WHO can survive and who cannot is a question that has always occupied the minds of theologians, historians, philosophers and scientists. Elaborate theories have been developed around this theme. The more famous are those of Plato, Abdur-Rahman, Ibn Khaldun, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin. The present writer is a dabbler (though not master) in all of the processes of thought that yield such profound insights. And yet it is dabblers who, in the modern world, are known as ‘opinion-workers’. Some become known as academics, others as journalists or (the least fortunate) as politicians. All of them in one way or another are engaged in the art, craft and science of survivalism.
There are certain common aphorisms in this scientific field. I call it a ‘science’ because it is perhaps the most experimental of all sciences. Everyone is at it. And every biological system ultimately fails to survive. So the struggle for survival always leads to failure, otherwise known as death. This has given rise to such aphorisms as ‘what goes up must come down’, ‘life and death struggle’, and so on.
This also applies to collective arrangements for mutual survival, such as families, cultures, civilizations, States, and empires. The larger the collective arrangement for mutual survival, the longer it is likely to last. But the larger the ‘group’ the more ‘rules’ are required, including the use of force to extract cooperation. This requires leadership, power, resources, police, courts, armed forces, weapons, industry, economy, communications and the rest of it. This also leads to an inverse relationship between size and survival. The smaller the size of a family say, the longer it might survive; the larger the size of an empire say, the sooner it might collapse and disintegrate. For example, the British monarchy, a family survives while the British empire has disintegrated.
Survival is also a function of unity. ‘United we stand, divided we fall’, is an aphorism. The larger the ‘unit’ - an empire for instance - the more difficult it is to keep it together. At this point a whole range of ‘organization’ and ‘communication’ theories come into play. The limits of an organization and its functions are supposed to be determined by its communication systems. By this argument the largest empires should be possible today, because communications are instant and total across the globe. Yet the largest empires were built on horseback: no telephones, radios, telexes, televisions, satellites, faxes and so forth. With all these communications available, the optimum size of the State is still shrinking. The most obvious examples of States that are likely to disintegrate within a few years are India, China, Russia and Canada. Even such established unitary States as Britain are threatened by nationalist movements (in Scotland and Wales, for example).
In the 1960s and 1970s it was thought that the sheer weight of economic theory would impose larger political units. Modern economies need large open markets. Industrial production requires economies of scale available to such continental economies as those of the US and the Soviet Union. Hence the drive to create a ‘common market’ of Europe, now the European Community (EC). However, a close examination of the ‘European movement’ reveals a different picture. The drive to European ‘unity’ was not based on economic theories, but on political imperatives. Europe, one has to remember, is the continent that has seen more wars than any other. There has been more violence in Europe than anywhere else. It is through Europe that wars and violence have been exported to all parts of the world. Mass murder of civilian populations as part of war strategy was invented and perfected in Europe. Europe is also the mother of all modern evils, among nationalism, communism and capitalism. Such a continent cannot be united by economic theory.
At the root of the European movement is another sentiment: fear. The only thing all Europeans have in common is their fear of Germany. The European movement is essentially a conspiratorial arrangement to control the resources, economy and power of Germany. Otherwise small countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, have built up prosperous economies. Japan has an economy larger than that of the US. The ‘cold war’, engineered essentially by Winston Churchill, was also a mechanism to drive post-war Germany into NATO and the western alliance. Now a unified Germany will enjoy a large domestic market, nearly twice the size of France and Britain, and a European ‘continental’ economy. Germany already dominates the European economy. In the political arena, it was Germany’s recognition of Slovenia and Croatia that sealed the fate of Yugoslavia, defeated Serbia’s ambition, and brought a UN peace- keeping force scurrying to uphold a German-created status quo.
The US insanity of self-exaltation, expressed in the phrase ‘new world order’, has proved even shorter-lived than most such flights of fancy in history. Hitler had a better record of megalomania.
Where do we go from here? The answer is probably ‘nowhere’. The western world has already achieved its nirvana in liberal democracy. This is the idiotic argument put forward by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man. The great acclaim enjoyed in the West by Fukuyama’s alleged ‘theory’ only goes to show that the West has run out of ideas. Any civilization or intellectual tradition that is prepared even to consider the notion of an end to history (with or without a questionmark) is clearly bankrupt of ideas, ambitions, originality, innovation or even an understanding of history itself. The delusion of ‘total achievement’ with nothing more than a two-percent annual growth-rate to achieve, is clearly a sign of dementia. Such a civilization, its culture and political and economic systems, can only fade away.
That the western civilization has reached this ‘end’ must be good news for all mankind. This is a ‘civilization’ built by greed, plunder, and exploitation. Its technology too, can only lead to self-destruction.
What we need now is a theoretical framework, in order to understand the decline of the west. We must be able to predict which part of this conglomerate is likely to collapse next. We must not again be caught unprepared as we were when the British empire began to crumble and when the Soviet Union fell apart. Muslims had not expected that these vast empires would collapse so rapidly. This gave rise to the emergence of hurried ‘nationalist’ movements in the name of Islam. The ‘Pakistan movement’ is a good example. Similarly, in the Central Asian States, the communist leaders are still in power, and likely to remain there. In the wake of economic disintegration of a system, there is a total void of ideas. When communism collapsed, these areas turned to capitalism. What will they turn to when capitalism collapses? The collapse of capitalism may also come as suddenly and rapidly as did the collapse of communism.
These and other questions have to be raised and answered. Unfortunately, the intellectual traditions of Islam have yet to learn to raise such questions. Their answers are even further away. Intellectual energy is also a function of political will. Such political will as we have today is found only in Iran and marginally in the diffuse and unstructured Islamic movement. Our failures might yet extend the lifespan of the western civilization.
This article was written in 1992. Dr Siddiqui who passed away in April 1996, was Director, The Muslim Institute (London) and founder-Leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
Muslimedia: April 1996-August 1996