What Went Wrong? Funny You Should Ask

  notes

Imam Zaid Shakir


Posted Posted on 2011-03-07

53 Comments

The refrain from an old popular song goes as follows, “What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…” According to Nicholas Kristof, in his recent New York Times editorial, Is Islam The Problem?, the Muslim world doesn’t need more love. It needs more banks, corporations and massive concentrations of wealth.

Referencing Dr. Timur Kumar’s study of Muslim economic stagnation, Kristof concludes that it is not Islam as such that is responsible for the economic stagnation of the Muslim world, rather certain stultifying Muslim business laws that have stifled the creation of the gargantuan financial institutions that are responsible for the economic prowess of the West.

It is interesting that Kristof would deliver this particular broadside at Islam at time when the Western nations are reeling from the debilitating influences of an ill-conceived financial system that is spiraling wildly out of control. Banks and the related financial “services” industry have orchestrated the greatest upward shift of wealth in human history. Ordinary citizens have had their pension accounts raided, their savings looted (remember the S&L scandal of the 1980s), and the equity sucked out of their homes by a set of business practices that would have led to the mass incarceration of the perpetrators in a just society.

Entire countries like Iceland have been rendered financially insolvent, while thieves in suits and ties walk out of national treasuries with billions of dollars in tax-payers money. Perhaps Kristof has not taken time to watch the Oscar-winning documentary, Inside Job, a brilliant expose on the current fiscal crisis. If he had, I think he might realize that this is not the ideal historical moment to be pontificating about the virtue of the banking industry, monopolies and corporations.

Speaking of corporations, Kristof argues that in the Muslim world they did not assume the colossal size they have reached in the West owing to the nature of the laws governing business partnerships in Islam. What he fails to mention is that that the huge dimensions of western corporations have allowed them to orchestrate a de facto take over of our political system, to plunder the world’s resources and despoil the natural environment.

In terms of environmental degradation, consider another documentary, Gasland, which was nominated for an Oscar. It shows just how nefarious the resource extraction corporations can be. Led by that exemplar of the virtue of western corporate ethics, Haliburton, those industries are in the process of destroying aquifers all over this country through the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This film documents the influence of corporations, not only on our environment, but also on the political system as their lobbyists buy off politicians and manipulate the media to serve their sole interest -profits. Is this what the Muslim world needs more of if it is to prosper and create the just and equitable socieites protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere are dreaming of? I would think not.

Kristof concludes with his hope that the current uprisings in the Middle East can address the issue of “what went wrong” in the Muslim world by creating the conditions for a new beginning. In light of the destructive impact of the banking industry, corporations and the huge concentration of wealth in the hands of an ever-shrinking few here in the West, the question of “what went wrong” is indeed appropriate. However, it is being hurled in the wrong direction.

We need to be asking what went wrong in the West, generally, and here in America, specifically. How is it that billionaires are not proportionately taxed and poor people end up having services they have paid for such as social security threatened, while those same billionaires are paid interest on the money they have “loaned” the government with tax dollars taken from the poor? How is it that private, corporate military contractors with a vested economic interest in the perpetuation of war are being paid billions of dollars to do things the military used to do for free, or at a fraction of the cost? How is it that a nation with 5% of the world’s population has half all its incarcerated individuals and corporate prisons are paying millions of dollars to judges to sentence teenagers to jail?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what has gone wrong in this country, and role of the banks and corporations in those developments. Yet the best Kristof can do is to point a patronizing finger at the Muslims and tell them their countries need more of what is destroying ours. As the Qur’an rhetorically asks, “What is wrong with you? How is it that you judge?”

Kristof is right about one thing in his article. Namely, that a new day is indeed dawning in the Muslim world and that new day gives the Muslims a chance to do things differently. However, that new day also gives America a chance to do things differently in the Muslim world. She can open a new era in her relations with the Muslim world, an era based on mutual cooperation, mutual respect and a collective effort to work towards the betterment of world for all of its inhabitants. She can also choose to continue to walk clumsily and to carry a big stick. Kristof seems to prefer the latter choice as the big stick approach has always been one that has sought to bludgeon the natives into submission in order to clear the way for the banks, corporations and filthy concentrations of wealth that Kristof seems so enthralled by. Kristof’s time in Cairo should alert him to a very sobering reality. The big stick approach does not command the fear it once did.

To return to the song, “What the world needs now is love sweet love, no not just for some but for everyone…”


Comments
By Na'eemah Martinez on March 7, 2011 at 7:49am

As-salaam alaikum Imam Zaid, brilliant article masha-Allah! However it's sad that at this moment of such incredible change going on in the Arab world the American government decides upon this 'Salem witch trials' of Peter King! It does not bode well, and is very telling of what this government really thinks of the 'Arab awakening'!

By Molly Darden on March 7, 2011 at 8:28am

Kristof doesn't condemn Islam; he discusses possible reasons for the perceived backwardness of some predominately Islamic countries. He asks, 'Is Islam the problem?' thereby opening the topic for discussion. An old tactic for not answering the problem as presented, is to turn it back on the questioner. This issue is not about America, but about Islamically dominated countries. America is only a few hundred years old; the problems Kristof discusses began thousands of years ago. If your solution to political, cultural and economic problems in those countries is 'more love', I can only shake my head in amazement because I know you to be a well-educated, thoughtful individual. We would all be better served if you would address the questions posed, and provide some version of suggested solutions.

By umm zakaria on March 7, 2011 at 11:50am

bismillah, alhumdulillah.salaat and salaams to our beloved sayidna nabi mohammad saws. May Allah swt protect imam zaid shakir, for speaking the truth, ma shah ALLAH

By abdul kareem stone on March 8, 2011 at 5:53am

salaam with respect i think that if you are going to introduce to the work of Dr Tamir Kuran to the readers you do need to come up with a better defence for traditional Islam. The fact that the banks are going through a bad time doesn't prove that they havent "orchestrated the greater upward shift in in wealth in the history of the world". Capitalism based on large instituions is doing very well in the BRIC countries and many people are glad to leave subsistence lifestlye and enjoy the ease that tecnologies such as refigeration brings to them, If we approve of the social upheaval that is going on in the middle east we cant leave large corperations out of the picture. One of the key hero was an employee of google. The mobile phone, the computer all were developed through bank financing. It was "greedy" industrailist that built the factories which employed blacks in the nineteenth century. Can we leave factories out of the equation when we talk about the civil war and subsequent emancipation of the slaves. Can the automobile and bus be erased from picture of the civil rights movement in the 60,s? these are not easy questions and they are questions ive been grappling with for a long time. I was brought up in the 70,s in the house of left wing pollitcal activists against nuclear power and male dominated corperations and then became engrossed in the green movement. I then found Islam traveled a lot and saw that basically people want a western stlye of life based upon tecnological advancements. Any way to put it simply in my case the jury is still out and i dont expect to see them for some time.

By abdul kareem stone on March 10, 2011 at 3:51pm

the more i think about your post the more i agree. the book by Timor Kuran could just as well be called "why the nuclear bomb wasn't made in islamic society" Islam empowers women who humanise society. The type of patriarchal society devoleped in european societies because of unjust inheritence laws and usary created tryrant divorced from humanity ready to carry out injustices such as the African slave trade. Science became an dehumanising force supporting male patriarchy. yes what the world need is more love and that can come by empowering good women in the way islam always has

By Tall Mohammad on March 13, 2011 at 11:31am

As-Salaam Alaykum Imam Zaid, I would highly recommend that you withdraw this posting. If I was grading this as a student's paper, it would receive a "D" at best It appears that instead of actually reading the article "Is Islam The Problem?" by Nicholas Kristof you instead just read the title and wrote an emotional response to the title. Nichols Kritoff repeatedly defends Islam in the article but tries to offer an answer to the very question that perplexes so many , both inside and outside of Islam. Why did the Muslim world fall to such depths after being so more advanced and developed than the western world was 500 to 1000 years ago. You never once even addressed this central question in your article. Your article is more in line with what one would have expected to hear on Radio Moscow as a socialist or communist diatribe attacking the USA and capitalism; this is not what I expect from you or from any student of Sheikh Al-Shaghouri. You can do better.

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