Leading textbooks in growth theory state that if we maximize the wealth for society as a whole, it will automatically trickle down to the poor – even though this has been repeatedly disproven empirically.  Dominant economic theories hold that the best way to organize business is via cut-throat competition, as this will lead to maximum efficiency. Ruthless exploitation of the world by multinationals unrestrained by ethical concerns has brought the world to the brink of environmental catastrophe.  These theories are currently being taught at leading universities throughout the world. The lessons thus absorbed create the world we see around us.

An essential element of the struggle for good today must be to replace these barbaric theories, which are directly responsible for the massive amount of completely unnecessary warfare taking place today — on humans, animals, fish, birds and the  environment – by more humane alternatives.

POSTSCRIPT: Colonization is, in the first place, a conquest of minds. Liberating our minds from the effects of centuries of defeat requires analyzing and removing poisons that we swallow as part of our Western education. The following sequence of posts provides some guidance on this issue:

Recovering from a Western Education: This post describes my experiences with bait-and-switch at MIT, where we were deceived into accepting a technical education as a substitute for an education which would teach us how to make the best use of our unique and precious lives. See also, urdu video talk on “Getting a Real Education”.

A Western education poisons our minds in many different ways. One of them is the complete neglect and disregard of the meaning and purpose of lives, which is the central question we all must answer, in order to learn what our lives are about, and how to make the best of our few precious moments on this planet. The strategy for doing this is to avoid discussion of purpose, and to avoid discussion of what is Useful Versus Useless Knowledge. When we cannot differentiate between them, it become possible to teach us a lot of useless garbage, without our realization.  Some other poisons are discussed in the posts linked below:

  • The First Poison: Eurocentric History: A Western education teaches us the history started in sixteenth century Europe, when mankind first learned to throw off chains of ignorance and superstitions, and learned to reason and develop science, technology, democracy, and all good things known to man. A counter-narrative is presented in “An Islamic WorldView: An essential part of an Islamic Education
  • The Second Poison: Secular Knowledge– The idea that there are two separate realms of knowledge, and worldly knowledge and religious knowledge are different and separable.
  • The Third Poison: Worship of Wealth– A Western education teaches us that development is acquistion of wealth, fame, power, popularity, pleasure. In fact, these worldly and materialistic goals are false gods, which do not have the power to satisfy us – as those people who achieve them learn from bitter personal experience.
  • The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus– The idea that men have no hearts and souls is central to Western social science. This leads to a stupid definition of “rationality” as being short-sighted greed and the search for pleasure. This idea influences people and prevents them from achieving the spiritual development which is essential to developing our hidden capabilities and potentials for excellence. In this connection, see “Islam’s Gift; An Economy of Spiritual Development“.

In fact, there are many other poisons, too many to be listed. But after understanding some of the central wrong and harmful ideas, it becomes easier to pick out other problems and errors, and learn to see the brilliant light of Islam. See: Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years.