Picture the scenario…
David Cameron has just been advised that he has lost the election to Ed Milliband and that he will have to vacate 10 Downing Street by noon. However, instead of telling Samantha to get packing he summons the Chief of the General Staff, Nick Carter and orders him to secure Downing Street, Westminster, BBC house and various strategic sites across the capital as well as ordering the immediate arrest of Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and all potential opposition figures. The next day he addresses the nation from BBC HQ: “My fellow citizens, I have been forced to carry out these measures due to the conspiracies of the traitors. These paid-for agents of the enemies of our great nation would not have stopped until they had enslaved us all. Together we will root out these rats from Great Britain. I am assuming temporary powers but I will submit myself for your validation in due course once this conspiracy has been decisively crushed! God save the United Kingdom!” Thousands of soldiers from the regular army are deployed on the streets and gangs of Conservative party para-military thugs mete out arbitrary extra-judicial punishments to whoever is deemed querulous or in anyway opposed to the actions of “Great Saviour” Cameron.
Can you picture this scenario (without breaking into fits of laughter)? No, neither can I. But think long and hard why. Why does it sound so incredulous set in London but par for the course across the Middle East and huge swathes of the Third World?
People in Western Europe hold as ontological, belief in the concept of parliamentary democracy and all its anciliaries (e.g rule of law, independence of judiciary) rather than as a mere expedient facade behind which they can hide personal kleptocratic,absolutist agendas. The idea that one can impose one’s will by force of arms (“might is right”) is one that is universally rejected at all levels of society – from the street cleaner to the billionaire industrialist (bribery aka ‘political donations’ is his preferred method) to the head of the armed forces. Not one person would be willing to go along with the programme outlined above, even were Cameron to propose it – which of course he wouldn’t. If the Conservatives lose the election, Cameron won’t be summoning his followers out on to the streets to chant “we sacrifice our lives and our blood for you, O Cameron!” whilst beating their breasts in bellicose defiance, rather he will issue a short statement conceding defeat and wishing his opponent well for the future. When Al Gore (to cite an example from across the Atlantic) lost the election in 2000 he took his (from a democratic viewpoint entirely legitimate) greivance to the Supreme Court but when they ruled against him he stepped aside for the common good rather than urging his supporters to violence and civil disobedience.
The sad reality is that in the Arab world the prevailing ideology is that of “might is right”. That is the maxim that people live by and it permeates every strata of society from the highest echelons of political power right down to the teeming masses of menial labourers that eke out a meagre living in the streets and factories of its major cities. When the man-on-the-street complains about the oppression of his masters what he is really saying is “it’s so unfair I don’t have the opportunity to do the same” and were he placed in such a position his conduct would be indistinguishable from their’s.
For the polticians Islam is but a convenient tool to further one’s own personal ambiton and agenda – its utility is in its ability to mobilise the dirigible masses against one’s opponents via selective quotation of ayat and ahadith. Of course when these same evidences are used to highlight one’s own shortcomings they must be conveniently ignored or brushed aside.
Muslims – and doubly so Islamic activists – should know that Islam and the Shariah came for the benefit of the people and that in an Islamic system the rulers are accountable to the people (meaning they can ultimately be removed) and their servants. The Book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of His Rasul (saw) stands as a witness against us all, the weak from amongst us as well as the powerful. While we must give our bayah to hear and obey we must never forget that this obedience is contingent upon the leader’s obedience to Allah and His Messenger (saw) and equally as importantly that adjudications on alleged infractions of this contract are the remit of an independent judiciary not self-appointed guardian militias ever ready to declare takfeer and instigate discord and bloodshed.
The test of whether someone truly believes in the Shariah is when he has the power to ignore it and when it would suit his (worldly) interests to do so, he doesn’t. Of course when civil society en masse adopts and imbibes the Islamic culture and ideology to the same extent as Western Europeans have embraced representative democracy the ability to bypass the rule of law will, ipso facto, be eliminated. In such an eventuality the dystopian vision outlined in the exordium of this piece will seem as outlandish in an Arab/Muslim millieu as it currently does in a Western one.