In an ideal world, there would be no injustice or oppression. People will show care and compassion for each other and live peacefully. Alas this is not the case. The world is mired in injustice; the powerful oppress the weak and downtrodden. The rich look upon the poor with disdain and blame them for their poverty.
These problems exist within and between societies. While poverty will not be eradicated completely, the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed if equitable policies are implemented. Yet there are more billionaires in the world today than ever before, while nearly a billion people live in abject poverty. This is the direct result of policies implemented by governments to reward those at the very top while the poorest in society keep getting poorer because of deliberate neglect. This is referred to as laissez-faire capitalism in which it is claimed that the wealth accumulated by the rich will trickle down to the poor. There are huge tax breaks for the rich while such vital public services as healthcare and education suffer underfunding or funds cut off completely.
The Donald Trump regime has given the top corporations $1 trillion in tax cuts while those at the bottom have been left to fend for themselves. Trump himself is a billionaire although much of his wealth has been accumulated through shady deals or fraudulent means. Some critics even accuse his foundation of running a money-laundering racket for the Russian mafia.
In its annual report released before the World Economic Summit at Davos, the British charity Oxfam said, “The wealth of the world’s billionaires increased $900 billion in the last year (2018), which is $2.5 billion a day.” Oxfam went on to say, “26 people owned the same [amount of wealth] as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.”
In the 10 years since the financial crisis of October 2008 that caused enormous suffering through a financial meltdown, the fortunes of the richest have risen dramatically. The number of billionaires has almost doubled, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018. Such Ponzi schemes as the dot.com, housing, and derivatives bubbles burst, inflicting enormous suffering on the poor. The “too big to fail” corporations and banks were bailed out with some $1.5 trillion in handouts while the poor were dispossessed of their homes because they could not pay their mortgages! America, the world’s leading capitalist, acts as a welfare state for the rich.
This is the problem within societies. The problems between societies, especially exploitation of some states by others, is even worse. We can begin with the period of colonialism. It can be summed up in a single word: plunder. The wealth and resources stolen from colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Muslim East financed European development. Today the plunder continues by other means but is no less destructive.
The militarily powerful states have many tools at their disposal to coerce weaker states into complying with their rapacious demands. Minerals are obtained at throwaway prices, as are hydrocarbons. Until the mid-1950s, Western multinationals arbitrarily determined the price of oil they paid to producers. In 1953, when Iran tried to wrest control of its oil resources from the British, the government was overthrown through a CIA-MI6 engineered coup. The deliberate suppression of oil price spanning decades has resulted in the net transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of producers’ wealth to consumers. The UN estimates that some $2 trillion are transferred annually from the “Third World” to the West through unfair trade practices and interest on loans.
Apart from crude oil price suppression, mineral-rich but weak countries are at the mercy of purchasers. It has nothing to do with market forces. After suffering decades of colonialism, most of these states do not have stable institutions and are easily manipulated. Whenever a leader in a “Third-World” country attempts to implement policies to benefit his people, he is overthrown in a military coup and often assassinated.
In recent years, color revolutions have been launched to undermine and overthrow governments. Recalcitrant states are undermined with punishing sanctions. If a pliant ruler cannot be found, direct military invasion of a country is launched. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria offer ready examples. Millions have been killed and tens of millions turned into refugees.
Given this grim reality, what should the oppressed do? They have no choice but to rise up and resist the oppressors and aggressors. True, they will be called “militants” and “terrorists” but struggling for one’s rights and freedoms cannot be branded with these ugly labels. Throughout history the oppressed have won freedom through sustained and determined struggle. That is their only option.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).