US School Shootings: Is It Really Only Their Problem?

Article by Taseer Salahuddin, published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2018. See US School Shootings:

School shootings in America are not a new trend. Very first event of this sort happened as early as 1764 in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, when a group of Delaware Indian Americans entered a school, killing a head master and nine pupils. Since then there are approximately four hundred and eighty six different reported events where more than 1260 people lost their lives, majority being children. If researched closely for the change of motives and nature of these killings over time, some very worrisome elements surface. Although no reason is justified for this sort of killing yet a shift from personal reasons to undefined, unexplained massive killing is appalling.

Those who are familiar with the American economy know that a major chuck of their production industry is related directly or indirectly to weapons and warfare technology. American president Eisenhower warned American public against the side effects of this ‘Military-Industrial Complex’ back in 1950’s. Even Eisenhower himself could not connect this over production of guns and their free availability to such gruesome malice. This being said one needs to understand that it is not the gun but the person behind the gun that kills. Therefore, motives of these killings especially by the so called educated youth are a very serious issue to be understood.

Before we look into the reasons of these mass shootings, we need to first ask ourselves how this is related to us. Should we be warned beforehand and take remedial measures? Are these far-happenings a source of ‘dragon awakening’ in our youth?

Pakistani education system is bifurcated into public and private institutions. My research and teaching lead me to prominent public as well as private sector institutions, both at school and university level. Gun-violence on the basis of political and apparently religious conflicts at public institutions is well known fact in Pakistan. Equally well known but mostly hidden under the carpet are the drug, guns and other issues at prominent private universities and even schools. Due to business interests and reputation, most of these incidences are hushed by the administration of the institutions themselves. Being a member of disciplinary committees of different universities for over twelve years I have felt a growing intensity and diversity of violence issues in our youth. Instead of hiding or denying the growing violence with or without guns at our educational institutions, it is high time that we search underlying reasons carefully and fight this problem face on.

Although many are writing in America about the reasons of these violent events and have highlighted multiple reasons from easily available guns, poor gun purchase system, poor moral training, broken families, misogyny, distance from religion etc. they have failed to point out the destruction of human values due to narrow, materialistic, commercial worldview. Americans are not ready to label these incidences as terrorist activities and treat each individual incidence as a separate issue, while actually all these incidences have a collective reason.

Due to scientific and technological progress of the west, world became overawed by their worldview. Like west, the whole world adopted a secular education system which focuses on logical and positivist approach to knowledge. This approach accepted only quantifiable and scientifically tested things as the scope of study and rejected emotions and human values as not study able items. Consequently, academic curriculum and trainings of humans became devoid of human values and emotions. Material status became the new standard of success. More respected in our society are the ones with bigger cars, better mobiles, huge bank balances and look-down-upon attitude. These implicit values attached to the western world-view slowly crept into our educational system as well. Another blow to this deterioration came from blind following of west and total disregard of research from our religious perspective, which was very much needed for developing a true Islamic world-view. This was the lens needed by our youth to understand our world in its current state and to set their everyday standards in accordance with the teachings of Islam.

What is happening in America today is also creeping into our country because of our youth being educated, trained and exposed to their ideal way of life. There is nothing wrong in adopting their scientific developments and technology, but we should be aware of implied impacts attached with their thought process. As Allama Iqbal rightly said,

O people of the West, Allah’s township is not a shop,

Money that you are thinking to be real is actually worthless.

Your civilization will commit suicide with its own dagger,

The nest that is created on delicate branch is not going to be durable.

We need to question ourselves as to why we are blindly following a civilization which is both literally and figuratively committing suicide. It is high time that educated Muslims started a mission of revitalizing Islamic values and world-view.

See also: Remembering Sabika Sheikh

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Little Miracles

This article was published in Express-Tribune on June 24, 2010; For related articles, see Social Activism, It illustrates, by example, a very important lesson which social reformers need to learn. POSITIVE Change cannot be created by highlighting weaknesses, or by protests, criticisms, and negativity. Instead of cursing the darkness, we need to learn how to light candles. In the “Motherhood theory of economic development“, I have explained how children develop because mothers  recognize, appreciate, encourage and admire small steps that children make in learning, rather than continuously scolding them for their myriad mistakes and failings. In the same way, to achieve positive change we must learn to build on strengths — to pick out the small successes, and to build upon them, in order to achieve lasting and great change.  If everyone makes a small positive change, great social transformations can occur. The article illustrates this method by example:

Little Miracles

In elementary school, we read an inspiring Urdu poem about rain clouds and the dry earth. Looking at the massive acreage of the parched earth, each raindrop felt reluctant to sacrifice its all, given the miniscule impact it would make relative to the need. A few courageous ones took the lead, and others followed; together, they succeeded in providing water amply for all. (See baarish ka pehla qatra , by Ismail Meerthi) Each of the makers of the little miracles I discuss below resembles a raindrop: insignificant in comparison to the needs, but enough to create a revolution if we choose to follow their lead.

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Resources for Study of Polanyi’s Great Transformation

Today, our ways of thinking are shaped by European thought. To recognize this, we need to learn how European thought evolved through history. For this purpose, Polanyi is very important

WEA Pedagogy Blog

Polanyi offers a deep historical study of how European societies based on traditional values of cooperation and social responsibility were tansformed into modern secular societies. In Polanyi’s terminology, social relations became embedded within the market, creating a market society driven by the imperative of commercialization, which makes money the measure of all things, including human lives. This transformation has affected all dimensions of human existence – politics, economics, society and most importantly, our ways of thinking about these areas. In particular, Modern economic theory is a product of historical forces, and provides an intellectual framework for glorifying the market as the best way of organizing our economic affairs.

I believe that understanding Polanyi is of great importance in understanding the conflict between the values and intellectual frameworks of market societies and traditional society (and also Islamic ideal societies). Understanding how the great transformation took place also provides some clues as to…

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The Methodology of Islamic Economics

My ten minute welcome address on this topic at the 6th Workshop on Islamic Economics, arranged by IKAM in Istanbul, 5-7 Apr 2018. A video of the entire session — in Turkish — is available from links below.

We must start by understanding that Western methodology for economics is seriously flawed. For reasons too complex to explain here (see “Deification of Science”), Europeans rejected religion, and came to believe that science is the only valid source of knowledge. However, scientific method is seriously handicapped when it comes to the study of human beings and societies. For a deeper discussion, see “Method or Madness?”; briefly, we can mention two major defects:

  1. Human beings are free to choose (between good and evil). Their future behavior is not predictable from the past.
  2. Mathematical formulae cannot be used to describe behavior, since humans change unpredictably. Formulas require robots, and indeed, this is what economic theory assumes.

The rejection of religion which took place as a result of the corrupt behavior of Popes led to deep religious trauma in Europe, and this led to the serious distortions in European theories of knowledge. Since religion advocates belief in the unseen, Europeans rejected this as a principle, and resolved to trust only in that which they could touch or see. The philosophy of logical positivism emerged, which argued that our only source of knowledge is our senses, and we cannot say anything about the unseen causes which create the observables. This rejection of unobservables, based on rejection of God, also led to rejection of unseen motivations, or the heart and soul of human beings. So the third serious defect which resulted from the adoption of a positivist understanding of scientific method was the following:

  1. A seriously mistaken understanding of human behavior and sources of human welfare due to failure to recognize the relevance of heart and soul of human beings.

With this as background, we turn to a more concrete and specific explanation of how economic theory is based on seriously mistaken methodological ideas.

Even though economic theory claims to be positive – that is purely a factual and objective description of human behavior – it has all three elements: positive, normative, and transformative. That is, it describes actual state of affairs, it describes an ideal state of affairs, and it explains how we can make changes to get from the observed imperfect state to the desirable ideal state. However, the positive and normative elements are seriously mistaken. That is, the description of human beings as homo economicus misses the mark completely; human beings rarely behave in this way. Furthermore, the normative idea that this is rational behavior is seriously wrong; Amartya Sen in his essay on “Rational Fools” explain why it would be extremely foolish to behave in ways that economists consider as rational. In particular, the normative idea that the purpose of our lives is to maximize the pleasure that we obtain from a lifetime of consumption is deeply mistaken about the nature of human welfare, which is not tied to consumption. Recent research has confirmed the Easterlin Paradox, which shows that rising levels of consumption have zero correlation with human happiness and welfare. In fact, happiness depends on character – compassion, generosity, trust, contentment – and on social relationships, family, friends, community; loving, and being loved. As per Hadeeth, a Mo’min loves and is loved.

Conventional economics claims to be positive, but conceals poisonous normative messages within its framework (for details of these poisons, see Julie Nelson: Poisoning the Well: How Economic Theory Damages Our Moral Imagination). In contrast, the methodology of Islamic Economics is based on three distinct and explicit components. One is a positive element, which describes actual human behavior. The second is the normative element, which describes ideal human behavior; for this, we have been sent the perfect model, which is the behavior of Prophet Mohammad SAW. The third element is transformative. It explains the steps we need to take to create the changes required to realize the potential for excellence within each human being.

On the positive front, Islam provides us with a far more complex and accurate picture of the realities of human behavior, relative to the hopelessly primitive model of homo economicus of economic theory. According to Islam, every human being has a Nafs-e-Ammara which is motivated purely by pleasure and has no moral component. As a result, it frequently invites towards evil. At the same time, every human being has a Nafs-e-Mutmai’nnah which informs him of the good, and is attracted towards the good. As the Quran states, every human being is created in the best of forms and reduced to the lowest of the low. This means that every human being is built with the capability of rising higher than the angels, and also has the potential to become lower than the beasts. The human heart is a constant battleground between the forces of good and evil. The goal of our life on this earth is not the maximization of the pleasure obtained from consumption, but rather it is Tazkiya  — cleansing and purifying our hearts, so that the  love of Allah, and His Prophet Mohammad SAW, and the struggle for the Deen become the most beloved. To achieve this goal, we must obey the orders  of Allah in the manner shown by the most excellent model for all human beings, our prophet Mohammad SAW. Thus, Islam provides a positive theory which describes actual behavior, a normative theory which shows us the ideal behavior, and a transformative theory which explains how we can change and purify our own hearts, and also how we can invite others towards the good.

When this knowledge was given to man via our Prophet Mohammad SAW, it created the greatest revolution ever seen in the history of mankind. It took ignorant and backwards Arabs from the bottom, and made them the leaders of the world. The teachings of Islam launched a civilization which dominated the planet for a 1000 years. The question of the greatest importance for the Muslims is: Does this message have the same power today? Can it create the revolution today that it did 1400 years ago? Unfortunately, as prophesied, Islam has become a stranger to the Muslims. Today, in economic theory as well as in all realms of knowledge, the Muslims believe that it is Western education which is required to change the condition of the Ummah from its current sad state. They no longer believe that the message of Allah is perfect and complete, and sufficient for our guidance today (see the Modern Mu’tazila). Islam as a way of life has become a stranger because in all domains of our life – political, social, economic, educational, etc. – we are following the ways of the Christians and Jews, even to the extent of crawling into lizard holes after them. The main message of my talk is that Islam itself provides us with the methodology required to implement the teachings of Allah in our personal, social and collective lives, which is needed to re-awaken the Ummah from its sleep. The message of Allah has the same power today to revolutionize our internal lives, and to create a revolution in the world, as it did 1400 years ago.

Video Recording of ENTIRE Welcome Session (in Turkish)

Slides for the main talk, on Third Generation Islamic Economics — A New Methodology for Islamic Economics:

Achieving High Growth

In this Pre-Budget talk at Quaid-e-Azam Univ. on 17th May 2016, I explained the deeper factors that govern growth, which do not get discussed in context of nitty-gritty budget details usually. That is, we miss the forest because of detailed attention to the trees. 23m Video is linked below, followed by 1000 word summary of talk.

1000 Word Summary of Talk published in  The Nation, on 17th April 2018.

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The Illusion of Scarcity

Islamic Economists have been deceived by the illusions of modern economic theory. This has prevented the construction of a genuine alternative, in the form of Islamic Economics

WEA Pedagogy Blog

(continuation of previous post on ET1%: Blindfolds Created by Economic Theory)

Economists have performed an amazing piece of magic, successfully creating a mass deception which has taken in the vast majority of the population of the world. Seeing through this complex and sophisticated trick requires separating, studying and understanding many different elements which all combine to create this illusion. One of the elements is a binary theory of knowledge, according to which theories are either true or false, and this is the only characteristic of theories that we should study. This prevents us from looking at the historical context in which the theories originate, and the functions that these theories serve, in terms of advancing the interests of powerful groups in the social struggles then going on. Social theories cannot be understood without this context, and hiding this context, and the relationships between knowledge and power, is an essential…

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ET1%:Blindfolds Created by Economics

In my paper presented at an Istanbul workshop on Islamic Economics, I explained that conventional economics is ET1% — the economics theory of the top 1%. In contrast, Islamic Economics is ET90%, and defends the interests of the general public against exploitation and oppression by the rich and wealthy. This post provides a start, and an introduction to the paper.

WEA Pedagogy Blog

In my paper on “The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Survey of the Literature”, I have argued that economic theories act as a blindfold, preventing economists from seeing basic facts about human behavior, obvious to all others. For instance, economists consider cooperation, generosity, integrity (commitments), and socially responsible behavior, as anomalies requiring explanation, while all others consider these as natural aspects of human behavior.

Far deeper insight into the blindfolds created by economic theory is obtained when we realize that these are not random mistakes, made due to defective reasoning or neglect of empirical evidence. If the shopkeeper systematically makes mistakes which always increase the total bill, we can conclude that the mistakes are purposeful. Similarly, strong and repeated commitment of exactly the same mistakes, flying in face of all empirical evidence, reveals the deep ideological commitments which create these systematic errors.  In particular, the goal…

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