Turmoil in the Muslim world

Published: January 19, 2015
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

In my writing on the economic development of the Muslim world, I have found it useful to divide this stretch of land into two parts. The western part starts from Morocco and ends with Bangladesh. It includes all of the Arab world, the northern coast of Africa, Turkey, Central Asia and South Asia. The eastern parts include the narrow strip of land in Myanmar, Malaysia, the Muslim parts of Thailand and the Philippine and Indonesia. The last country is the world’s largest Muslim nation accounting for a bit more than an eighth of the globe’s 1.6 billion Muslim people.

To these three parts, we should add a fourth. This is made up of the dozens of Muslim communities scattered about in western Europe, North America, South East Asia and Australia. The last geographic segment of the Muslim world has undertaken directed violence that has shaken the world. The assault by a lone gunman on the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, hostage-taking in Sydney, Australia, again by a lone gunman and now, the well-planned and executed attack on a French magazine that had directed its satire mostly at Islam. These and several other incidents indicate that some 15 million or so Muslims reside in the countries where they have not been fully assimilated in the local cultures. They have expressed their resentment by turning against the states and the people who have given them shelter. It is said that Islam encourages forgiveness against the perceived harm done and expression of gratitude to those who provide comfort and solace. Those who have acted against the West — the state and the people — cannot be said to be behaving as good Muslims.

There are several things that are common to the western segment of the Muslim world. They have very young populations, with median ages ranging between 21 and 23 years;  they are politically underdeveloped; they have developed their economies in the way that have resulted in extreme inequalities; they have neglected their women, relegating them to the back of societies and economies; and they have uneasy relations with the West, in particular with the United States. Many of these have deeply embedded tribal cultures that are hard to change. Scores of anthropologists and sociologists have pointed out that even the tribal systems of the West — such as the Italians from the Island of Sicily — carry their cultural norms, even when they assimilate in more developed societies. This is the case with Italian-Americans.

Enormous amount of chaos surrounds the western part of the Muslim world. Its beginning was the result of several earth-shaking events. These included the withdrawal of European colonial powers from Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia. The new ‘Great Game’ that the West played in many parts of the Muslim world has also affected these countries.

The strong economic links that developed between the Muslim elite and the West also contributed to the turbulence in the area as did the rapid rise of the middle class in both number and awareness. The re-balancing in the global economic system as a consequence of a number of profound structural changes are some of the developments that have thrown these Muslim communities off-balance.

This loss of economic equilibrium has resulted in the use of violence as an expression of resentment. It is easy and analytically comforting to quickly jump to the conclusion that events such as the killing of almost 150 young students in an army school in Peshawar or the murder of cartoonists and journalists in the heart of Paris were somehow related to religious beliefs. If this explanation takes hold, it will result in the adoption of strategies that will not produce the needed results. The need of the moment is to find ways to factor in the determinants of the rise of extremism I have identified above: to deal with the aspirations of the youth, to address income and wealth inequalities, to improve the economic and social status of women, to move forward the political developments of these societies and to work out better accommodation with the West. I believe that Pakistan could serve as a laboratory in which this broad economic, social and political reformation could be tried with productive results.

Pakistan has begun to counter the rise of extremism and associated terrorism by using force against those who are defying the state. The launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb was the first large-scale and systematic response by the Pakistani state to the unrelenting increase in extremism and terrorism in the country. The Peshawar tragedy of December 16 prompted further action. These took the form of the National Action Plan; the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution; the establishment of military courts for the speedy trial of those convicted of committing terrorist acts; and the cancellation of the moratorium against the carrying out of death sentences.

Some of these actions have prompted some expression of unhappiness from both the left and right of the political spectrum. There may be some substance in these criticisms but the fact remains that in all civilised societies, the use of force remains the exclusive domain of the state. Whether the amount of punishment meted out is in accordance to the scale of the committed crime has been asked again and again. But it should be understood that it is only state that should have the authority to punish.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Sexton Blake
    Jan 19, 2015 - 3:30AM

    The above article is a pleasant, simplistic text book explanation of the separation of power and who should use it. I am reasonably sure the writer would get an A+ if he wrote it for his final year at high school. However, the realities of life are somewhat different, and are certainly more complex. Pakistan has many inherent problems which require solving, not least of which was an illegal invasion of Afghanistan some 13 years ago, which was fully supported by Pakistan. As a result of this one factor alone Pakistan has suffered 13 years of mayhem. There are several others, but I would suggest that the problems facing the Muslim world are almost insurmountable. Due to reasons I will not go into, but which are not the fault of Islam or Pakistan tribal groups, the problems stretching from Africa to the sub-continent will not be solved in ten years. Perhaps the Pakistan military can reduce internal militant groups by several thousand more than the 30,000 so far, but this is penny-ante stuff even though the carnage is appalling. One has to look at the real causes, and I do not see too many governments doing so. There is nobody as blind as those who do not wish to see.


  • Tousif Latif
    Jan 19, 2015 - 4:30AM

    After the fall of communism that forces of left have weaken all over the globe.The Western capitalism has pretty agressively adopted the fascist role.The spectre of communism is no more there to suppress the oppressive tone of the capitalists.Inequality is on the rise within the countries and among the countries as well .Thus faultlines are generating tremors.There is no ideological movement in the world having the potential to put up a fight against the emerging turmoil.From Nehru’s India to Rourseau’ France ,the exponents of the different shades of the extreme right accumulating vigour and vitality.Expecting any role from Pakistan to change the tides is nothing but wishful thinking.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Jan 19, 2015 - 11:58AM

    @Sexton Blake:
    Pakistan has many inherent problems which require solving, not least of which was an illegal invasion of Afghanistan some 13 years ago, which was fully supported by Pakistan.

    Do you mean the illegal invasion of Afghanistan by Pakistan using the Taliban as proxies?


  • fareed
    Jan 19, 2015 - 2:22PM

    Pakistan and the Muslim world needs Caliphate which will be a modern , enlightened state which will alleviate the Muslims masses economically, militarily and Politically. Less than the Caliphate, no other solution is viable and sustainable.

    P.S. ISIS has no Caliphate


  • C M Naim
    Jan 19, 2015 - 8:52PM

    The first paragraph mentions two parts; the second paragraph begins by referring to three parts and then goes on to talk about a fourth. Just how many parts are there?


  • Yo2Da2
    Jan 19, 2015 - 10:26PM

    @Tousif Latif: Countervailing forces are always important, whether in government or international level. However, the notion that Communism was a great force for equality, liberty and justice has been rubbished already. All those “Edenic” communist nations were and are basically autocratic nations that deadened people’s hopes and their very souls. They were not even able to provide a predictable supply of daily needs for its citizens (e.g. USSR and China). It is true, Capitalism without conscience and oversight is a rapacious beast. Look at China, which gave up the ghost of communist enterprise to enthusiastically adopt Western capitalism but without its democratic framework. It has lifted millions out of poverty and given hopes to many. But it has also become the largest polluter and exploiter of the planet on a scale not seen ever history, its voracious appetite threatening the survival of many large and small species. Yes, unchained capitalism athwart the globe has created lots of inequality (in today’s news, it is predicted that 1% of the richest people will control 50% of the wealth). But where did the wealth come from? It is the capitalist system’s superior strength that surpasses any other system’s ability and capacity. Were people living in an economic utopia over the world during the Cold War? Right-wing fascism’s rise cannot be blamed simply on Western Capitalism. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were the face of true fascism. The increase in the power of the corporations can be checked and will be checked. Democracies are better at handling it (though it is not apparent today) than autocratic governments that are not accountable to anyone. Business exists because of consumer demand. If consumers are all impoverished, where is the demand going to come from?


  • Yo2Da2
    Jan 20, 2015 - 3:27AM

    y@Yo2Da2: One more point. Capitalism and liberal democracy go together as unfettered freedoms and rule of law are essential for both. Without freedom of thought and speech, where will the new ideas, products and processes that replace older more inefficient/ineffective ones (per Schumpeter) come from? Why has the US and the West surpassed all old and tired Civilizations in science, technology and inventions? When BRICS countries start inventing “new to the world” new things and ideas (and not just tweaking old ones that Japan and South Korea and others have done), wake me up. The freedom for children to start thinking and dreaming and asking curious questions is where the future begins. Learning by rote and indoctrination do not (though with hard work and a modicum of intelligence, they do produce great results in test scores from South Korea, China, Japan to Scandinavia in math and science).


  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 20, 2015 - 4:40AM

    @Sexton Blake:
    Hmmm, All should note that @Sexton Blake somehow (conveniently) neglects to tell us all about those “real causes” of Pakistani suffering, again “due to reasons that I (@Sexton Blake) will not go in to”????!!!!


  • Sexton Blake
    Jan 20, 2015 - 7:19AM

    In regard to Communism and Capitalism you did get some points correct and some incorrect. At the current time 1% of the world population own a point or so less than 50% of the wealth, and the top 20% own 94.9% of the wealth. In other words 80% of the world’s population has to get by on 5.1% of the wealth. This is not surprising because most of the wealth is created by fascist governments who pretend to be democratic, but who in reality are out of control. It is also of no surprise because Karl Marx predicted this in his book Das Kapital. I recall when I attended university that my professor said that Karl was irrelevant in the modern world, because there were so many checks and balances. Unlike my professor I am not on a Matrix blue pill, and a system which allows 5.1 % of the wealth to be shared by 80% does not appear equitable or under the control of checks and balances. In regard to Germany the economy was doing so well that in 1914 the British declared war on Germany, and if anybody believes it was due to an Archduke assassination they are on a double dose of blue pills. As a result of the war Germany’s economy finished up in shambles, but then Hitler came along and Germany’s economy did so well that it became the envy of the world. Thus Britain did what it does best and declared war on Germany again. If anybody believes Britain declared war on Germany due to a Polish treaty they are on a triple dose of blue pills. Moving on, the Western world in the last few years has for reasons which escape me created turmoil from Africa to the sub-continent, created hundreds of billions worth of damage and millions of people are no longer with us as a result. In regard to where the economic demand will come from is the question of the decade. It may have come to your notice that the EU is in a lot of trouble, as is the US with 100,0000,000 people doing it tough. In regard to the sub-continent the Governments are no different from the West, and my sympathies go out to the 80% doing it even tougher than the West. I have mentioned just a few of the problems raised by our unfettered governments and their background minders and money junkies, but like you I have to stop somewhere.


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 20, 2015 - 8:48AM

    The author has a brilliant mind and right education and professional experience too but limited around the wealth and economy. His long winded narrative could have been precised, had he used the real time scale and not a universal one. It is a great sin to ignore the duration of colonisation that the so called muslim states were subjected to. Also by putting all violent acts by individuals or groups into one bowl will only produce a muddy looking soup.

    Rex Minor


  • arbit
    Jan 20, 2015 - 1:01PM

    What about the 180 Million muslims in India? They do not form a part of your so called muslim world?


  • observer
    Jan 20, 2015 - 2:08PM

    A. In my writing on the economic development of the Muslim world, I have found it useful to divide this stretch of land into two parts.

    So the ‘Muslim world’, for epilimostical purposes, is divided in two parts

    B. To these three parts, we should add a fourth.


    Apparently there is an ‘Invisible’ third part and a ‘fourth’ part too

    Either Mr Burki’s ‘Economics’ is too deep for me.

    Or his Mathematics is not too sound.


  • Yo2Da2
    Jan 20, 2015 - 10:21PM

    @Sexton Blake: Yes, Karl Marx who inspired freedom-loving people all over the world, and apparently still continues to do so, albeit to a vanishing extent. Could he have written his Das Kapital in, say, fascist and unfree Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Hitler, rather than London? Do you also remember reading at the university about Adam Smith who’s book The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year (1776) as the official American Independence from Britain? He is far more influential in the world today. I have read Marx’s criticism of capitalism, and he may have been right to some extent. Unfettered capitalism is as bad as unfettered socialism. While the case is made by today’s right-wing Republicans that “job creators” (the capitalists?) deserve all the wealth they “create”, which is nonsense as the economy is based on the aggregate transactions of both suppliers (job creators) and buyers (consumers/suppliers of labor). But the wealth of nations is maximized when suppliers and buyers have freedom to make those transactions; that the best way of allocation of scarce resources is better than a fascist or socialist or some other authoritarian authority. More wealth has been created based on capitalism than by all the various authoritarian systems. Could you please explain what you mean by “fascism” as that term is too loosely bandied about in the pages of the Express Tribune by people like yourself. (Not there is anything wrong with that!) (I am more sympathetic to EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful school, sort of a middlin’ school of thought.)


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