Dreamland, Puntland and Fatherland —Razi Azmi

Capitalism will survive and thrive, with a fine-tuning here and an adjustment there, with more regulation or less regulation. Both America and capitalism might say, like Mark Twain, that “rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated”

In less than two weeks, on November 4, Americans will cast their votes to elect a new president. On January 20, 2009, either Barack Obama or John McCain will take oath as the President of the United States of America. Both have promised that, if elected, they will make sure that Americans can continue to live the “American dream”.

In these columns some years ago, I had asked readers of a particular inclination not to worry too much about America, for one thing was certain: President George Bush will not last beyond 2008. That would give Bush a grand total of 8 years in the White House, which is the maximum permitted under the constitution.

Our unelected Presidents Ayub Khan, Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf stayed longer than the twice-elected Bush. Long our generals ruled, but not quite like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (since 1981), Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (since 1969), Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia (1981-2003), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (since 1980 and no end in sight despite an inflation rate of over 2 million percent), Hafez al-Assad of Syria (1970-2000, succeeded by his son), Saddam Hussain (1968 to 2003), Suharto of Indonesia (1967-98), and Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives (since 1978).

Many of our compatriots, particularly the brothers-in-Islam, are gloating over the US and global financial crisis, seeing in it the failure of capitalism and the interest-based financial system, or divine punishment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They know not — and care not to know — that this crisis is neither the first, nor the last, nor the worst that capitalism or America have confronted in the last one hundred years or so.

Not so long ago, America lost the Vietnam War, having sacrificed 57,000 of its young men and women. The image of the last remaining Americans scrambling to board helicopters perched on the roof of the American embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) is still etched in many people’s memories as the ultimate humiliation for a great power.

Thanks to democracy — and, yes, capitalism — the US has emerged more viable and prosperous from each crisis. So, too, has the West in general. And largely on account of free market economics, millions of people in the Third World also eat better, dress better and live better than before.

While Islamists and their allies prematurely pronounce the death of America and of capitalism, our own fatherland is going downhill so fast that, at this rate, one fears it might go the way of Somalia and its offspring, Puntland.

Now, what is Puntland, many will ask. No, dear reader, I have not coined the word or the name. Puntland is a politico-economic reality, an entity within Somalia, with pretentions of independence. While the mother country, Somalia, has given up all pretence of statehood, its northern province has declared independence under the name of Somaliland and the central region claims to be a fully autonomous and self-governing entity called Puntland.

For a living, the people of Puntland mainly engage in piracy, prowling the coastline and the adjoining sea to hijack ships for ransom. Piracy has become a mainstay of Puntland’s economy. According to a BBC report, the coastal region of Puntland is booming. Fancy houses are being built, expensive cars are being bought.

Last year, piracy is estimated to have put about $30m (more than the annual budget of Puntland, which is $20m) from ransom payments into the pockets of the blessed people of Puntland, who, by the way, are all devout Muslims, like other Somalis. Whether they are good Muslims or bad Muslims, we have to ask Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Maulana Fazlur Rahman or perhaps even Imran Khan.

The pirates have maritime radios, which they use to monitor radio traffic of ships in the area, and to predict their movements. “Sometimes, the gangs will send out distress signals or send messages saying they are stranded. This lures ships towards them. They then attack with Kalashnikovs or rocket-propelled launchers,” says Mr Cyrus Mody, a researcher from the International Maritime Bureau.

In one incident, the pirates from Puntland reportedly posed as thirsty fishermen in dire need of drinking water — only to hijack the ship at gunpoint after being allowed on board. This almost certainly puts them in the category of “bad Muslims”! But if the targets of their ruse were infidel Christians, Hindus, Jews or bad Muslims, then it is probably another matter. Again, I will defer to the hallowed opinion of the Qazi, the Maulana or the great Khan.

According to one researcher, Said Shiiq, below the official line which says that “piracy is a global problem that found headway in Somalia’s porous waters in recent years,” there’s a wide belief among Puntlanders that pirates “are heroes, because they are protecting Somalia’s unguarded resources, looted by international companies.”

Substitute a few words here and there — Pakistan for Somalia, waters for borders and Waziristan for Puntland — and the story sounds familiar.

Our president, prime minister, ministers, senators and ambassadors are presently roving planet Earth with a begging bowl, which is respectable, compared to piracy or banditry. All our friends and near-friends, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Communist — only Jews and Hindus excepted — are being asked to financially contribute to the many “bail out plans” for our blessed Mumlakat-e-Khudadad (God-given country). God knows that even the god-damned Hindus and Jews will be happy to assist, if that’s what it takes to prevent the Waziristanisation, or, should I say, Puntlandification of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This is a chilling prospect capable of uniting friend and foe.

Back in “Dreamland”, all indications from the polls are that Barack Obama will win. But should he lose after holding such a commanding lead in the polls so close to the election date, it will be a shame and a disgrace for America. For the only reason for an Obama defeat would be the colour of his skin (black) and his middle name (Hussein).

But if Barack Hussein Obama is elected president, in spite of what is called the “Bradley factor” and insinuations that he is a closet Muslim and, therefore, a danger to America, then the country will not only redeem itself but will have taken a giant step to confirm that it is a shining example of fairness and opportunity to the rest of the world.

In an excellent article, “Why Capitalism is Good for the Soul”, Peter Saunders wrote that while “capitalism offers the best chance we have for leading meaningful and worthwhile lives, [it] lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies…can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods.”

Which is why capitalism will survive and thrive, with a fine-tuning here and an adjustment there, with more regulation or less regulation. Both America and capitalism might say, like Mark Twain, that “rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

On the other hand, countries that hanker after utopian blueprints or crave for the resurrection of a mythical past are more likely to go the way of the Soviet Union, Somalia or Puntland.

The writer can be contacted at raziazmi@hotmail.com

Source: Daily Times, 23/10/2008

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