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Three Leaders, One Catastrophic Consciousness

Three Leaders, One Catastrophic Consciousness

Monday, 9 November, 2020 - 11:15

Pakistani journalist and writer Kunwar Khuldune Shahid took his rage out on three leaders of the Islamic world: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of the Republic of Turkey; Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan; and Mahathir Muhammad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia.

In his column for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Khuldune mostly focused on the three leaders’ active role in justifying the latest terrorist attacks on France and their unanimous endorsement of an argument circulating widely in the Islamic world: the publication of offensive anti-Muslim cartoons is allowed, while Holocaust denial is forbidden.

The criticism, phrased differently but raised with the same acrimony by each of the three men, would hold water if France had allowed the publication of material offensive to Islam and banned the publication of material offensive to Judaism and Christianity. As for comparing this with the Holocaust, politeness does not hinder one from saying that this criticism is foolish and ignorant. Here, about the Holocaust, we are not talking about words, images, drawings, an opinion, or a stance. We are talking about six million victims, whose names and pictures are documented, about their living relatives and some Holocaust survivors, very few of whom are still alive.

Obviously, these kinds of arguments precede the three politicians, and the obsession with denying the Holocaust or downplaying its scale has been manifested uninterruptedly since the late forties, in books and speeches, religious and secular, and Arab and Islamic.

But three leaders who rule over tens of millions ignoring this distinction, here is precisely where the catastrophe lays. Leaders expressing this kind of consciousness adds yet another reason for the backwardness of the consciousness prevalent at the popular level. As for the world’s reactions to such stances, they range from ridicule to horror to taking offense.

In any case, these kinds of ludicrous comparisons are not new either: between 1962 and 1965, the Second Vatican Council, under Paul VI’s leadership, decided to exonerate Jews from collective responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Sharp denunciations of this exoneration by Arab and Islamic figures ensued, and its “historical accuracy” was questioned although Jesus had never been crucified in the first place per the critics’ Islamic exegesis.

There is, then, an unacceptable degree of ignorance on the leaders’ part. Adding to the gravity of this ignorance, the three of them are described as having spawned an “economic boom” and sometimes a “renaissance”.

The first government Mahathir Muhammad formed in Malaysia (1981-1987) did indeed oversee accelerated industrialization and significant economic growth, and it can take credit for the might of his country’s infrastructure. These accomplishments ensured Mahathir’s subsequent return to power.

Ten years before his 2018 electoral victory, Imran Khan established a technological institute called the “Namal Institute”, and in 2005 it partnered with Bradford University in Britain. During his term, Pakistan made major business-friendliness strides, according to the World Bank which listed In 2019, Pakistan was listed among the ten countries most responsive to economic reforms.

While he is currently overseeing an economic collapse, the first few years of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s prime ministerial term, which began in 2003, were different: Turkey recovered from the 2001 financial crisis, accelerated its negotiations to join the European Union, and made massive investments in infrastructure (roads, airports, and high-speed trains).

How can this propensity for instrumental modernization be reconciled with the “ideas” expressed above? How are we to read this schizophrenia?

The answer is probably of two segments: the first is that the three are neoliberals, not very receptive to changing society and introducing new convictions that link its factions on a rational and modern basis.

Secondly, what is more important and precedes neoliberalism or any other Western ideological doctrine is that the three, though in divergent ways and to different extents, are Islamists. In this case, their Islamism means adopting the old axiom: we import science and technology from the West while pushing back against its ideas. This postulation concludes: its science and technology are its secret, and we should arm ourselves with both in order to fight and defeat it.

Among the fruits of the merge of these factors is the phrase Mahathir Mohammad recently tweeted in response to crime in Paris: “Muslims have to punish the French (…) Muslims have the right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.’’

Approaching the world materially and disregarding its ideas are certainly reasons for criminality: the world doesn’t approach us but to kill us, and we do not approach it but to kill it.

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