By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
19 April 2016
One of the favourite tropes of radical Islamists is that Muslims all over the world are being oppressed and held back by Western Crusaders and Zionists. The reason why more than 1 billion Muslims live in poverty and deprivation cannot be anything but the fault of evil forces who wish to undermine Islam.
This, I have argued again and again, is nonsense and wishful thinking. Though there are systematic imbalances in the global economic system which are greatly unfavourable to many Muslim countries, those same imbalances strongly favour other Muslim countries: think of all the wealth of Muslim countries and geopolitical power that brings.
And if the reason why so many Muslims are poor and oppressed, why are they just as poor and even more oppressed in just those countries with the largest natural resources? Is it Zionists and Crusaders that treat like slaves millions of Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrant construction workers in the Muslim countries? Is it Zionists and Crusaders who kill Muslim civilians in droves, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and so many other countries?
But the true reasons for the state in which the Muslim world finds itself today are rather closer to home: the venal, corrupt leaders, but also, our indolent, passive societies
And last, but not least, is it Zionists and Crusaders who plunder the wealth of Muslim countries? Perhaps that was once the case, in the heyday of Western colonial expansion in the Middle East. But that was well over half a century ago. The world has moved on. And now those countries are plundered by their own political and military leaders.
The Pakistani example is particularly close to my heart – as I very familiar most of the players. But in a country with some of the worst illiteracy and poverty rates in the world, its leaders over last few decades from all parties have mangled to buy some of the most expensive real estate in the world in London and elsewhere not just for themselves but for their children as well.
Now leaders from all over the world have been caught up in scandals. But say what you want about the Chinese politburo, they have first made their country wealthy, and only after started pilfering away public funds.
They have built their country’s infrastructure, they have built one of the best education systems in the world, have raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through sheer hard work, not just with the good luck of having ample natural resources, and built the world’s second-most important economy – and then they took a few million dollars here and there for themselves and their families.
Now compare this to Muslim leaders. In countries that 50 years ago were in much, much better shape than China, three generations of leaders have plundered their countries dry of billions, have destroyed some very good education systems in the process, and have kept getting into wars which precipitated the destruction of whatever infrastructure was left from the colonial era.
So who do we have to blame for the woes of the Muslim world? Do you still believe it is the fault of colonial powers and American neo-imperialism? It would be convenient if that were the case.
Especially since that way we are excused from doing anything about it ourselves. But the true reasons for the state in which the Muslim world finds itself today are rather closer to home: the venal, corrupt leaders, but also, our indolent, passive societies.
Building wealthy, developed societies requires hard work, dedication, integrity, and commitment to making a good life for all of us in our societies. Too many Muslims would rather skip all that and just blame someone else for why their country is not as dynamic as China, or as wealthy as the West.
Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.