By Hwaa Irfan
From Islam, Liberty and Development by Mohammad Khātamī, written in 1997 *
Tradition, Modernity, and Development
On the cusp of change that is demanding to be heard as people raise their voices around the world, one wonders what kind of change is being born. Far too many uprisings of the past have only served to change roles and not the situation as the oppressed take up the mantle of that which was once the remit of the oppressor. Do we really just want to re-cut the cake, the Earth so that it is to our advantage, ignoring those who are disadvantaged by it, because if that is the case then we have not moved from the position that threatens all lives, and threatens the Earth that sustains us all.
“Development, like many other contemporary concepts, has its roots in the West. Here is how I define it: to establish widespread welfare on the basis of the values and criteria of Western civilization. Don’t we divide the world into the two camps of “developed” – meaning built on Western values – and “undeveloped?” Don’t we think of those countries as “developing” that are trying to modernize their way of life by emulating the West? Is here that the relationship between tradition and modernity comes into focus.
“Development is a Western concept, based on Western civilization,… Without knowing it we cannot know development, let alone decisions about it or reject it… So, I believe that debating about development is premature before focusing on its underpinnings.”
It is quite amazing that countries seeking to progress in these recent times, in the midst of a global economic crisis are blind to the basis of that crisis, and the conditions of those countries that are responsible for that crisis. Countries like Ethiopia, are willing to impoverish the fertility of its soil by undertaking an expansive commercial farming program that is a product of land grab – the exploitation of foreign lands for the sustained wealth of developed countries. Ethiopia along with many other countries like Brazil are willing to sacrifice the self sustaining habits and practices of its indigenous population, practices that actually show them the way forward to a sustainable future to the short term unsustainable practices of Western development. This of course ignores the fact that Western development is based on the wealth of the countries that are mainly “underdeveloped” and “developing”. In this context, what is meant by “underdeveloped” and “developing” are countries where their natural wealth benefits most the “developed” countries and benefits least the “underdeveloped” and “developing” countries. There is no logic in this at all except for the illusion of immediate wealth, which will lead to their own “wells” going dry. They think not of tomorrow, and generations to come. They think only in capitalist terms, that are of immediate and self interest, and forget their relationship to God and all creation, and that is those who live are but guardians, stewards, but can never be the owners. Those “underdeveloped” and “developing” countries seeking to reach the summit of Western development remain blind to the injustices that are perpetuated within the countries of the “developed” countries, the growing gap between rich and poor, the conditions of education for those who cannot afford private education, the level of gender-based violence that inflicts even the very young, and the very old, the growing mental health industry, and the environmental, health and social disasters that permeate “developed” societies. In fact what is seen from afar is only the wealth and not the way that wealth is achieved, and the price of that wealth even on the families of the wealthy because that wealth cannot sustain itself without inflicting harm at one level or another!
“First, development is not a mechanical process that can be achieved in the absence of rational human beings. And second, a society that is devoid of rational thinking will lose its balance as soon as it encounters problems…”
A clear cut example of this is France, a country that still maintains its colonial wealth through the blood, sweat and tears of the people of countries like the Ivory Coast. All force is used to sustain that relationship as in recent events that led to the criminalization of a democratically elected leader, Laurent Gbagbo, for the international elite’s preference Alassane Outtara a former IMF CEO, and former Prime Minister of Houphouet-Boigny (where Outtara administered an IMF deal that plunged Ivorians into poverty). Governed by the elite, as France plunges further into a debt crisis, it comes up with a euro-treaty that Germany wants to pull out of, a treaty that would consolidate the U.N moves over the years of unifying all social, health, and education policies, and make a final push towards one government for all the European countries. Lacking the ability to find real solutions, France lashes out at Britain for not agreeing to the treaty, and forces a situation that will worsen its economic situation with Turkey over a humanitarian issue that France is not innocent of in other countries including its own!
All rationale has gone out of the window, as former imperial powers returns with brute force to reclaim their imperial past using “development” of “underdeveloped” and “developing” countries to do so!
“Each civilization has encountered great crises, and by relying on its natural strengths, it has been able to pass through them beginning in the nineteenth century and culminating in the two world wars of this century. But the liberal and capitalist West managed to confront and outlive its socialist opponent through adjusting its institutions. Precipitated by its own internal weaknesses, socialism’s demise dazzled the world. It is nonetheless clear that the West is faced with other deep crises, that have arisen out of questioning the core values of the West evident in a decrease in confidence in its capabilities and permanence. These questions are now more pressing and pertinent than ever. Thus, objections to the moral and philosophical bases of the West are more common today…”
European establishments, in a bid to “save’ themselves have taken steps pertaining to sovereignty – steps that in a democratic society requires the people be heard. The only country to have taken this all crucial step is Iceland in the forming of a new Constitution. The establishments of the West have forgotten one important key, a key that is exampled by the struggle that permeates the Arab Spring” and that is the voice, and the needs of the people. The governing body, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt, have forgotten that their legitimacy came about as a result of the 25th January Revolutionists, and the Muslim Brotherhood which appears at this point in time to be the ones who will constitute the next government, have forgotten that their bid for power has only been made possible by the 25th January Revolutionists. Both SCAF and Muslims Brotherhood will make and have made the same mistakes of the previous regime. Equally, the establishments of the West have forgotten that their legitimacy has come about as a result of the people, as well as their wealth, all of which speaks of underdevelopment, not development.