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Old Saturday, May 13, 2006
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Arrow Western Democracy And Islam

WESTERN DEMOCRACY AND ISLAM

Iqbal’s view point



Democracy, defined as government of the people, by the people for the people, is portrayed by its advocates as the most advanced system of government for the modern civilized society. It envisages participation of the entire society in the government process and gives its constituent members a feeling of belonging to and participation in it. The duties and responsibilities of the state and its privileges and restrictions are thus accepted voluntarily as a result of collective decisions rather than forced through the arbitrary will of a single person – a king or a military general. The objectives is to create a society in which resources are equitably distributed, the people enjoy equal opportunities and have a feeling of belonging and participation in the affairs of the state.

Such a system of government was envisaged by political philosophers since the dawn of civilization but attempts to put their dreams into practice were blocked by powerful and privileged ruling classes who would feel threatened if this system was put into practice. The rulers in the form of hereditary monarchs, military warlords, tribal chiefs. Sardars, religious heads and feudals kept exploiting the people through the ages. Every now and then, power passed into the hands of some God-fearing rulers who worked for the good of the people with a sense of justice and dedication, but in general the rulers have been callous and selfish, and they crushed, humiliated and maltreated their subjects. They carved out empires for themselves, built palaces to live in this world and mausoleums for their mortal remains. The entire society under this system was divided into classes of the exploiters and the exploited.

In the 18th century, there was the industrial Revolution, with machines replacing the human hand. This enhanced the production of consumer goods. In order to find new markets for their surplus commodities the western countries embarked upon a programme of colonization. The colonies were plundered and their vast resources were diverted back home. Wealth accumulated in the hands of powerful exploiters and with a lot of money in few hands the social disparities increased. People soon became conscious of the social discrimination which was highlighted by the political philosophers. This state of affairs culminated in the French Revolution, which is an important landmark in the history of democracy. This revolution, by eliminating the rulers, high-class gentry and the feudal lords gave effective control of the state affairs to the common man. This was the start of the Western democracy. It was soon realized by the rest of
Europe that if the rulers did not share power with the masses, more such revolutions would occur. Under this threat the vested interests gradually accepted the idea of sharing power with the common man. Thus, strange though it may look, it is a historical fact that Western democracy is the product of a bloody revolution.

The new system has evolved in various stages over a long period of time. It has taken different shapes including parliamentary democracy, presidential form of Government and constitutional monarchy. In all such forms, however, the basic ingredient is people’s participation. With slight differences the system is operating in many countries of the World.

The philosophy of democracy is based on a strong presumption that it is government of the people elected through adult franchise, that the entire society participates in the formation of the government through the process of elections. It is presumed that during elections people will elect the right type of representatives for no considerations other than wisdom, justice, honesty, integrity and a general understanding of world affairs. They are sure that these representatives would look after the interests of their electorate for the duration of the mandate and serve the state with loyalty and devotion. In the parliamentary democracy decisions can be taken on all issues (without exception) by the parliament and are implemented through an impartial and honest administration and the efficiency of the entire system is subject to judicial authority and public scrutiny.

The Islamic concept of Governance like Western democracy, also encourages people’s participation in the affairs of the state, but there are two major differences.

Firstly in Islamic system there is no concept of complete freedom of parliament which is subject to sovereignty of Allah. This is a basic difference from Western parliamentary democracy where elected representative have the right and authority to debate and decide all issues pertaining to the society. Even basic values, accepted and recognized for centuries can be challenged and modified. It is under this principle that Western parliament recognized homosexuality as a social norm and permitted marriages between same sexes, which in the past had been considered socially un-acceptable, but through a parliamentary act was legalized and declared a normal social value. In Islamic society basic values are predetermined, established and settled through divine revelation and no elected or selected representative or government has the authority to modify them through a consensus or a majority vote. The role of establishment in an Islamic society is merely to interpret and implement the divine code. This is the essence of Iqbal’s verses.

The second major difference lies in the prequalification of both the Electoral College and the elected representatives. The establishment in an Islamic society is selected on the basis of certain qualifications in accordance with the well-known principle of ‘informed consent’. This principle as applicable to the elections through adult franchise enunciated that the voter should be (a) an opinion holder and (b) fully aware of responsibilities. It is only under these circumstances that an informed consent can be elicited. A level of awareness and education is therefore essential and hence the pre-qualification of voters who participate in the election process. This is an important component of Islamic democracy. In an Islamic society every citizen thus receives the benefits of state equally but is not involved in the running of the state of an equal extent. The electoral college and the elected representatives both should be fully qualified for this purpose i.e. be knowledgeable people, capable of giving informed consent, posses qualities of leadership and believe and practice Islamic social values. They are the servants and not masters of the people and do not enjoy any special privileges in return for the responsibilities they undertake. The “herd concept of democracy” dependant merely on age, (adult franchise) without consideration of educational background and intellectual status falls short of iqbal criterion of democracy. Hence concept of one man. One vote without consideration of quality of the opinion is unacceptable to Iqbal. This is clearly expressed in the following verses.

Iqbal’s apparent antagonism to Western democracy expressed in these verses is mainly on account of these two objections. He is not against the participation of people in the affairs of the state. Indeed, he is more at case with collective decisions of grand assembly than a single caliph. This he has explicitly expressed in his lectures on “the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”.

The first question that arises in this connection is this should the Caliphate be vested in a single person?
Turkey’s Ijtihad is that according to the spirit of Islam the Caliphate or Imamate can be vested in a body of persons, or an elected Assembly. The religious doctors of Islam in Egypt and India, as far as I know, have not yet expressed themselves on this point. Personally, I believe the Turkish view is perfectly sound. It is hardly necessary to argue this point. The republican form of government is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that are set free in the world of Islam.”

Even nationalism is not against this concept of Islamic unity.

“Muslim nation must sink into her own deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone, until all are strong and powerful to form a living family of republics. A true and living unity, according to the nationalist thinkers, is not so easy as to be achieved by a merely symbolical overlordship. It is truly manifested in a multiplicity of free independent units whose racial rivalries are adjusted and harmonized by the unifying bond of a common spiritual aspiration. It seems to me that God is slowly bringing home to us the truth that Islam is neither Nationalism nor Imperialism but a league of Nations, which recognizes artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility of reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members.”

In Western democracy without any established moral and spiritual code, the rights of the minorities are dependant upon the good will of the majority. These are granted to them as a matter of grace and charity and can be withdrawn any time through a majority vote. In this way, it turns out to be a dictatorship of majority. Thus Western democracy, denuded of moral and ethical values of religion according to Iqbal fall under the domain of:

The presence of mass graves in
Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya bear testimony to this phenomenon, where atrocities against humanity have been committed by the champions of human rights in Europe, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of Western democracy. The plight of Muslims in India and happenings in Kashmir at the hands of biggest democracy are also glaring examples of this dictatorship of majority. As a representative of Indian Muslims this aspect of Western democracy must also have influenced his thought. These fears and apprehensions are expressed in his Allahabad address.

It is for these reasons that Western democracy based on one man, one vote has not been successful in Islamic countries and indeed in all the Under-developed or developing Societies.

Iabal’s famous Urdu poem was created three years after the World War-I, in which he analysed the Western democracy by the tongue of “khizer” – the guide, as follows:

And another famous Urdu Poem was created in 1936 (2 Years before his death) in which Western democracy has also been discussed amongst ‘Iblis’ and his advisers. Relevant portion of this discussion it being quoted below

And from concluding speech of ‘Iblis’, these remarks about Muslim ummah are noteworthy:


Only a cursory glance at the system as it operates in fourth world reveals the fallacies of the system and highlights its pitfalls. Thus the system that may seem to work admirably in the western circumstances, when tested under the conditions prevailing in the fourth world, fails to produce the desired results. The major source of error is the presumption that people will not vote for any consideration other than merit and also that they understand the importance of their opinion in the election system. This is not the case since free. Unbiased and intelligent expression of public opinion is possible only if society fulfils two basic requirements, i.e. economic equality and high literacy. These two essential components of successful outcome of elections exist only in some developed countries of the world and hence it is only there that one sees democracy operating successfully. In these countries people are educated and enjoy economic freedom and during elections are able to choose their representatives without fear or favour. In a society with massive poverty and where human beings can be bought of the meanest incentives, it is not possible to elicit free, intelligent, fearless and unbiased public opinion in general elections. Again, in a society which is ignorant and backward, uninformed people can be cheated and misguided through cheap slogans-religious, or economic. They can be easily persuaded through false promises and hopes by political swindlers and professional leaders. Their opinion falls short of the principle of informed consent. In the ultimate analysis, the Western democracy fails in such circumstances and causes incalculable harm. Injustice and oppression in society and brings about misery and destruction. This is borne out by the history of elections in Pakistan. The elections held in 1970 were honest in the broadest sense of the word but did not elicit and appropriate public opinion in the best interests of the country. People of East Pakistan voted for separatist slogans and the country was divided. People of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh may regret the decision which they made so enthusiastically at that time. Thus in the absence of basic level of education in the society the Western concepts of democracy did not work well and people were misguided by corrupt politicians. There are similar instances of misguided public opinion on several other occasions as well.

It is pertinent here to study the election process in the
Fourth World and determine the reason why the talented, educated and honest workers fail to be elected to the parliament. In fact, our experience in the last half century reveals it to be a process through which the class of vested interests from amongst the feudal lords, industrialists political swindlers and turncoats return to power again and again – each time with the label of people’s representatives, but actually representing only a particular class and promoting their own desires, ambitions and interests. Each time the elections are held the process repeats itself. The same type of people, the same promises and slogans of freedom and prosperity, the same elected representatives, the same stories of corruption and moral turpitude and the elected people face the same process of removal in an ignonimous and un-ceremonial manner. All this seems so inevitable. In scientific phraseology one can say: “Repeat the same experiment with the same inputs and the same methodology, the results would be no different even if you repeat it a hundred time.”

Western countries are very keen to introduce this system of government in the rest of the world. They portray it as a guarantee of freedom, prosperity and strength, while all other systems are considered dishonest, oppressive and barbaric. It is impossible for the westerners to believe that anything other than their brand of democracy can guarantee good of the people. Their enthusiasm and keenness to introduce Western democracy in the rest of the world is not as much a reflection of noble principles as it is a desire to perpetuate the colonial practice and to ensure the control of minds more and thought-patterns of the poor nations so that they should continue to be under their political, economic ad social influence and imitate them in all respects thus ensuring the West’s continued domination.

The pseudo-intellectual of the fourth world fall an easy prey to the dogmas of Western democracy. Western democracy in the neo-colonial set up is indeed the political front of foreign expansionism and serves as an open beachhead for economic exploitation. Instead of proving to be a humane and civilized system in the circumstances prevailing in the under-developed countries it turns out to be a system based on misguidance and deception of the masses and ensures that no sober, scrupulous and scholarly person will be elected. Thus it is a rule of powerful minority on the powerless majority.

Pakistan’s political history reveals a classical example of the rule of a powerful and privileged minority which strengthens and consolidated its position under all circumstances. Whether it is a political government or military dictatorship, the same people wield power and influence again and again. Indeed there are a couple of hundred families from one end of Pakistan to the other who hold power, whatever the circumstances and ruling arrangements. These families are often interlined and interrelated and always have effective representation in the corridors of power. They have amongst them big land lords, industrialists bureaucrats, army generals, member of the high judiciary besides having MPA’s MNA’s & Senators etc. if there is Martial Law, they lose power only for brief intervals, but emerge more powerful after some time. They cooperate with corrupt officials, military generals and even foreign rulers but become champions of democracy when it suits them. They organise movements to revive democracy during the days when they are out of power. They jumps into the arena as soon as the elections are announced. They know for sure that through the Western styled election system only such people would assume power as have wealth, the ability and willingness to spend money. They own the sources of livelihood of the masses, having thousands of people, their potential voters, working for them as serfs in their estates, large landholding and industrial empires. They spend money on election campaigns and by influencing and directing and the mass information media they are able to deceive and misdirect public opinion. The criteria for winning election is anything but the ability, merit and competence. The person who has the greatest chances of winning an election is the one who is spending more money, making louder promises, mouthing attractive slogans and appealing more craftily to people’s prejudices. Votes are gathered on considerations of immediate loss or gain, for promoting interests of one’s family or clan for fear of victimization and on the persuasion of election campaigners who are by no means scrupulous or honest. Under such circumstances it is impossible for enlightened and educated persons, men without means and resources, to contest elections. In fact, it is system by which a majority of poor people from the deprived and working classes to choose or elect a few rich and affluent people to represent them. Once in the saddle of power, they forget their electorate and all the promises made to them till the next election and a servant of the people “who resolves to devote himself to the betterment of the country and the nation” proceeds to pursue his own betterment when he is actually invested with authority. He loses all scruples in a race to make up for the expenditure on the elections and is ready to sacrifice everything for the promotion of his own interests. In fact he feels morally justified in recovering the large sums he has invested in elections by using the official position to make money and earn profits. Politics thus can truly be labeled as the most profitable business in the Fourth World.

Indeed the system of the democracy as practiced in the underdeveloped societies amounts to perpetuating the state of deprivation of the poor masses. They deep hoping against hopes that such leaders will alleviate their sufferings and improve their standard of living, their working conditions and their level of education. They do not realize that doing so well be against the class interests of their leaders and that no community can afford to destroy itself. Improvement in education and economic status of the people would ultimately make them conscious of their social and political rights and aspirations. It is indeed, in the interest of the ruling class that poverty and ignorance of the masses continue and that a small social group remains in power. If one were to compile a list of the people in public life in
Pakistan, 80% of the names and surnames will figure in all sets of governments and ruling hierarchies. The same Makhdooms, Jatois, Khars, Daultanas, Pirs, Pirzadas, Nawabzadas, Sahibzadas, Sayyids, Gillanis, Bhuttos, Qureshis, Noons, Tiwanas, Legharis, Baluchis Sardars, tribal Maliks and Punjabi Chaudhris and Mians are to be found in the list of all political parties, and in all handpicked Majlas-e-Shooras, senators or elected parliaments. Some educational institutions, where only the children of the rich people are educated, boast that 80% of members of the parliament and senate are their old students. This highlights the role of this powerful minority in the affair of the state and the narrow social base of our political leadership. It is worth mentioning here that only on few occasions in the history of Pakistan power came in the hands of the middle class and that was not through democracy but through the imposition of martial law. Whenever middle and working class wanted to break the monopoly and stronghold of the feudal class on the politics of the country, they were ruthlessly and mercilessly suppressed, even destroyed. Can we therefore say honestly that under such a set-up every one has equal chances and opportunities? In fact the system of parliamentary democracy has become a means by which the same individuals and families return to power again and again. Political parties, conscious of the role of money and influence in the winning of the elections, field only those candidates who possess the muscles to win the election. Thus on both sides party candidates may be notorious smugglers, hardened criminals, drug peddlers and history sheeters but they should be able to spend money and collect votes. The idea is to win the elections, and each party would be willing to support a candidate who is more likely to win and not one who really deserves to sit in the parliament. After the elections are over, every elected representative, irrespective of his training and level of education, aspires to become a Minister. Portfolios in the Cabinet are distributed and allocated on the basis of affiliation with the pressure groups and there is considerable bargaining on the account. Allocation of portfolios has nothing to do with the competence and ability of a person. At times the size of the Cabinet is increased enormously to oblige all elected representatives. Thus there are instances where nearly all elected members were made ministers and advisors, causing incalculable loss to public exchequer. The question that now arises is whether this system of corruption, maladministration and mismanagement should be allowed to continue in the poor countries whose masses live on the margin of subsistence and below the line of poverty, where waste of public money and resources can cause the most widespread distress. Or should we try to improve upon the infrastructure on which to build democracy even if for a short while we have to be content with a smaller dose of freedom and so called human rights? This concept is shrine in the Islamic system of governance.

Democracy both as a concept and as a way of life has been developed and practiced by the Western Nations. In its present form the seemingly humane and civilized system of government emerged out of the chaos and maladministration of the 18th and 19th centuries and it has, over a period of time developed ethics and moral values. Such moral values and ethics are norms of the political leaders and standard expected of them is often higher than those expected from the ordinary citizens. Moral or monetry irregularity considered a minor vice for an ordinary citizen is regarded as a great offence for the leaders. Often, people in political life have to pay a very high price for minor mistakes. One can recall in U.K. the Profumo affair of the early sixties when, as a result of moral misconduct a British Minister of State lost his job, the Prime Minister was changed and Conservative party was voted out of power. President Nixon, one of the greatest presidents of
America in the modern time, was removed because of his involvement in what was considered an unethical political practice.

Below I describe in brief two cases, very relevant to our circumstances which came, to light in
Australia.

Tasmania is an offshore island and a province of Australia. Mr. Gray, the Liberal premier had majority of one vote in the Tasmanian parliament and coalition of labour and green independents was able to topple his government in a vote of non-confidence. Mr. Rouse, a rich and influential businessman, obviously labour sympathizer offered to Mr. Cox, a liberal MP. $ 100,000 as bribe to cross the floor in the non-confidence vote against the minority Liberal Government. Mr. Cox informed the police and Mr. Rouse was convicted. Judge Nancy of the Australian Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Rouse to three years jail and a fine of $ 4,000 for his failed attempt to bribe Mr. Cox to cross the floor. Judge Nancy said the crime had to be seen as a gross attempt to interference in the working of a legitimate government and the result of a democratic election. “Corruption offers such as this if not detected are potentially extremely damaging to the public institutions of the state.” The Judge said.

In another case, Mr. Jackson, a Minister in the Australian Government, was convicted for consent to accept bribe. He served a sentence of seven years.

The Western political standards if applied to fourth world democracies would have very few politicians out in the open because of widespread corruption which goes unnoticed, unreported and unpunished. Corruption amongst politicians is pervasive and it is regarded as a normal mode of living. No one raises even his little finger at the most objectionable moral and monetary misconduct, even the law closes its eyes. Society accepts it as normal and at times even legitimates it through the “Doctrine of Necessity.” The western nations, so strict for their own politicians, seem to be very lenient for fourth world leaders, willing to make all sorts of concessions. Perhaps they see in the use of terms such as democracy parliaments, adult franchise, elections, etc. a continuation of their colonial rule on the masses of the fourth world or may be they want these countries to remain in a state of perpetual chaos and persistent maladministration. In fact, sometimes corruption among fourth world politicians is actively encouraged, presumably because a corrupt ruler can be easily blackmailed.

The amount and extent of corruption and maladministration under democracy can be assessed from the speech of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan which he delivered at the time of dissolution of elected national Assembly in Auguest 1990. A similar charge sheet was served when president Farooq Ahmad Leghari dissolved the assembly in 1996 and more recently by the Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf.

“Who amongst you has not heard about the highly disgraceful violation of people’s mandate and of its treatment as a commodity of trade? Political stock exchanges were opened and political horse trading was indulged in unabashedly. At the time of the non-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, such unlawful and unethical methods were employed to muster support for or against it that our National assembly became a laughing stock throughout the world.

“Some sold their conscience for ministries and some for plots of land; some mortgaged their loyalties in return for loans and some for promised gains. Those who apparently professed consistency of loyalty also claimed and received their price by threating to cross over. As a result of such conduct of the elected representatives our adversaries got a chance to remark that a take over bid can be made for Pakistan National Assembly in a sum of two and a half billion rupees. Most of the minister did not bother to attend the house. At times lies were told from the floor and facts were concealed.

“For people at the helm of affairs the life and property of some were inviolable, while those of others had no worth. As a result, the gulf of hatered widened; social harmony was infested with violence and minds filled with fears.

“Side by side with these agonizing conditions, innumerable stories were circulating among the people about the misuse of power to accumulate and multiply personal fortunes and dole out favours. Bribe, dishonesty and corruption were the talk of the time. It was also said that, with a view to paving the way for receiving and distributing unlawful concession from the commercial banks and other financial institutions, such as the Agriculture Development Bank. NDFC and PICIC, hand-picked persons were appointed in key positions without proper qualifications and experience. Then, loans worth billions of rupee were given to blue eyed boys for political reasons without the request documents, collateral securities and peoper processing. Stories of heavy bribes and political favouritism were also rife in relation to government contracts, import-export licenses, permits of various types and industrial sanctions.”

This is a very accurate summary of the happening under “democracy” in
Pakistan. This state of affairs, I am afraid, is common to all fourth world countries that have adopted Western democracy. Every now and then the set up changes but it is always the replacement of the “same with the same” and thus the vicious cycle of democracy continues.



Solution of the Problem.

What ordinary people wants is not a particular ruler or a form of government but a solution of their problems; Provision of equal opportunities of progress and prosperity on the basis of merit, and security of their life and property. People are not concerned with the definitions, terminologies and philosophical discussions. The difference between democracy has no relevance to people who are starving and to whom merit and justice is denied. This difference only become meaningful after their basic social needs are fulfilled.

Advocates of democracy link this system with growth and economic progress. A study of global development, however shows that it is not always the case. Socio-economic development is not peculiar to any particular system of government. Countries are known to have progressed under martial laws, dictatorships, monarchies as well as under parliamentary democracy. The example of Korea and China are before us who have made phenomenal progress under military dictatorship and Communists system. China with its fastest growth rate has surprised the whole world. What is important is the ultimate objective, sincerity and competence of the rulers. Democracy is consistent with human rights and freedom of thought and expression. It is a more civilised system which mankind has developed during social evolution. However, in the fourth world priority is to be given to the fulfillment of basic needs.

How can people in the underdeveloped countries benefit the fruits of democracy through adult franchise? This is only possible by creating the correct infrastructure for democracy by improving the economic and educational base of the community, so that during general elections people are able to choose correct representatives. Such a change is society cannot be achieved through the conventional elections which only perpetuate the status quo. Repeated elections as suggested by some people can not serve the purpose. They will simply perpetuate the existing status. It is incorrect to assume that repeated elections will bring in better elected representatives. To achieve this we have to change the basic social and infrastructure of the community and this change cannot be brought about by present elected representatives who represent a certain class. Economic equality, social independence and widespread education are some of the basic pre-requisite for positive results of elections. This can only be achieved by drastically changing the power base of the society through genuine reforms leading to equitable distribution of wealth and improvement of the education base of the society. (The strategy is summarized in table I and II).Islamic principles give the right to vote and right to rule to a person with some qualifications and this strategy would enable ultimately all citizens to achieve this right. Till that time the privilege is given only to those persons who qualify. If this basic point is not appreciated, no effort on the part of the vested interests can stop a revolution. Even in
Europe democracy was ushered in by a revolution which eliminated the “gentry” from the political life.

Such revolution will be led by commoners and are not by the privileged classes who have so far been in the position of power because they will always try to preserve their class interest. The change must come from the middle and lower strata of society. In the contemporary world, the Islamic Revolution of Iran led by Ayatullah Khomeni stands as an example of sincerity of leadership and non-apologetic attitude towards fundamentals and beliefs. Flaws and imperfections not withstanding. It can provide the basis and guidelines for the creation of an egalitarian society.


Summary

Basic concepts of an Islamic government are as follows

1. Sovereiognty belongs to allah and people have to be ruled in accordance with the principles laid down in Quran. Basic principles are not subject to change or debate. The rulers do not make law; only interpret and implement the law and make new laws where needed in the light of the devine code (Ijtehad).’
2. The leader of the faithful is the servant of the faithful.
3. The affairs of the state are decided through consultation, (Shoora).

Translated into strategies for action, the process of governance involves the following steps:

1- Identification of a body of citizens who will constitute an electoral college.
2- Nomination for head of the state with prescribed qualifications.
3- Election of the head of the state through the electoral college.
4- Confidence of the general body of people on the head of the state-general referendum.
5- Function of head of the state is to interpret and implement the divine law in consultation with the committee of “opinion holders” i.e. parliament or Shoora.

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Adnan bhai, thanks a lot. I had a lots of questions in my mind regarding this subject. I guess now i'll be all clear after I read this.

Thanks a lot!

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