Apr 162008

In poor countries, where political and economic power is in the hands of a select few rather than widely dispersed in the community, and institutions are non-existent or too weak to mediate a clash of interests, the social ecology remains fragile

When the Godfather (who is also the sponsor, benefactor, and friend of 30 plus years) calls, I usually know what to expect. “Fancy a quick trip to London and Tunis?” Well, I ask you: which sane, unemployed (unemployable?) lafanga can turn down an all expenses paid (and then some!) luxury holiday? Especially when it provides a welcome break from that logically impossible (and intensely irritating) phenomenon of losing a few hundred bucks every day on the course to those golfing piranhas, Alam and Dr Zafar.

Lest some of you be tempted to sneer (out of middle-class envy masquerading as morality) at such good fortune, a brief digression first, as a counter, may not be out of place. So, here is my theoretical perspective of the morality of the situation. I think of my ‘Capital’ as not some accumulated cash hoard but the existential ‘Me’. To charge for my ‘services’ (never known to confer any material benefit) would therefore be akin to charging interest. It follows that a life-long refusal to stoop to the grubby and tedious business of ‘working’ is simply a matter for me of conscience and high religious principle.

Freeloading, however, is a different matter, and easily justified: I think of it as a form of qarz-e hasna. There is every honourable intention to repay in kind, if and when possible. Yes, of course, experience tells me that that day may well never come, for I hardly have a bean to my name, and the chances of ever having any remain remote, if not non-existent. Still, are not the good intentions the supreme moral consideration? As the Latin legal maxim has it: actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea.

Please note that I have tried to be rational here and avoided recourse to a form of that great clincher of an argument to end all arguments: if the Lord chooses to give in mysterious fashion, who am I to question His intentions?

With the philosophy bit taken care of, I can return to the narrative form. But this is not a column about the high life. What I like about holidays is all the extra time you get to read, and reflect at leisure upon whatever thoughts happen to cross your mind. So, for example, in London it was natural to ponder over the two main stories there of the week: the verdict in the Diana inquest; and the trial of 8 British Muslims accused of plotting to blow up passenger jets over the Atlantic, in coordinated suicide bombings.

You may well wonder why there was a need felt to hold an inquest, at a cost to the taxpayer of some £10 million, into deaths that happened a decade ago. The answer is that gadfly, and thorn in the side of the British Establishment, Mohammed Al Fayed. The owner of Harrods, long miffed at being denied British nationality for flimsy reasons, has the financial means to keep alive in the media his theory that his son Dodi, and the Princess, were killed by British Intelligence, in a conspiracy hatched by the Royal Family. Why? Because he claims Dodi and Diana were planning to marry, and it was unbearable that an Arab could become the stepfather of the future King of Britain!

Was Al Fayed satisfied with a verdict that rejected such speculation? No. He publicly called Prince Phillip ‘a Nazi’ and vowed to fight on. I should add that much of the immigrant community also continues to believe in the conspiracy theory. There will always be people (the puzzling bit being their sheer number) who doggedly continue believing what they want to believe.

As to watching on national TV, those pre-recorded videos wherein the alleged suicide bombers confess to and justify their planned gruesome act, what can one say except to repeat what I always said: it is the collective responsibility of Muslims to root out from their midst those masterminds that brainwash such impressionable young men in the name of Islam. By hesitating, or back-pedalling half-heartedly, in discharging this responsibility — because the perceived ‘injustices heaped upon Muslims by the West’ dampens our sense of outrage — we inflict upon our collective selves immeasurable political harm internationally.

Stories such as the two above continue to deepen mutual suspicion between Muslims and non-Muslims, for once the process starts it steadily feeds upon itself.

Take another example. I sit in my hotel room watching media coverage of the demonstrations and scuffles accompanying the Olympic torch. How has tiny, relatively insignificant, Tibet successfully managed to garner such international publicity for its cause, while few are similarly bothered about what is happening in Palestine? Is this part of the puzzle of politics I was pondering last week? Or is the answer to be found in the convenient coming together of the real target (China), and the political opportunity (the Games), that allows interested parties to maximise leverage?

Incidentally, China registered economic growth of 12 percent last year, while its leaders were hoping to restrict it to about 8 percent (for fear of inflation)! Odd, is it not, to want to deliberately hold back growth? And when, and how, will we emulate that country which has been clocking up such phenomenal growth rates for now two decades?

As I sit in peaceful, prosperous Europe, thinking of the Chinese economic miracle, I cannot help but remember the other side of the worldwide picture. In Colombia, Peru and many other countries of Central and South America, civil wars have been raging for more than two decades. Many countries in Africa are in the grip of deep political unrest and internal strife; Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy, Sudan is a basket case, and who does not remember Rwanda, Angola, Somalia and the Congo.

Closer home, there are the examples of Nepal and Afghanistan to consider, with the latter having utterly destroyed itself, and even after 30 years there seems no end in sight to the suffering of its peoples. It is easy to blame — as many do — meddling by foreign powers for such problems, but is that a satisfactory answer?

No. We should never forget that conflict and aggrandisement, not peace and harmony, is the natural order. It is only those constructs and tools of human ingenuity — politics and law — that have made possible for us to clear the jungle of the undergrowth and plant the fruitful seeds of civilisation. In poor countries, where political and economic power is in the hands of a select few rather than widely dispersed in the community, and institutions are non-existent or too weak to mediate a clash of interests, the social ecology remains fragile and it is all too easy for societies to self-destruct.

The writer is a businessman

Courtesy: Daily Times, 16/4/2008

 Posted by at 12:40 pm

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