Civilizations and the Moral High Ground
The English Parliament and King Charles I and his son Charles II fought three bitter civil wars from 1642 to 1651 resulting in a decisive victory of the Parliament in the Battle of Worcester. Charles, I was executed, and his son was exiled, and first Commonwealth of England came into existence. Church of England was duly punished for its assistance to the King’s previous mayhems, and Protestant counterpart was allowed to ascend. It didn’t rid England of monarchy at once, and it took another 30 odd years until Glorious Revolution of 1688. Many economists argue that this was the turning point of British history from aristocratic and theocratic society into more or less godless and free market economy. This was about the same time inventions like the steam engine, steam locomotive, and steamships came about and thanks to an open, industrial and fair society, these inventions were put to good use and mass production started. Results were predictable, and prosperity was phenomenal. Schumpeterian ‘creative destruction’ was in its making.
Raw goods from eastern Europe came reeling into west where serfdom was prevalent predominantly in Hungary, Poland, and eastern Germany. Along came the British war-making machinery that put an end to the grandeur of Spanish Armada in Atlantic and beyond. Once union jack hoisting ships ‘ruled the waves’, it was only a matter of time that these newly liberated hedonists took over Africa, south and far east Asia. French and Dutch and Portuguese weren’t lagging behind too much. Bacchanalia of massacre and greed unleashed. Amidst fierce ground and maritime wars la mission civils a trice carried on. As renowned Anglican-Baptist and African activist Desmond Tutu calls it “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible, and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.” The story wasn’t much different in Latin American and Far East. Southeast Asia remained largely Muslim and Hindu despite missionary work and colonial rule.
Carrol Quigley notes in his famous work “The Evolution of Civilizations,” most civilizations follow a pattern of seven distinct stages before extinction. It seems like it’s heavily influenced by Ibn Khaldun’s Muqadimmah given it includes almost all analysis tools with more contemporary examples at his disposal. Unlike Mesopotamian, Roman, Chinese or Islamic empire, British or Spanish or Dutch didn’t have huge swathes of lands in their own countries that they could cultivate and tax and become an autarky. Neither did they believe in North Korean Juche system. It was the weakest of the empires in terms of its native resources. Many historians argue that the only reason these new world invaders succeeded was utter brutality, a written system of language and knowledge utilization and trade logistics. Agriculture went to Western Europe from fertile crescent in the middle east. Chinese world opened up to the west only with Marco Polo. However, the decline of western colonial empire teaches us one lesson that has repeated itself through 5000 years of known human history. All empires need a ‘soft power’, an ideological component, an immutable moral high ground that helps them educate and enlighten their subjects morally. This one component has to be so universally simple and understandable that it should outlast geographical topographies, centuries, and civilizations themselves.
Longest lasting empire both in terms of area, subjects and time is Islamic Empire. From 610 to 1917 it reigned with varying degrees of efficiency through this period. It can be argued that empires are never fully functional the whole duration of their existence but same arguments can be made for Roman and Han Chinese, and it can be said with utmost surety that Islamic empires in total have outlasted all others. Lessons from Islamic rule have been a unique one in the history of statecraft. The reason Islamic empire was so popular among its non-Muslim subjects was its lack of class and caste system. No mosques could ever be segregated for blacks and whites in the Islamic world. No tax could be levied on the people for the clergy which didn’t exist in first place. There was no drafting for the wars and non-Muslims were exempt from all military service. The most common reason of fall of nations is the profligacy of its elites also known as conflict stage among its newly fashioned elites.
Expansion avenues become limited, and lifestyle becomes expensive and unchangeable. Protracted war were armies and peace-time needed for building institutions and educating new colonies is never granted. This was never the case in the period of expansion in Islamic empires. The education and inclusiveness of the subjects is one of the key much of the Islamic world stayed Islamic even under colonial and missionary duress. Second Khalifa Umar RA ensured that the officers be treated in a strict way as to prevent the possible greed of money that may lead them to corruption. During his reign, at the time of appointment, every officer was required to make the oath:
- That he would not ride a Turkic horse.
- That he would not wear fine clothes.
- That he would not eat sifted flour.
- That he would not keep a porter at his door.
- That he would always keep his door open to the public
These semi-ascetic measures would keep officials and army generals in check and at par with rest of the others in the society. An ombudsman-like organization was in place to keep the vicegerents on a short leash. Irregularities were punished severely, and the law was applied with staunch egalitarianism. This inexorable justice has countless instances throughout the history. One of the most famous being the trial of Khalifa Umar RA’s own son who was accused and tried for drinking and raping a Jewish woman. Annals of history refer to it being an example of ruthless justice. Last words he said to his son were these “I do not think that you will survive this punishment – but when you pass away and when you meet my Prophet (S) tell him that your father Omar had established the law of the Quran on earth. Tell him that he had established the Sunnah of the Prophet on Earth,”
Fast forward to 2016. Two devastating wars liberated all the colonies of the past. Apart from political vassals rhetoric has changed from direct occupation to control by economic and diplomatic means. The UK and France seized to be an empire. Francophone Africa fell like dominoes, countries declaring independence one after another. Indian continent went out of British paws. Cold War buried the Red revolution in the mountains of Afghanistan. In the crisis, US came out as the new power. A nation that waged merciless wars and rose to prominence for its military industry. A nation that fought 240 years out of its total history of 246 years. Invaded or starved over 70 countries to destruction. The culmination of it many says was the same delusion that all empires had in them. Not only kings believed that their right to rule is divine. Manifest Destiny was an unequivocal proof that the democracies have their moment of megalomania. Humiliated in Vietnam, Philippines and Afghanistan, the star-spangled banner has become the worst tune in much of the Middle East and China not to mention Russia. With all the democratic and humanitarian principles it trampled on, US has made itself the most hated if equally feared opponent.
It desperately needed the ‘soft power’ like Christian values that gave African nations more endurance than they should have against their violators. A faith that taught that their soul would be saved if the put up with their lands being pillaged, women raped, kids and men enslaved. An apartheid and numerous civil wars later it came to its senses that these values work only one way. Russians lacked the same morality that communism replace. Arab spring was one spectacle of that. As Egyptians threw a dictator and chose an Islamic leader from Muslim Brotherhood, it certainly was not to the liking of their western masters. A military coup by a dictator was orchestrated and supported by western powers who continue to aid him. Aung San Suu Ky the noble prize winning politician is now the front-line supporter of Muslim genocide of Rohingya people in the country, backed by a corrupt Buddhist clergy. New secular values of enlightenment was an attempt to re-create the ‘soft’ component of colonization and this time, lure them into a secular enslavement and educated serfdom.
Unfortunately, it isn’t cutting this time. As the Aesop’s fables go when you call cry wolf way too many times, no one’s going to come out when the real wolf comes. Western educated dictators, princes, aristocracy and military leaders have delivered the message to their people loud and clear. Secular dissenters of their homelands, trained and indoctrinated in the West for years are equally dismayed by the hypocrisy of what they learn and see being done. This is why when the likes of Shadi Hamid, Ayesha Jalal, and Tarik Ramadan concoct their outlandish theories in the Muslim world, it does the opposite of what they want, More westernization.
As Francis Fukuyama and Daron Acemoglu show the western civilization the mirror that makes them look ‘fairest of all’ (pun intended) reality is far from it. At the peak of all civilizations, they make this common error of considering themselves invincible and omnipotent. Germanic Aryan supremacy, Cecil Rhodes’ English idealism, and Japanese imperialism were never meant to end in their minds and eyes, and yet it did.
The truth is what Quran says in these words:
For We assuredly sent amongst every People a messenger, (with the Command), “Serve Allah, and eschew Evil”: of the People were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the Truth).