August 2017

The admission of guilt by the West regarding the Balfour Declaration (while important) may not be enough to reverse the continuing descent into chaos. Democracy in the Middle East is the other half of the elusive puzzle.

The Middle East would be a better place if Saudi Arabia, Iran and their proxies stop jostling for regional dominance.

By Siddiq Bazarwala

Despite being home to a large number of venerable centers of Islamic studies from which generations of high profile Islamic scholars have graduated from, but no sermon from the Middle East has thus far been captivating enough to help tilt the balance of political power in the Middle East in the favour of its people.

While the vast majority of Islamic scholars no doubt condemn violence before and after their prayers, in public and in private, why are there so few dissenting voices from among this influential group calling for the peaceful mass disobedience of despots across the Middle East?

With inward-looking political debates stifled within many influential Muslim-majority countries by its autocratic leaders, why are Islamic scholars who lead Muslims in their daily prayers not “speaking a word against such tyranny”, familiarly known in an often quoted Hadith (narrated saying of Muhammad), “as the best form of Jihad”, ordinary Muslims often wonder in futility?

To many ordinary Muslims around the world therefore, what is taught from the pulpit sometimes has little to do with what Muslims actually see their leaders doing.

Meanwhile, Western leaders have over the last century been unabashedly comfortable standing not with the people, but with Arab autocrats, who keenly supply barrels of oil in exchange for airplane loads of suppressive weapons.

Consider the mountain of evidence in the form of trade flows and arm sales, which show Western governments have little interest in the human rights of Arabs across the region. The fact that our governments repeatedly chooses to side with Arab dictators while turning a blind eye to their well-documented abuses, speak volumes.

The deafening silence from such hypocrisies partially explain why near-defunct but mutating groups like ISIS will continue to exploit the ensuing chaos for a long time ahead. By repeating the state’s talking point, Islamic scholars today have become part of the establishment while groups like ISIS presents itself as “counter-establishment”, in part explaining why groups like ISIS and others have managed to attract fighters among its ranks in recent years.

While Islamic scholars accuse such groups of misinterpreting scriptural sources to justify their actions, ISIS counter argues how these scholars remain silent on the injustices the same dictatorships they serve are often guilty of in many parts of the Middle East.

Granted, a number of activists, protestors and Islamic scholars have indeed spoken up in the past calling for change but were quickly thrown in jail on the flimsiest of charges by fast track courts in arbitrary trials, that is if they were not already shot, tear-gassed and tortured.

That these prisoners of conscience suffer from job losses and unlawful killings in jail by the ruthless Mukhabarat — but does this mean the status quo should remain unchallenged by the remaining Islamic scholars Muslims look up to for spiritual guidance?

With tens of billions overspent on unpopular purchases such as Airbuses, Boeings, military hardware and worst of all, regional conflicts as well as populist spending such as housing and petrol subsidies, do the privileged class within the Arab world and the Emirs in power who shamelessly kowtow to successive Western administrations not understand they are being widely mocked all over the world for failing to protect fellow Muslims in Palestine, Myanmar and Yemen among countless other countries?

This especially since Muslims are repeatedly humiliated in Gaza or when Saudi Arabia has all the coalition expertise to bomb enemy targets in Yemen and yet its armoured personnel carriers, ground forces, snipers and army personnel are too paralysed to flex its military muscle when it comes to Palestine or Myanmar’s undeniable atrocities against the Rohingyas.

To reverse this continuing decline into utter chaos, the Islamic scholars should do what it can to engage if not challenge its leaders without bloodshed who yield far too much power over the respective economies, justice system, natural resource, national guard, armed forces, intelligence and unfair treatment of political detainees, no matter how tectonically their vision of society differs from the ruling class.

Meanwhile, the key tribes and wealthy, ruling-class Arabs also need to stop looking after their own welfare, often times at the expense of the impoverished and powerless underclass and lend a voice to such an uprising instead of only pouring tens of millions into charities that superficially alleviates the underlying challenges facing ordinary Muslims worldwide instead of actually curing them altogether.

In the end, the birth of a better Middle East needs to start with the democratic and civic empowerment of the Arab populace including principally, the granting of religious and civil rights and protection of Muslim and non-Muslim minorities.

However, unless the much grievously ignored stipulation within the 1917 Balfour Declaration that “nothing shall be done that may prejudice the religious or civil rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” is also simultaneously acknowledged and honoured by Western powers, the centennial battle over the past will long outlive any hope for a peaceful future.