Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
First of all, my apologies for returning to you a little late with this column. I had been travelling much of the time. This column, for a change, talks less about our religious, social and cultural like as Muslims. It talks largely about the world, and also about our role in it, which is crucial, of course.
As the world was witnessing the fast spread of leftist ideas a century ago, it is moving in the opposite direction now with the same vigour. The rush towards the left had quickened after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 in Russia; we see the rise of rabidly rightist and paranoid leaders like Donald Trump in the United States and Marie Le Penn in France nearly a hundred years after that.
Today the dominant economic and political discourse in the West is not about welfare, inclusive growth, social justice, equality and public good. Today it is more about protectionism, anti-immigrant complaint, military dominance, anti-Indian grudge on outsourcing of jobs, the fear of the rise of China, Islamophobia. Across Europe leaders like Trump are rising.
Today, the world is moving towards the right for virtually the same reason as it did towards the left in the 20th century. People then were moving towards the left because they were fed up with the exploitative capitalist order, the remnants of feudal past in parts of the world as well as to create a better world which was more just, equitable and fair, and less exploitative.
The former US national security advisor and architect of Russian defeat in Afghanistan Zbegniv Brzenzsky has rightly been regarded as one of the staunchest anti-communist leaders. But, even he admitted in his classic work on the collapse of the Marxist world order, The Grand Failure, that till the 70s of the 20th century the best and brightest young men and women (and the most noble and sympathetic souls among them) joined the left movement at an early stage in their life.
That Brzenzsky was right could be known from a list of some of the best poets, writers, artists, philosophers and activists who came from the left. Even in India, most of the best Urdu writers and poets were left-leaning. The great literary movement in Urdu, Progressive Writers Movement, was left-inspired, as was the highly influential theatre movement IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). All of them were inspired by the ideals of a just and fair world.
Today’s stampede towards the right is also driven by similar aspirations for a change to a better order. America is lurching towards extreme right of Trump because it is fed up with the growing injustice of the system. Their Occupy Wall Street movement was a simple reaction to one percent super-rich enjoying a life of ostentation and opulence at the cost of the preponderant majority’s stagnant wages and shrinking real income like the sight of the opulence of a Vijay Mallya or Subrato Roy infuriates people working hard to make a living. Roy is in jail because he owes the pulic hundreds of crores of rupees, which he does not want to pay. Mallya, who owes much more to the people of India, is beyond the law’s reach.
All this infuriates people, who want change–change for the better, if possible. If it can’t be done, even change for the worse will do, as was the case in Modi government replacing Congress, which had done more for the people’s uplift and inclusive growth and progress towards a just social order in its ten years than all previous governments since 1947 put together. People were seeing Congress in power for ten long years. They wanted change. They were also promised affordable prices of essentials, Rs. 15 lakh in every Indian’s bank account, achche din, heaven on earth. Nothing came true because everything, every promise was a blatant lie, intended to cheat people.
People wanted a change, and they got it, even if they were cheated. People know that making false promises is unethical and a liar is a despicable person and he should never be believed, but they believed the most fantastic, incredible promises. They would have believed even more fantastic claims, not because they were credible, but because they wanted change. As a result, today we are being ruled by a rightist order which has facilitated some of the worst atrocities and witchhunts.
The shift towards the right is an interesting phenomenon. Today the false hope of Arab Spring has turned to dust and reactionary regimes are ruling everywhere. All this happened because immature leaders made promises that they could never fulfill. They were often so immature and foolish (like Mohammad Morsi of Egypt) that they tried to change the system in a haste, employing methods that were arbitrary, undemocratic and outlandish, even though the Turkish leadership had cautioned against it. That is why influential people, from the Salafi leadership to the Sheikh of al-Azhar, the head of the Coptic church and former International Atomic Energy Commission chief declared support to the military regime of General al-Sissi. Poor Egyptians’ hopes were dashed, first by Morsi and then by the military.
It is important to remember here that after three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship people would have supported any alternative with a large backing, but Morsi got only 51 percent of the vote. That means had he got only one percent less, he would be equal to the opposition. Sadly, he overestimated his victory and landed himself in trouble. The entire Middle East is today a sorry spectacle of miscalculations and misadventures of incompetent politicians, ripe for violent uprisings and political turmoil.
The spill over of the foolish civil war in Syria-Iraq has flushed Europe with hapless refugees from this region. This extra economic burden on some countries has raised fears that these people would bankrupt them. Terrorist attacks traced to individuals from the refugee lot has antagonised people. This has led to further strengthening of the European right, which promises to flush these people out. Behind the rise of the right are a lot of factors, one of them being the foolishness of Muslims who have turned their own lands unliveable and are seeking refuge abroad, which frightens the host populations and turns them against their liberal governments towards the right which promises to drive the “aliens” out. One way of turning the tide would be making Muslim lands peaceful and liveable so that nobody has to run away to Europe to save his life and that of this near and dear ones.
Another reason for this turmoil has been ascribed by Fareed Zakaria to the prosperity that most countries have experienced over the last ten years or so. That has raised the expectations of the common people (especially, the young middle class). It is a hot mix of too many factors which we have to try to understand. We can’t turn our own lands into burning hells and run to others’ countries for safety before turning them also into hells and leave no place for anybody to run, including ourselves. Before blaming the ill-mannered motormouth Trump, the undesirable Le Penn and other leaders like them, we have to look within and set our own house in order.