Accepting Freedom

Many years ago, I wrote a piece which I posted on my blog called, ‘Same Chairs, Different Bottoms’. Here it is for those who may not have read it. It is necessarily full of Indian (and Hindi) idiom which is not translatable so I apologize to those who don’t understand Hindi in advance. Also you need to know something of the history of India around 1947 when we became free of the British to appreciate the satire. But here goes.
I was in South Africa in August 2016, just before the Municipal Elections which are a big indicator of the mood of the nation with respect to the party that fought for and got them independence from apartheid, I can’t help but recall sadly our (India’s) own journey down that road. The inability to gain independence of the mind, while we got independence legally from a foreign ruler. It is for this reason that even today in India, a British national has more status, privileges and aura than an Indian, especially an Indian Muslim or Dalit.

The Indian National Congress which was the party that ‘got us independence’ if I may say so, lasted around forty years before it was ousted. Same evils of the euphoria of hubris that the ANC seems to be suffering from; the apparent belief that independence was the destination instead of the reality, that it was the beginning of the journey, even the race. Bringing a nation out of slavery is easy compared to making it own the responsibility of being free. Freedom is in the mind. Not in the law books. Free people behave differently because they believe that they’re the owners. So they don’t steal from themselves, they don’t abuse privilege, they don’t seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation.

That’s why in countries like Sweden you have the Prime Minister riding a bicycle to work and nobody even comments. It’s not a publicity gimmick like our Indian politicians do once in a while. It’s normal. Being PM is like being a teacher or a bus driver. All equally dignified and important. But that’s also because Sweden was never a colony, was never subjugated. But countries which have had oppressive governments for generations like South Africa and India have learnt a different equation with the government. India went from monarchy or monarchies to British colonial rule to democracy. Government was always alien. The few with the power to rule the many. To this day we use the term, Modi’s rule, Congress Raj, Collector’s Peshi (means ‘August Presence’…a Mughal Court term, used today for the District administrator). If you used the term ‘rule’ for Stefan Löfven they’d laugh you out of town. The titular ruler of Sweden, which is a constitutional monarchy is King Carl XVI Gustaf who has been King of Sweden since 1973. He is the 74thKing of Sweden, and also rides a bicycle normally. He’s a ruler like the British Queen, more a tourist attraction than anything else.

Democracy is supposed to be ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people’. At least this is what we were taught in school 45 years ago. But for this to happen, it is the people who must be educated and who must understand the meaning of ownership and exercise it. So whoever may be the political party in parliament, the power always belongs to the people of the nation who give it to a set of leaders to exercise it on their behalf for their (the people’s) benefit. It is the like the driver of a car. The car belongs to the owner. The driver drives it at the pleasure of the owner, as long as the owner employs him, to wherever the owner orders him and then when his day is over, he gets on his own personal transport and goes home. That is the actual meaning of government and ‘ruling’ party in a real democracy. It would never be acceptable for the driver of the car to take it home or to do with it anything at all without the permission of the owner. The driver will never be the owner of the car no matter how long he drives it. He will always be a driver. And be judged and rewarded on the basis of his driving and the care he lavishes on the car to keep it in pristine order. But today whether you look at the drama that’s called US elections or in UK or in the many other countries including India and South Africa you are looking at drivers whose real intentions seem to be to grab the car and dispossess the real owner.

Free nations have dignity. Self-respect is a characteristic of free people which prevents them from being corrupt. You can’t steal from yourself but when you see yourself as an outsider you can steal from the “Other”. Corruption is a sign that you don’t consider yourself to be a part of the nation. Corruption is treason. It is the most anti-national of acts. It is an act of war on the nation. But in all our countries, it is rampant, accepted, even aspirational. India and South Africa are not alone in this by any means. This seems to be the fate of almost every erstwhile colony which gained independence after a struggle. All are struggling from the phenomenon of ‘Same chairs, different bottoms’. They don’t seem to see the fact that it is the chair which must be changed. The change is not in the bottom which sits in the chair, but the mindset which defines what the chair actually means.

The change is by no means easy. It means that people must elect leaders based on principles, ethics, morals and character; not on tribe, caste or community. It means that leaders then have to behave like elected representatives, not like rulers, kings and queens. It means that they must be scrupulously objective, honest, non-partisan and just. It means that integrity, not anything else, must rule every transaction. It means that there must be no financial, social or other benefit in being a leader. It means that we need to take away every ‘benefit’ that we enjoy today when we are elected to office – yet want to be there only in order to serve.

It means that public servants must reflect, even meditate on the term ‘public servant’ and consciously accept it as their self-concept. They must act like servants of the public, not as their rulers. It means that we must remove all privilege that goes with so-called public service today in countries like India. It means that almost every reason why most people opt for public service today must be removed. Then only those who still want to serve will be there to serve; quietly, unsung heroes whose love will fill the hearts of those whose difficulty they alleviate. It means we need to create a generation which finds satisfaction from drying people’s tears and seeing their smiles.

It means that the public must behave with self-confidence, self-respect and fairness and not demand more than they are due; nor seek privilege over others based on caste, creed, community, tribe or social status. It means that the public must value and want justice, not injustice which they personally benefit from. It means that people must value the law and want to follow it even when it may be painful, because they know that it is good for everyone, including themselves. It means that the law must be superior to people. That crime doesn’t pay, criminals do. It means that if a crime is committed, the criminal will be punished no matter who he or she is. No exceptions. That is the meaning of rule of law and what differentiates a democracy from a dictatorship or feudal rule.

It means that the election process itself must be changed where it is the people who pay, not aspiring leaders. As long as elections involve fund raising by candidates, they will breed, even enforce corruption. Good leadership is the need of the people and we the people must pay to have good leaders. It means that campaigning must be dignified with candidates (and parties) speaking about what they have to offer. Not spend time in maligning and demeaning others. Elections must not be a circus nor a drain on the exchequer. Media must be restrained and report facts and give space to information. Not become the spokespeople for vested interests and peddle propaganda, innuendo and lies in the name of news. Media must be and keep itself free from external influence and be the conscience keepers and champions of the values of the nation. It means that accountability must be objective, absolute and unquestioned.

When we are able to accomplish this then and only then will we be truly free. Only then will we regain our self-respect. Only then will we be able to hold our heads high as a nation that has truly thrown off the chains of servitude. Slavery is in the mind. Subjugated nations become subjugated and remain subjugated because they accept these chains of the superiority of man over man based on external causes; race, position, power, authority or anything else. Equality means to treat yourself as equal to the other – not the other way round. If you say that equality means to treat the other like yourself, you are unconsciously placing yourself at a higher level and feel satisfied at ‘bringing’ the other to your level. That still means you are doing them a favor. So I prefer to describe it as seeing and treating yourself as equal to the ‘other’. In essence, it means eliminating the ‘other’. For in a free nation, all people are citizens; albeit with different responsibilities, but all equal to one another and all accountable to the nation which comprises of all of them.

Fantasy, you say? Well, I am a poor old man. Please indulge me. Or accept the fact that when you are far removed from reality, it looks like fantasy. Searching for justice, equity and dignity in our feudal, patriarchal nations, is the real fantasy. Change it or suffer.

Turkey – 2016 Coup aftermath

The coup in Turkey failed and democracy was saved. The president Tayyip Erdogan got a real vote of confidence where ordinary people from all walks of life came out in support of his call to defeat the coup and Allahhelped them. Subsequently a state of emergency has been declared in Turkey and over 60,000 people have been arrested. Admittedly it is stated that those arrested are not being tortured. But what is the credibility of such a claim made by the arresting party? I also want to point out that torture is not only physical. What do you think happens to a man/woman and his/her family who is suddenly arrested without any charge and taken away for an indefinite period, probably to an unknown location with the family being unable to remain in touch? Then when the case comes up and there is no evidence and the person is freed, the judgment doesn’t say, ‘He is innocent.’ It says, ‘The police were not able to produce sufficient evidence.’ Meanwhile his job, reputation, relationships, family’s reputation, police record (which he will need if he applies for a passport or any government job) are all destroyed. Many have to even leave the city they live in because they are boycotted by neighbors. All this for the one who returns proven innocent. Who says that the knock in the night is not torture?

The alleged (alleged only as of this writing as there is no concrete evidence yet) perpetrators of the coup are Fethullah Gulen and his followers of the Hizmet Movement.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about the Hizmet Movement:

Most Gülen Movement schools are private; its educational footprint extends to over 160 countries. In 2009 it was estimated that members of the Gülen Movement run schools in which more than two million students receive education. Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely; it appears there are about 300 Gülen Movement schools in Turkey and over 1,000 schools worldwide.

Movement participants have set up a number of media organizations to promote its core values such as love, tolerance, hope, dialogue, activism, mutual acceptance and respect. These media organs include TV stations (Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV), (Ebru TV) (English), the newspapers Zaman, Today’s Zaman (English), magazines and journals in Turkish like Aksiyon, Sızıntı, Yeni Ümit, The Fountain Magazine (English), Hira (Arabic), The International Cihan News Agency and the radio station Burç FM (tr).

In short the Hizmet Movement is spread over 160 countries with over 2 million students. And these are only estimates. By its very nature of being highly decentralized and secretive accurate numbers are not available (not even sure if Gulen himself knows) but in my opinion the actual number, if anything, would be more, not less. In short, it is a movement with a huge number of followers all over the world. To go into its history a little bit; the Hizmet Movement was designed to infiltrate the army and civil administration but even more importantly to do this by bringing about a change in mindset of the people, because it was the Kemalist Junta who were ruling Turkey. Hizmet operated on the age old principle of shaping minds of the youth. The Jesuits say, “Give us your child for the first five years of its life. Then take him back. He’ll always be ours.” Childhood conditioning is the most powerful. They did this very successfully resulting in the establishment of democracy in Turkey and its return to Islam without a military intervention. That itself is a very major phenomenon of the use of civil power that we were all witness to. That is how Erdogan came to power and introduced so many welcome changes of freeing Masaajid from slavery of the military, introduction of Quranic teaching, use of Arabic in Adhaan, permission for women to wear hijab and other things. We need to remember that none of this would have happened had it not been for the enormous ground work done by Hizmet. Done very subtly and secretively under the noses of the Military Junta rendering them ineffective and changing the mindset of the nation.

This is a very major phenomenon of social engineering sustained over 50 years or more that must be studied. Erdogan is a beneficiary of it without doubt. If there had been no Hizmet, there would have been no Erdogan. That is the truth; perhaps not so palatable today, but still the truth. All through that time Erdogan was with them. Later he fell out with Gulen but it was Gulen who was the Shaikh and the mastermind behind the movement without which Turkey would still have been the godless secular anti Muslim country it was, which Kemal Ataturk made of it. The ability of Gulen to inspire millions of people over at least two generations to work according to his principles is a feat not achieved by many. The highly decentralized nature of the movement, strong ideological commitment and loyalty of members to their leader and their willingness and ability to quietly do their work without any formal public appeals for funds has few parallels in history. It is a very big mistake to allow dislike for a person to cloud one’s perception of his strengths. That is what Erdogan seems to be in danger of doing.
In the case of the failed 2016 coup perhaps Gulen used the same network against him. I say perhaps because suspicion is not evidence. But assuming that the allegations are correct, Gulen’s sin was losing. And of course his weakness was in not being able to let go of power when his aims had been achieved. He should have stepped back and let Erdogan have the limelight. True, Erdogan may not have been toeing the exact line that Gulen drew but that is the nature of powerful successors; they paint the landscape in their own colors. However, the wisdom of the founder lies in taking satisfaction from the fact that only the colors of the picture have changed, not its structure. Gulen’s aim was to Islamize Turkey. Erdogan was doing that par excellence. Gulen should have left him alone and let him carry on and support his work, directly and indirectly. Instead, he demonstrated his own humanness (aren’t we all human?) by playing power games. And he lost. Losing is the cardinal sin.
What now?
I made some recommendations in my article:
Arrest and try those who actually killed civilians in the coup and let the courts pass sentence. Investigate suspected supporters of the coup and take action depending on the nature of their support. Once again, suspicion in not evidence in law. Any action taken without evidence is unislamic and illegal and will attract justified criticism. Erdogan must minimize all possible criticism as he is going to get a good bit of it in any case as he is not short of enemies. So don’t add to that by taking actions that can’t be defended in law.

The coup proved beyond doubt that the people of Turkey now view Erdogan as their rightful leader. Let’s reflect: the two critical factors that enabled the success of the coup were that CNN Turk was allowed to function and broadcast Erdogan’s appeal to the people to come out in the streets and the fact that his plane was not shot down though there were F16s of the coup rebels in the air. Thirdly despite the fact that there were so many tanks and armored carriers on the street, there was no bloodbath like in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Ask yourself, ‘What prevented the F16s from shooting down Erdogan’s plane? What prevented the tanks from firing on the people? What prevented them from destroying CNN Turk’s ability to broadcast? Or why didn’t the operator simply refuse to broadcast Erdogan’s message?’ I would say that all these incidents (and I am sure there will be more if we analyze in more detail) show that Erdogan is seen as the rightful leader. People’s hopes are in him and they look up to him. Soldiers may come out into the street on the command of their generals because they have little choice but to obey; but having got there, to pull the trigger or not is at their discretion and they didn’t. Same is true about the F16s. So as far as Erdogan was concerned when he landed safely at Istanbul, he had won and the coup was defeated. This is where I have suggested following the example of Rasoolullahby showing mercy and not taking revenge. Honor those who were loyal. But honor even more those who could have harmed you but didn’t. They too deserve your mercy, perhaps even more.

Erdogan by his purges may root out some of the Gulenists but who will take their place? I would seriously doubt if the purges can even root out all those who sympathize with Gulen. After all, if the organization is really so secretive that it evaded the Turkish Military Junta for decades, what is the chance that suddenly Erdogan will be able to find every last one of them. And their leader, Fethullah Gulen is safely in the US anyway, but now able to capitalize on the sympathy wave and righteous anger with the arrest of every innocent person that Erdogan’s purge will create. They are talking of shutting down Hizmet schools. Who will be effected? The children of common people. Will this generate love for Erdogan? How much easier to monitor what they teach and leave the schooling system intact. Finally, even if Erdogan does all this, it will be only in Turkey; 1/160 countries that these schools operate in.

There are no vaccums in life. They always get filled. Only Erdogan won’t know who is taking the place of Gulenists. After all we are talking about feelings and thoughts and nobody can see those. Remember that these people have been successful because they are good at working quietly. Also all oppressive actions only strengthen the rebel and provide perfect proof for the need to rebel and are great recruiting material. It is a big mistake to provide grist to the mill of rebellion by your actions. By not showing mercy he’s playing into the hands of his enemies. At this time, he must show patience and maturity. Not anger. We stand out by what we do differently from others. Not by behaving like them. Rasoolullah didn’t eliminate his enemies by purging and killing them but by killing enmity. He showed mercy which removed the rai·son d’ê·tre for rebellion. He took the higher moral ground which took the wind out of the sails of his enemies. People who could have justifiably been put to death or imprisoned were freed. People who could have been financially ruined by being forced to pay compensation for the harm they did to the followers of Rasoolullahwere let off. How could anyone then raise a voice against him? He ended enmity, ended mutual hatred and the Ummah was born. He is our example. Erdogan’s example. I hope he follows it. The argument, ‘but others do the same’, doesn’t hold because they don’t have Rasoolullahas their role model. We do. We must show the difference. We must stand out. We must write history. There are only two kinds of people, those who write history and those who are its statistics. It is time to choose.

What to do about Gulen? First of all, stop making charges that can’t be proved – calling him a traitor and his movement a terrorist movement. Large scale arrests and detentions give the impression of running scared; or impending totalitarian dictatorship. Especially when this is not something that is intended, it is essential to lay all misgivings to rest by complete transparency. Don’t give the opposition a chance to level charges that appear to be true. It is not only important that justice is done but that it appears to be done. Allegations are not evidence. Suspicion is not evidence. When you have evidence bring the charges. Until then remain silent. Deal with those who participated in the coup as I have suggested earlier and so won’t repeat here. As for Gulen, I would definitely get him back on my team. Too much talent to lose. And too dangerous to have him as an enemy with US backing. Very stupid to continue the feud. As I said, he may not return but Erdogan would have taken the higher moral ground. Always better to know what your enemy is up to and keep him close to you. If he is far away, you don’t know what he’s doing and you’ll be more vulnerable. As Lenin said and which I quoted: I’d rather have him inside my tent pissing outside rather than outside pissing inside.

All this takes wisdom and patience. Not anger.

As for the charges of treason, sedition and so on, the question to ask is, ‘Who defines what is treason?’ Going against the government of the day is not treason. If going against the government of the day is defined as treason, then every freedom movement begins with treason. History is full of examples of those who were branded ‘traitor’ and hanged but whose blood sustained the struggle and gave it more strength until it overthrew those who hanged their leaders. It is oppressive retaliation, unprovable accusations and harsh punishments which sow the seeds for the ultimate destruction of those who have power. It is very important for Erdogan not to fall into that trap.

Erdogan is indeed the best Muslim leader we have today. This coup is a defining moment for him. It is up to him how he wants to use it. As a means of inspiring future generations by writing his own name in history. Or by having his name written in history by others showing him as someone who lacked the patience and foresight to overcome his anger. Anger is fire. The result is always ash.

I want to end by a beautiful story of Imam Ash Shafi and his student.

It is said that Yunus Ibn ‘Abd al-A’ala (a student of al-Imam ash-Shafi’i) differed with his teacher, al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Idrees ash-Shafi’i, over an issue while he was delivering a lesson in the mosque. So he angrily got up and went home.

At night, Yunus heard a knock at his door and asked who it was. The one knocking answered, Muhammad Ibn Idrees.

Yunus thought of everyone who he knew by that name except the Imam. Upon opening the door, he was shocked to see him.

The Imam said:
“O Yunus, hundreds of issues unite us, and only one issue divides us? Don’t try to be triumphant in all differences; sometimes, winning hearts is more important than winning situations. Don’t demolish bridges you built and crossed, for you may need them again one day for your return. Always hate what is wrong, but do not hate the one who errs. Hate sin with all your heart, but forgive and have mercy on the sinner. Criticize speech, but respect the speaker. Our job is to wipe out the disease, not the patient.”
I wish we can learn from the great lives of our teachers.

Democracy in practice

In 2013, I was in Egypt and wrote this piece.

On June 8, 2014 Sisi staged a military coup and succeeded as the Egyptian people who stood for democracy didn’t support the president they had elected and have since been living in self-invited slavery.

Today as I write this (July 18, 2016) a coup happened in Turkey but the people defeated it. So democracy apparently has more meaning in Turkey than it had in Egypt. But now what? And what really is the position of democracy in the Muslim world?

A brief, even cursory look at the history of Muslim rule shows that after a brief period in the Khilafa Rashida where the first two Khulafa were ‘elected’ by a group of leaders, in the period of the third Khalifa fault lines appeared and it all fell apart leading to his assassination and the installing of the fourth by force. That was contested and resulted in a huge amount of entirely preventable bloodshed and the nature of Khilafa changed from elected leadership (not in our conventional sense but still elected) to hereditary kingship which became the norm and remained that way until 1923 when the institution of Khilafa itself was abolished; the instrument of it ironically being a Turk, Kemal Pasha a.k.a. Ataturk. We had good and bad kings, called ‘Khulafa’ in this entire period but not a single one was ever elected. They were all hereditary monarchs, until even the title of Khalifa was abolished and the Ottoman Khilafa was dismembered and the pieces distributed to loyal allies of the Western powers who destroyed the Khilafa and who were content to be called Malik (king) instead of Khalifa. The Ottoman kings also used the term ‘Sultan’ and not ‘Khalifa’ though the institution was still called the Khilafa.

Democracy is very difficult to sustain in a Muslim country. We Muslims have no experience of oppressive feudalism like Europe did. Europeans suffered it for centuries, then fought and defeated it and so value democracy. We didn’t suffer oppression on that scale, ever, so we don’t see the need for democracy. This was not the case of mediaeval Europe. People suffered for centuries, died in their millions and eventually democracy emerged. We are used to benevolent dictatorships and monarchies. Authoritarian rulers are the norm in our society. Public participation in the sense of one man one vote has never been the rule in Islamic society. Our way at best, is consultation with leaders, experts and the powerful who advise the ruler but the ruler decides. Is this democracy? Is this better than democracy? Many people will probably say, ‘Yes’, after Brexit which wouldn’t have happened if it had been decided by economic and political experts instead of by a vote taken from people who didn’t understand the first thing about its implications. So one man one vote is not always the best thing – which even I with an almost pathological hatred for totalitarian rule and authoritarian rulers – have to admit. What is the alternative?

We don’t understand people power. We have oppressive kings in the Middle East but they are oppressive only to their opponents. To the general people they are very good. If you are a Saudi in Saudi Arabia, the only place better is Jannah and you have to die to get there. So the vast majority of locals are very happy. Don’t be carried away by the reporting of protests in the media which is very selective with what they show and then they try to interpret it in the way they want you to perceive it. If you don’t believe me ask yourself how many headlines, TV programs or Opeds you have seen about Sisi’s oppression in Egypt. On the contrary he is America, Israel and Saudi Arabia’s best friend and recipient of billions of dollars of aid and military supplies. While the man he deposed, the democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, languishes in prison. So what’s the value of democracy?

Having said that today even the democracy we see in the world (West) is not really in a pure form as in the Greek city states from where it takes its name. It is mostly an oligarchy in one form or the other – most obviously in America but also in most of Europe. Take Rome, which also took its inspiration from Greece. Democracy lasted for a very short time. After the assassination of Julius Caesar (who incidentally was killed because he was seen as being in danger of declaring himself to be an emperor) his successor – Augustus Caesar, actually became an emperor and Rome remained an empire until its demise almost 1000 years later. Today, Western countries follow the example of Rome to the last dot.

Take the UK where feudal titles and privileges are still alive and well. I can list the kind of things that Kings and the Nobility of Europe were allowed to do as their legal right including all kinds of atrocious acts. Islam prevented this kind of despotic behavior from rulers, so Muslim masses never had to suffer this humiliation and pain. Islam didn’t permit kings to confiscate property or to inherit the property of their subjects if they didn’t leave a will. Prince Charles is Duke of Cornwall in the UK which calls itself a democracy. See the Rights of the Duke of Cornwall and ask yourself how democratic all this is:

The Duchy includes over 570 square kilometers of land, more than half of which lies in Devon. The Duke also has some rights over the territory of Cornwall, the county, and for this and other reasons there is debate as to the constitutional status of Cornwall. The High Sheriff of Cornwall is appointed by the Duke, not the monarch, in contrast to the other counties of England and Wales. The Duke has the right to the estates of all those who die without named heirs (bona vacantia) in the whole of Cornwall. In 2013, the Duchy had a revenue surplus of ₤19 million, a sum that was exempt from income tax, though the Prince of Wales chose to pay the tax voluntarily. Since the passing into law of the Sovereign Grant Act 2011, revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall pass to the heir to the throne, regardless of whether that heir is the Duke of Cornwall.  

Now how democratic is that? We are not talking about medieval times but about medieval laws in modern times about which Western media is silent and Western public, ignorant. Incidentally there is not a single Muslim king nor has there ever been – no matter how personally evil – who had or exercised such rights, because Islam has specific inheritance laws guaranteed by the Qur’an which no Muslim ruler can dare to question.

So also laws of governance, rights of subjects, freedom of the ruler and so on which no Muslim ruler could or can afford to ignore without risking both his temporal authority and fate in the Aakhira (Hereafter). So even though rulers may not necessarily have believed in the Aakhira so much, they didn’t dare cross the lines laid down by Islam for fear of general rebellion. The Muslim world didn’t see serfdom and feudalism like Europe because Islam saved them. So under Muslim rule there was never enough resentment built up to bring in democracy as an alternative. Muslims lived under kings who were both good and bad but who Islam held in check so that they never became as evil and oppressive as many medieval kings of Europe who incidentally sowed the seeds of their own demise by their oppression. People can accept the impious actions of kings (some actions are actually even expected and appreciated – people get a vicarious thrill from looking at the high living of their kings) as long as they are not personally hurt.

Our history is the history of conquest and its economics – though actual conquests stopped over 300 years ago but the hangover still remains. All you need to do is listen to various Islamic lectures and ask how many of them speak about conquests, wars, bravery, sacrifice and how many speak about social work, industry, creating products or services and you see where we draw our inspiration from. I have nothing against bravery. I believe physical courage and toughness is critical even in our present day sedentary lives and a very important element of effective leadership. But I also believe that we have to wake up and get out of our Empire mindset and realize that it was a glorious phase in our history but it is over. Today we have to draw inspiration from the use of knowledge, technology, systems and markets. We have to learn a whole new set of skills and contribute in a whole new bunch of ways to be viewed as productive and contributing members of society. Stories of previous martial glory are good only if they can be translated and connected to modern phenomena drawing application lessons for today. That is why I wrote my book, Leadership Lessons from the Life of Rasoolullah (free versions are available on Kindle, iBooks and Google Books). This means a whole new way of teaching and learning while keeping alive our link with our great history. It is not about denying our past but about relating to it in ways that help us to make our future even more glorious and praiseworthy. Our Muslim country economics has gone the same way – we have replaced state income from spoils of war to oil revenues. Local people never had to produce, pay taxes or show enterprise. They were on the dole and remain that way. Countries are bank accounts, not economies.

What we get confused also is with the time scale of history. The days of history are centuries and its years are millennia. We try to interpret history in our human life terms, where 24 hours is a long time. Add to this our frenetic lifestyles with focus on speed and our perception gets seriously flawed. 200 years ago (and if you take the First World War into consideration, the period reduces) there was blood in the streets in Europe. That is two days ago. Today there is blood in the streets in the so-called Muslim world (read Middle East). I see this as a natural and normal process of political development and maturity. The pain is serious. But so is all growing pain. It is a stage that has to be passed through, not bypassed.

Democracy like anything else can’t be enforced. Notwithstanding all of the above, the fact remains that democracy as we know it, is the best and most suitable form of government today. The rule of minorities, whether it is kings or oligarchs, has to and will end. As the saying goes, ‘There will only be five kings left in the world; four in the pack of cards and the King of England.’ All equally powerful.

This is where Turkey comes in and the reason why it is so important. Turkey is an experiment to see (and show) what Muslims will choose to do with their future; with the way they chose to govern themselves. The language is important and so I have not said, ‘How they choose to be ruled.’ That is the nature of most democracies today – we have substituted rulers. We have not become rulers. It is the purpose of democracy to give a voice to the individual about what his or her future should be like. It is in the mechanics and logistics of this that we seem to falter and which we have to overcome so that justice and compassion rule instead of self-interest and greed.

So what to do?

From the Muslim perspective I need to add two more elements to my argument:

  1. Effect of religion (Islam) on developing democracy
  2. Preparing consciously for democracy under Islam’s mantle

Effect of religion (Islam) on developing democracy

What Europe did when it adopted democracy instead of feudalism and monarchy was to jettison religion. The Christian Church had always supported kings and legalized all kinds of oppression, even atrocities because kings contributed to their coffers. Commoners also did but naturally the political power of kings was greater. The Roman Catholic Church learned what happens when you oppose kings too much. Anglican Christianity was born with the King of England as its head instead of the Pope. They never made that mistake again. This resulted in overall alienation of people from religion and the separation of the Church from temporal authority and government all over Europe. The Church tried to bend over backwards by permitting all kinds of innovations and even sins in order to get people back into the Church especially when people suddenly became a very important, if not the only, source of income after the demise of feudalism and monarchy. But they never really succeeded. Christianity in Europe declined and continues to do so although it has made big gains in the East and in Africa. But that is another story, not relevant to this discussion.

Islam on the other hand has always played a very active, participatory role in government and as mentioned earlier was a regulator on kings and commoners. The speech of Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) when he became the first Khalifa set the tone of the relationship of Islam to the State. He said, ‘As long as I obey the Book of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ, you must obey me. But if I go against the Book of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ you must not obey me.’ This was the foundational principle of the Muslim State. Even when rulers were clearly not obeying the Book of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ personally, they didn’t cross certain invisible lines for fear of losing their authority and life. So the State was always held in check. This also affected the economy and so there was never the kind of abject poverty and oppression that the serfs of Medieval Europe suffered. Compulsory charity (Zakat) is a part of the Islamic Creed. There is a huge focus on charity itself over and above this. All festivals are based on charity, Ramadan is a time for charity and there is a share for the poor person in almost every spending of the rich. Most importantly this money doesn’t go to the ‘Church’ as in the case of Christianity making priests rich, but it goes to the poor people of the land.

On the other hand, Islam is silent on people power or democracy. This is in keeping with the general principles of the Shari’ah where broad guidelines are given but you are left to use your intelligence and creativity to find solutions keeping within the boundaries of the Shari’ah. Allahﷻ doesn’t micromanage. For government the boundaries are to be just, compassionate, support the weak and powerless, enjoining good and forbidding evil. Islam advocates consultation as a general principle but doesn’t specifically say what form that should take or who should be consulted. Our history has a few examples of consultation with powerful people, but not a single one of a general consensus building like what is the norm today in all democracies. Like all human processes this is also not perfect and in some cases (as I mentioned earlier) it may even be the wrong thing to do, but it is now something that has come to be expected of functioning democracies – election, referendum, consultation are all powerful words.

Preparing for democracy

Having said all of the above the fact remains that democracy has come to stay. It is by far the better option of all the options of government that we have. It is not perfect and will have to be experimented with and changed until it becomes as close to perfect as anything that involves human choice can be. Democracy is not distinct from the idea of the ‘Nation State’ which itself needs to change as it is the cause of so much negativity all over the world. Democracy started with the Nation State and its citizens but must mature to become relevant to the idea of Global Citizen. Only then will we abolish boundaries and wars. Muslim countries are not unique and don’t stand apart from the rest of the world in this respect. We are all in the same boat. However Muslim states are behind by at least 200 years in terms of their evolution of government. We are still stuck with monarchies and dictatorships with dictators calling themselves ‘elected’ after orchestrating elections to their tune. The citizens of Muslim countries must reject all forms of totalitarian rule and use the power of the collective to take control of their countries and destinies. We saw the power of the people in the failed coup in Turkey where the people clearly demonstrated a very mature understanding of real democracy and their willingness to pay for it with their lives. The world in general and the Muslim world in particular owes a debt of gratitude to the people of Turkey for teaching us a lesson in taking charge of our lives and destiny. As I have said before, ‘We will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ We will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ The people of Turkey showed us how to answer that question.

Muslim countries need to prepare to become democratic. And that is NOT by running revolutions. For a revolution to succeed a huge amount of ground work needs to be done. Failure to do that will result in lives being lost in vain. We saw the most recent example of that in Egypt where in the so-called Arab Spring, Hosni Mubarak, one of the most oppressive of dictators was deposed, not by foreign aid but by the people of Egypt. However very soon it became clear that those who were successful in throwing him out, had no idea what to do with their new-found authority and freedom. So very quickly they lost both to another dictator, Sisi. Sadly, this is not the first time that this happened in the Muslim world. But we seem to be very slow learners. We are good at getting all charged up with emotion and fighting for a just cause. But we do almost nothing to set up systems and processes to fill the power vacuum that results from the removal of any system. Vacuums get filled, not necessarily with good things. As we have discovered repeatedly. Yet we don’t learn.

So what must we do?

The best example of what we must do already exists before our eyes and has done for decades – the Shadow Cabinet in the British Parliament. The Shadow Cabinet is the Cabinet of the Opposition Party, which is not in power and exists on the principle of asking one powerful question; ‘If the ruling party falls out of power tomorrow, how will we run the government?’ This question is based on the assumption that a time will come when we, the Opposition Party, will have the reins of power in our hands. So we must prepare for that day. And they do. The Shadow Cabinet has all the same roles as the ruling party, dealing with Finance & Fiscal Policy, Foreign Policy, Defense, Commerce etc. who create policies to deal with these subjects based on the ideology of the Opposition Party. That way when power devolves to them, they are ready.

My question to those who talk about the need for democracy in Muslim countries is, ‘Where is your Shadow Cabinet?’

Please remember that though I gave the example of the British Parliament, for a Shadow Cabinet to exist it doesn’t need to be in Parliament. We can and should set up think tanks which can play this role and create policies in the light of Islam.

In order to succeed we need four other things:

  1. Scenario Planning & Critical Thinking
  • Conceptualize What-If scenarios and prepare multiple plans to deal with them.
  1. Healthy debate
  • Use debate as a tool to fine tune the scenarios by finding faults and correcting them
  1. Openness to learning and change
  • Open minds and egos that are not fragile. Focusing on solutions, not on one-upmanship. Willing to look at new ideas and approaches that may be very different from what we have become used to.
  1. Willingness to collaborate with diverse people
  • Willingness to work with people who are not like us, don’t think like us, don’t believe what we believe, but have the knowledge and skills that we need.

The West is brilliant at all of the above and so they are successful in evolving a form of government that guarantees them peaceful transitions of power. If we want our blood off our streets, we need to live and work together as human beings; appreciating knowledge, collaborating across psychological boundaries and seeing the good in each other. Democracy in Muslim countries is not easy but it wasn’t easy for others either. Democracy is possible if we are ready to do what it takes to make it happen.

If I were President Erdogan

The Situation: They tried to kill me and topple my government. They failed. Allah helped me and I was able to provide the leadership for my people to come out into the streets. Allah caused even those who opposed me to support me. Truly I witnessed the help of Allah all through the night so that by the morning the coup failed and my government and I were both safe. My heart was touched to see how my people came out; the old, the young, men and women. They came out and risked their lives so that I and my government may be saved. Some even lost their lives in the process. I can’t possibly thank them. I ask Allah to count them among the Shuhada and to be pleased with them and to reward them with the best of the best.
The Challenge: Coup leaders have been arrested. Suspected and known sympathizers have been arrested. Those who fired shots which killed innocent citizens have been arrested. Fethullah Gulen who we suspect, masterminded the coup is safe in the US. The world leadership is disappointed that the coup failed. So their media is looking for any means to malign me and find fault with me and my work style so that they can undermine me and project me as an authoritarian dictator instead of the elected leader of my people. My challenge is to defeat them. To achieve a moral and PR victory after achieving a physical victory. In the world of today, the moral and PR victory is perhaps even more important now that the physical victory has been achieved. So what are my options?
Option 1: Purge. The word stinks for that is what a purge is. It results in a very big mess. Danger: For every single enemy I kill, no matter how justified that may be, I will create ten more who will be hidden, praying for my destruction and lying in wait for an opportunity to do me and my government harm in one way or another.
Option 2: Forgive. Danger: I will appear to be weak and unable to take ruthless action. Families of people who died in the coup will feel that they were betrayed and their dear ones not avenged. I can’t afford that as these are the people who supported me without question and paid for that with their lives. Also a coup is treason. It is rebellion against the legitimate government of the nation and the punishment for that is clear in every nation, every time. So I have to take action and take it fast and with justice foremost.
Option 3: Punish & Forgive. Punish the actual people who pulled the trigger and killed civilians. Proceed against them in the courts and let justice take its course. If that means a court martial for the soldiers followed by a firing squad, then so be it. Be transparent and just. Make sure the world sees what is happening.
Those who didn’t actually pull the trigger but still participated in the coup; once again let the courts decide. But no death penalty. Prison sentence plus stripping of all ranks and rewards.
Suspected sympathizers: Investigate them. If there is evidence that they plotted against the nation, then take action. If there is no evidence, then let them go. Suspicion is not evidence.
What not to do: Don’t be vengeful. Eliminate enemies by eliminating enmity as Rasoolullah did after the conquest of Makkah. Take the high moral ground and rise above the desire to get even. Remember that the long term consequences of revenge can be disastrous. I don’t need that. I need peace of mind to work to develop my nation. Not keep watching my back all the time. Don’t create martyrs. Nobody can fight a martyr because he is already dead. The power of a martyr to inspire is unlimited. So don’t give the enemies that power. Forgiveness takes the wind out of the sails of the enemy. He has nothing to gain support for. He becomes helpless.
The best example is the example of Rasoolullah. Here is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate it. Who better to do it than we, the Turks, who were the last standard bearers of the Khilafa. May Allah use us to demonstrate the goodness of Islam.
Coup de grâce: Fethullah Gulen. He is a suspect. Suspicion in not evidence. So offer him total amnesty and invite him to come and live in Turkey. Appoint him as my adviser. Acknowledge his contribution to the nation and ask him to advise us as a senior.

Am I insane? I am very sane. It is better to have a suspected enemy inside my tent pissing outside rather than outside, pissing in. Having him close to me means that I will always know what he is up to. That is a benefit in itself. Finally, it is highly unlikely that he will accept this offer. So be it. The fact that the offer was made will win the PR battle and put him on the back foot. That is also a victory. Sane or insane?

Turkey – History in the making

Please read this whole article. David Herst is a man of courage. Here are some extracts:
To defeat the coup, the Turkish president used his iPhone. Mosques used their loudspeakers, broadcasting the call to prayer hours before dawn. Political leaders of all creeds, some staunch opponents of the president, called unambiguously for the coup to be defeated. Policemen arrested soldiers.
Unarmed people recaptured CNN Turk and the bridges across the Bosphorus, braving gunfire to recapture democracy for their country.
This was unambiguously a military coup. And yet the US Embassy in Ankara in its emergency message to US citizens called it an “uprising”.
Geopolitical Futures released an analysis saying the coup was successful. BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabic, El Arabiya TV, the ITN diplomatic editor, the US networks were all running commentaries saying Erdogan was finished, or had fled to Germany.
The Guardian ran a piece whose first headline (it was later amended) said everything about an author unable to contain his glee at the demise of a man he qualified as authoritarian islamist: “How Recep Tayyip Erdogan inflamed tensions in Turkey”.
As the people of Turkey battled for their future, there was a crashing silence from Western leaders whose brand image is democracy. The French consulate had closed two days earlier. Did it know something Turkey did not?
In his initial statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry used every word except the dreaded “d” one. He hoped for “stability and peace and continuity” within Turkey.
Nothing about supporting a legitimately elected president and a legitimately elected parliament. Only when it was already obvious that the coup was failing did President Barack Obama and Kerry issue a statement unambiguously backing Erdogan.
If you want to know why Europe and the US are a busted flush in the Middle East, why they have lost all moral authority, indeed any authority at all, and why they are no longer the candle bearers of democratic change, look no further than the three hours of silence as they waited to see which way the wind was blowing in Istanbul and Ankara.
The Saudis waited 15 hours before issuing a statement supporting Erdogan. The Emiratis and the media they controlled spread the message that Erdogan had fled the country.
The exact opposite was the truth. Erdogan showed bravery getting into a plane and heading for Istanbul knowing F16s were in the air and that the runway at Ataturk airport could have been closed.
Only three countries in the world clearly supported Erdogan from the start – Morocco, Qatar, and Sudan.
What was particularly impressive were the statements of Turkish politicians who had every reason to want Erdogan to go, and who had themselves been displaced by him. To his credit, the leader of Turkey’s largest party, Kemal Kalicdaroglu of the centre-left People’s Republican Party (CHP), came out immediately against the coup in a series of tweets, saying the country has “suffered a lot” in past military takeovers.
Two AK Party leaders from the liberal wing, who had been displaced or recently sacked by Erdogan supported him. Former president Abdullah Gul told CNN Turk that “Turkey is not a Latin America country … I’m calling those who attempt to overthrow the government [they] should go back to their barracks.”
What you should know about Turkey’s President, Recap Tayyip Erdogan:
1. The Turkish economy between 2002 and 2012 caused a growth of 64% in real GDP and a 43% increase in GDP per capita.
2. Erdoğan inherited a debt of $23.5 billion to the IMF, which was reduced to $0.9 billion in 2012. He decided not to sign a new deal. Turkey’s debt to the IMF was thus declared to be completely paid and he announced that the IMF could borrow from Turkey.
3. In 2010, five-year credit default swaps for Turkey’s sovereign debt were trading at a record low of 1.17%, below those of nine EU member countries and Russia.
4. In 2002, the Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves. This amount reached $92.2 billion in 2011. During Erdoğan’s leadership. Inflation fell from 32% to 9.0% in 2004.
5. Under Erdoğan’s government, the number of airports in Turkey increased from 26 to 50.
6. Between 2002 and 2011, another 13500 km of expressway were built.
7. For the first time in Turkish history, high speed railway lines were constructed, and the country’s high-speed train service began in 2009. In 8 years, 1076 km of railway were built and 5449 km of railway renewed.
8. Erdogan put greater investments into the healthcare system than any predecessor. As part of the reforms, the “Green Card” program, which provides free health benefits to the poor.
9. Erdoğan increased Education spending from 7.5 billion lira in 2002 to 34 billion lira in 2011, the highest share of the national budget given to one ministry and number of universities in Turkey nearly doubled, from 98 in 2002 to 186 in October 2012.
10. In 1996 1$=222 Lira and in 2016  1$=2.94 Lira, even after the recent turmoil.
Today it seems that the Turks are the only people who have the potential to lead the Ummah. The Arabs have disintegrated. The Indian subcontinentals were never leaders of the Ummah in any case. Just local despots who had no global impact.
The encouraging thing in this whole drama was that even the opposition, including Kurdish leaders, came out in support of Erdogan. The Western media campaign is seeking to malign him once again by talking about his so-called autocratic nature because he stands up to them. Predictably they have no comments about the criminal Sisi and all the various Oil Tankers who are among the worst totalitarian psychopaths in the world. But since they are all subservient to them, they are silent about them and shamelessly give them military aid so that they can kill their people better and more efficiently. They are silent about the fact that these people routinely practice torture on prisoners and also outsource their own torture customers to them so that they can tell the world that torture on their soil is illegal and they are pure as driven snow. All the while their lackeys – all Muslims mind you – torture their prisoners – also all Muslim – on their behalf. WE STINK AND OUR LEADERS STINK HIGHEST.
Erdogan must be hated and maligned because he is the only one who threw off the IMF yoke. And forced Israel to allow aid into Gaza. The Ottomans first beat the hell out of Europe and then ruled it for 400 years and left an indelible mark. That is what the white man can’t stomach. So they hate him. They want lackeys who make Sujood to them instead of to Allah.
When people come out in response to the Adhaan and when they pray Fajr despite the chaos of a military uprising – they prayed Fajr on their flag as the musalla – then the help of Allah is إن شاء اللهُ    assured. We all saw the results.

Keep making dua. There is no power except the power of Allah and no help except the help of Allah. And as long as we are faithful to Him He will not deny us.