Clarity of Thought

Lets take a bird’s eye view of the Islamic world. We see the burning desire for change amongst the masses from Tunis to Jakarta. Yet something always seems to go wrong after a while. The movement that started in 2011 toppled long time dictators whose ouster was thought to be near impossible only few years ago.

New leaders are stepping back from the promises of a full and independent Islamic Awakening as previously imagined. What are the causes behind such failures and what can we learn from the past events?

Below I am appending an article written by Zafar Bangash, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, titled “Clarity of Thought”.

As Muslims struggle to change the imposed political systems in their societies, it is important to understand current ground realities, where they want to go and who is going to lead them. by Zafar Bangash
For more than two years, Muslims in the Islamic East (aka the Middle East) have been struggling to change the political systems in their societies. The uprisings are described as “Islamic Awakenings” or the “Arab Spring” depending on one’s outlook. While some changes have occurred, others have stalled. The pace of change in each society can be evaluated against certain fundamental requirements the Islamic movement must fulfill.

First, the Islamic movement must carefully analyze the prevailing socio-economic and political order in society where it operates. Second, it must be led by muttaqi (sincere, committed and honest) leadership that operates above personal, class or group interests. Third, the leadership must clearly define the ultimate goal, and finally, it must set the directional course for how to get there.

Properly analyzing the socio-economic and political order in society is necessary in order to identify the challenges the Islamic movement will face as it struggles to bring about change. This will enable the movement to find ways to overcome the hurdles. The responsibility of the leadership is to set a directional course and then motivate, inspire and guide people toward achieving it. When the collective energies of a large number of even ordinary people are harnessed for the achievement of a pre-set goal, the results are often quite extraordinary.

The prevailing systems in most Muslim societies are unstable. Over a period of time, however, even unstable systems achieve some stability because a number of institutions emerge to prop them up. These include the elite, the bureaucracy, military, judiciary, and educational institutions whose survival depends on perpetuating the system. Even if the person at the top is removed, other institutions work together to ensure the system’s survival. Putting a new face at the top creates the illusion of change. In fact, long-entrenched systems go through such exercises regularly in what is called “elections.” The elites, representing the same vested interests, occupy all top positions in the system. Unstable systems also incorporate certain routine activities to create the illusion of change while the same power elites continue to usurp resources and decision-making processes in society.

The difference between stable-looking and unstable systems is that in the former, elites play by a set of rules and do not overstep their limits. The US presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 illustrate this point. Even when there were clear irregularities in voting, those that were declared “losers” accepted the results in order not to destabilize the system. In unstable systems on the other hand, lacking popular support, the elites do not play by a set of known rules. Competing elite orthodoxies, usually business interests or landed aristocracies, try to exploit the masses by playing on their emotions to overthrow the entrenched elite, ultimately leading to a situation where the putative winner will abandon the masses.

While corruption exists in every society, in unstable systems, it is much more widespread because the loyalty of those considered crucial to prop up the system has to be bought. This is what is happening in almost all the countries of the Muslim world. The elites ruling unstable systems are also beholden to foreign masters because they lack popular support at home.

If we apply the above analysis to Egypt, for instance, we can begin to understand what is happening there. While the long-entrenched US/Zionist-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was driven from power, the old system has remained virtually intact. The old guard — the bureaucracy, judiciary, the military and police — are entrenched in their positions and busy undermining the elected president. The elected assembly was dismissed last June by a judiciary whose judges were all appointed by the ousted dictator. Instead of challenging the corrupt order head on, the Islamic movement in Egypt has opted to work within it. This will lead to disastrous consequences.

The same principle applies to the role of the military in Egypt as indeed elsewhere in the Muslim world. In Egypt’s new constitution, it has been given enormous powers making it virtually above the law. As elsewhere in the Muslim world, the military in Egypt has also become a vast business enterprise. Instead of fulfilling its primary responsibility of defending the state’s borders, it has become an overbearing bureaucracy that consumes huge amounts of state resources. More critically, the military acts as a conduit for the penetration of Western ideas into the Muslim world.

Unless the Islamic movement in Egypt makes a clean break with the entrenched jahili system in society and demolish all its pillars as happened in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, it will end up paying a heavy price. If they want lasting change, they will find the Egyptian masses ready. The choice is theirs but they should realize that half-measures will not get them very far.


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