The Consumers’ Association of Penang is extremely honoured to be awarded the Ibn Khaldun Merit Award and I would like to thank International Islamic University of Malaysia for selecting CAP to be the first recipient of this award. Jazak Allahu Khayran.
The vision, mission and activities of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) has been directed towards the transformation of our society in order to free ourselves from the shackles of imperialism, to rediscover our culture, tradition and values, and to create a just and fair society. Colonialism destroyed or marginalized our traditional economy, skills, social organisations and religion, and, in its place, created a colonial state to control our people and exploit our resources.
The police force was organized to suppress any popular uprising and to ensure our people submit to colonial laws. Schools were opened to create an educated and disciplined workforce for the economy, and to programme our minds to accept the Western worldview and its ‘superiority’ over others. Hospitals were built to ensure that workers are healthy to keep the economy and administration functioning efficiently. Roads, bridges and railways were constructed to transport the wealth in the colonies to metropolitan centers. Large tracts of virgin tropical forests were destroyed to give way to rubber plantations and tin mines to provide raw materials for the industries in the Western states. Today we are providing cheap labour to foreign multi-national corporations to produce products largely for export.
Achieving independence meant only a transfer of political power to the local Western-educated elite and not the transformation of the philosophical and ideological basis of the state and its institutions. The Federal Constitution was drawn up by a commission appointed by the British government and headed by a British judge in consultation with the local secular elite who had very shallow roots in their religious history, culture, tradition and civilisation. The institutions – civil service, judiciary, police, the armed forces, schools, universities – which served, protected and defended the colonial order continued after independence with minor changes.
Our political elite and policy makers suffered from a sense of inferiority as a result of Western education locally or overseas in Ivy League universities. They had very little, or no, exposure to traditional civilisations prior to the conquest of colonialism. For example, if we look at the Islamic tradition, for over twelve centuries the Sharia was the supreme moral and legal force regulating both society and government. Politics, trade, family matters, international relations and the environment were governed by the Sharia and, by all historical accounts, it worked well.
Colonial hegemony marginalized it to dealing with only family matters and, hence, it could not evolve to meet the challenges coming from Western modernity. Instead of studying the well-tested Sharia principles and applying them in our institutions, our policymakers opted for copying the alien Western model and perpetuated Sharia’s limited role as during the colonial period.
The Western state was born from the womb of its historical process and the colonial, and post-colonial, states are its replications. They are artificial transplants, with no organic links to our traditional societies. The Western state is based on secularism, individualism, materialism, liberal democracy and market capitalism, and the imperialist project has been to export it to other parts of the world to create a universal civilisation. It sets the universal standards for – free trade, democracy, human rights, gender relations, culture – and every one must follow them for otherwise you would face threats of coercion in the form of sanctions or cruise missiles.
Moral consideration plays an insignificant role in the Western materialist worldview. Religion has no role in law, public policy, governance and administration and has to remain a private affair. The moral imperative has been divorced from law, science, economics, commerce and public administration. Nature is material, a commodity to be exploited, and devoid of any spiritual significance. It is to be conquered and subjugated to satisfy the greed of man. In the traditional perspective, man is trustee and steward of nature and must not do anything that would upset the existing balance and harmony.
European civilisation, detached from the moral imperative, is heading towards a collapse as predicted by many experts. It has spawned serious crises – political, economic, social, moral, spiritual and environmental – on a local and global level for which there appears to be no solutions.
Ecological crisis poses the greatest threat to the survival of this planet and its inhabitants. Environmental protection has been on the global agenda for more than four decades, ever since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Since then, there have been numerous conferences including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2017 Paris conference on climate change but the situation is getting worse with extremely hot temperatures, frequent floods, degradation of ecosystem services, and extinction of certain species of plants, animals and microorganisms.
The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, authored by the world’s leading climate change scientists, has warned that there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. A half-degree increase would see the corals eradicated, more people would be exposed to water-stress, millions affected by sea-level rise, and serious depletion of marine fisheries .A 2010 NASA study identified the automobiles as the largest contributor of climate change pollution in the world.
The world’s oceans are dying with only 13% remaining untouched by the damage caused by human activity. Dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950. Climate change is the cause of large-scale deoxygenation because warmer waters hold less oxygen. Most sea creatures cannot survive and face extinction. The oceans feed more than 500 million people, especially in poorer nations, and provide jobs for 350 million people.
According to a United Nations-backed study, land degradation has reached “critical” levels across the world as 75 percent of land is already degraded and projections show that such degradation will increase to over 90 percent by 2050. An area half the size of the European Union is degraded every year by farming, city expansion, and deforestation. The U.N Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reported that the global economy will lose a staggering USD23 trillion by 2050 because of land degradation. Soils are the basis of life, with 95% of our food coming from there.
Water scarcity has been aggravated by climate change. More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 4 billion lack access to safe sanitation. Freshwater ecosystems are degrading at an alarming rate – around 71 per cent of the natural wetland area worldwide has been lost due to human activity in the last century. The Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Around 400 million people live in this region.
While almost a billion people go hungry, one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted yearly. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. Recent estimates of European food waste levels reveal that 70% of food waste arises in the household, food service and retail sectors, with production and processing sectors contributing the remaining 30%. The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in the food chain are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society. Food waste, going into municipal landfills, generates methane, one of the gasses responsible for global warming.
The rich are getting richer and the inequality crisis is getting worse. Oxfam reported that 82 percent of the wealth created last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity got nothing. Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in just 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.
The capitalist system empowers a small elite to expropriate the wealth created by the workers, farmers and other working people. A recent study Giants: The Global Power Elite by Professor Philips identifies the world’s top seventeen asset management firms as the ‘Giants’ of world capitalism. They collectively manage more than $US41.1 trillion in a self-invested network of interlocking capital that spans the globe, and are the central institutions of the financial capital that powers the global economic system.
Transnational institutions like the World bank, IMF, WTO and others serve as institutional mechanisms for consensus building within the transnational capitalist class, and power elite policy formulation and implementation. These international institutions serve the interests of the global financial Giants by supporting policies and regulations that seek to protect the free, unrestricted flow of capital and debt collection worldwide.
The elite is largely united in support of the US/NATO military empire that prosecutes a repressive war against resisting groups – typically labeled ‘terrorists’ – around the world. The real purpose of ‘the war on terror’ is defense of transnational globalization, the unimpeded flow of financial capital around the world, dollar hegemony and access to oil; it has nothing to do with repressing terrorism which it generates, perpetuates and finances to provide cover for its real agenda. This is why the United States has a long history of CIA and military interventions around the world ostensibly in defense of ‘national interests’.
The concentration of capital in the small elite has resulted in ‘further pauperization of the bottom half of the world’s population and an unrelenting downward spiral of wages for 80 percent of the world. The world is facing economic crisis, and the neoliberal solution is to spend less on human needs and more on security. It is a world of financial institutions run amok, where the answer to economic collapse is to print more money through quantitative easing, flooding the population with trillions of new inflation-producing dollars. It is a world of permanent war, whereby spending for destruction requires further spending to rebuild, a cycle that profits the Giants and global networks of economic power. It is a world of drone killings, extrajudicial assassinations, death, and destruction, at home and abroad.’
Technology and Alienation
The technological revolution has led to disintegration of society, feeling of isolation, unhappiness, emptiness, and lack of freedom and autonomy. Personal interaction has been sacrificed at the altar of efficiency and profit maximization. Workplace interaction is limited with employer’s control of workers using monitors at computer terminals. Self-check-out stations in supermarkets has eliminated talking to the salespersons. Instead of face to face conversation with friends and family members, we do so in cyberspace.
Researchers have found that technology has robbed humans of their natural abilities and capacities and has caused poor health, depression, isolation, and obesity among many people. More people spend less and less time together with families, friends, neighbors and colleagues and more and more on consuming technology. Although the creation of internet has been positive in some aspects of people’s life, its dependency has already led to many depressions, suicide, divorce, and separations.
Social media has become a tool for shaping public opinion and manipulating voters’ choices through deliberate lies and misrepresentations. President Trump, a philanderer and proven liar, with no experience in public administration, was elected President of the most powerful nation in the world through a campaign in the social media playing on the fears of White voters.
Jair Bolosonoro, a pro-torture, dictatorship-praising populist, was elected president of Brazil recently. He had no policies to offer to the electorate except to demonise the Workers’ Party and defame its candidate, Haddad. A group of Brazilian capitalists bankrolled a multi-million dollar campaign to inundate Brazilian voters with untruths and inventions, by simultaneously firing off hundreds of millions of WhatsApp messages.
In Europe white nationalist parties have come to power through social media campaigns instilling fear and hatred in white voters towards immigrants and Muslims. Democracy, not anchored in morality, will inevitably bring to power the Trumps, Netanyahus and Bolosonoros.
The solution to the destruction of the organic community, family, and environment requires a radical transformation in our worldview. Religion must play a central role in society, its governance, laws and institutions. Morality based on universal and eternal principles of truth and justice must guide human actions.
We need to regard the natural environment, with all its flora and fauna, as sacred and a gift from God. We bear a trust which we must discharge with responsibility towards all creations. We have only rights of stewardship, and not proprietorship, over nature. Nature is not to be treated as a commodity to be exploited for the sole interest of man but to be managed with care so that it will provide food, shelter and enjoyment to all; not only to the present generation but also to the generations to come. This ethic must be enshrined in us from young so that it becomes the guiding principle in our relationship with nature and humankind.
The present economic system based on unlimited growth, private capital accumulation, profit maximization and concentration of economic power in large corporations is the root cause of, not only the economic crisis, but also, gross inequality, environmental destruction, social crisis, alienation wars and conflicts. It is responsible for overproduction, hyper consumption, indebtedness of ordinary people, pollution and depletion of earth’s resources. It is an amoral system benefiting the rich and has come under severe criticism from economists and the Pope. We need to develop an economy based on the moral imperative.
Decolonistion of our education, content and pedagogy, inherited from the West, is urgently needed. There are initiatives in many parts of the world to question the knowledge taught in universities and to develop syllabus based on local history, culture, and tradition. A South African university has introduced a decolonization programme in several faculties, including law and medicine.
Knowledge taught in the universities is, often, irrelevant to the reality outside. An economics graduate will not be able to explain how a small elite centered in the West is able to manipulate the world economy for the benefit of a wealthy minority. Or why is there such global inequality and disparity in wealth? What geo-political interest drove Britain to create Israel and Saudi Arabia after the First World War and how is it relevant for understanding the conflicts in West Asia today?
Paulo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed advances useful and practical ideas for decolonizing education and pedagogy. The key to liberation is the awakening of critical awareness and the thinking process in the individual. A new type of education is needed based on a partnership between teacher and student and empowering the student to enter into a dialogue. Critical consciousness and the resulting synthesis of thought and action is the way to reclaim humanity, to become humanized. Thought must go together with action.
Freire criticizes the conventional relationship of teacher and student as being dysfunctional and oppressive with the teacher feeding information while the student is expected to be a passive, unthinking, follower. He proposes problem-posing education as the successful alternative to conventional education. Problem-posing education is structured to encourage thinking in students. The solutions must not be predetermined by the teacher, but instead must come during the process of dialogue. The teacher and students learn from each other.
The International Islamic University of Malaysia has an important role to play in promoting the needed social transformation. Its proclaimed vision is to restore the dynamic and progressive role of the Muslim Ummah in all branches of knowledge and intellectual discourse. One of the mission objectives is Islamisation. The university was established in 1987, and, in its thirty five years of existence, thousands of students have graduated and many are successful lawyers, businessmen and occupying important posts in government and academia. It is time the university authorities carried out an evaluation as to what extent it has progressed in realizing its vision and mission. Investing enormous resources and producing graduates to become cogs in the capitalist machine is not the objective of the university, which is Islamisation of society.
In line with its stated mission, the university should direct its resources towards research and producing policy proposals for bringing about social transformation with the moral imperative rooted in religion. It should attract the best scholars from East and West who are working in this field and have produced path-breaking works on bringing the moral requirement into politics, economy, law, business, environment, and other areas of human endeavour.
Wa billahi al-tawfiq wa al-hidyah
SM Mohamed Idris, President, Consumers’ Association of Penang