As we continue to observe the unfolding human tragedy in Pakistan, caused in part by the unprecedented flooding of the Indus River, I am reminded of a statement made by an American friend of mine who was commenting on the Haitian earthquake and the ensuing human upheaval in its aftermath. She said, “God hates poor people.” Of course, not accepting personal responsibility for the condition of the world in general, and the rapidly degrading regional conditions in particular, is not just a characteristic of Muslims living in majority Muslim countries.
There appears to be a human tendency to deflect blame –” and in the historically secularized West, God has always been an easy, if not acceptable, target –” so that one does not have to deal with, mentally, emotionally, and practically, the real genesis of problems locally as well as globally. Regional problems, such as the inability (in the 21st century no less!) of “developing” countries to deal with natural disasters, are connected to global systems of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. What my friend should have said is, “The rich hate poor people,” or “Corporate power turns a blind eye to suffering because it is bug-eyed for profit,” or “Insecurity resulting from inaccessibility to a simple shelter or a subsistence level of food is related to an inaccessibility to the abundant wealth of the earth.”
Blaming God makes it easy to give in to the human demi-gods’ way of running things and to not have to do anything of real value to make the situation better. Such an apathetic attitude is not simply the preoccupation of Muslims; it also afflicts the self-satisfied West to the same degree. And that is because a God-denying system dominates the entire world, not just the Muslim world.
Even though the way the world’s only superpower (mis)handled Hurricane Katrina is still fresh in our memory, there is a generally accepted notion that the poorer countries of the world are in no position, are too backward, or just do not have the resources to be able to weather natural catastrophes, and that in such situations, the poor are much more likely to be deleteriously affected than the rich, or the governments they control. The effects on the ground are enough to set aside any arguments on this point. The tsunami in Indonesia, the cyclones in Bangladesh and Myanmar, the hurricanes and earthquakes in the Caribbean (Haiti, Dominican Republic), the famines in Africa, and most recently the floods in Pakistan all come to mind.
The images of human suffering are not only gut-wrenching, but consistently congruent wherever the cataclysm erupts, and the conclusion ought to be equally inescapable: the mass of suffering takes place where the mass of dark-skinned people in the world are in a majority. The impact of racist power on human suffering, and its associated policies leading to environmental dilapidation, wealth polarization, the marginalization of local agriculture by predatory trade, the perpetual degradation of civil structures of “inferior” races, and constant wars of aggression, should be atop every mind of conscience and in every beating heart.
The situation in Pakistan, a poor country, in not an anomaly. It can be compared with any other poor country trying to deal with a national emergency in a reactive way when the disaster is right upon it. We Muslims still tend to suffer from the delusion that if we solve our problems on a local and regional level (this is certainly a big part of the puzzle and it is not being minimized here), everything will be hunky-dory. And we are often put on the defensive by the exploiters and their absent-minded supporters when they say, “What have you done in your own countries?” As if “our countries” are historically, developmentally, economically, politically, and even religiously disconnected from “their countries.”
In recent memory, Imam Khomeini was the only world leader who connected a vibrant program of national reconstruction, self-awareness, and self-assertion to liberation from a globally corrupt power culture that brings along with it, its corrupt civil institutions, corrupt socializations, and corrupt worldview based on a racist, phobic, and exclusivist narrative of human history and potential. He successfully gave his people confidence to stand up for truth and justice and upon this his people built a meaningful, expressive, and impactful social structure; whether they are able to sustain this momentum largely depends on how true they are to their Imam’s convictions. Certainly the Qur’an sustains the Imam’s methodology, as Allah (swt) instructed His prophet Musa (a), “Go to Pharaoh:–he is the one who oppresses [with concentrated power]” (20:24). The source of all collective human suffering is the abusive exercise of human power, and it is this problem Allah (swt) encourages us to identify, it is this “shirk” He implores us to eradicate, and it is these mushriks He wants us to chasten.
Given the historical legacy we Muslims share with the present-day colonial and imperial expression of the long-standing Judeo-Christian antipathy for Islam, Muhammad (pbuh), and Muslims, looking at the US/UK/Saudi destabilization of Pakistan and figuring out who did what tends to get murky. So let us look at an older entrant into the “community” of nations and see if its difficult and abortive attempts at self-determination shed some clarity on the bad situation in Pakistan. Let us examine how US and French influence have combined to deliberately manufacture the destruction of a barely born Haiti, affecting its ability to deal with anything, let alone the recent earthquake.
Haiti: a 21st-century US slave plantation
Haiti was the first African colony of slaves in the New World to declare independence from its colonial (French) overlords in 1804. The United States refused to recognize this new expression of freedom (the US recognized Israel 11 minutes after it declared independence) in its own hemisphere for the next 60 years because it feared that legitimizing Haiti’s slave revolution by recognizing it as a bona fide country would encourage slave rebellion among its own enslaved African population. In fact, over the next 200 years, every US government did almost anything it could to break the will of the Haitian people (the facts about Haiti come from an article written by Bill Quigley, “Why the US owes Haiti billions”).
Adding injury to insult, before finally recognizing Haiti in 1863, the US and France collaborated in placing Haiti under an economic embargo (Iran has been punished for the last 31 years by the same parties for the same reasons). In return for recognition, the French forced the Haitians, under military threat, to pay 150 million francs in reparations for the freed slaves; by contrast the US purchased the entire Louisiana territory from France for 80 million francs. The French and the Americans struck a back-room deal to force Haiti to borrow from the US in order to pay off the French. These original reparation loans from the US finally expired in 1947 after Haiti had already paid $20 billion (to this day, the US–and France have paid no reparations to their own African origin citizens or their ancestors).
In the interim, during the administration of US–President Woodrow Wilson, Haiti was militarily invaded and occupied by the US in 1915; this occupation officially lasted until 1934 during which time the US–controlled all governmental institutions, collected all tax revenues, and managed all imports and exports (sounds a lot like Iraq). Was any of the wealth stolen by the US during these 19 years used to pay off the bogus reparations loans? Of course not.
After a brief hiatus from meddling into Haiti’s affairs, while it was embroiled in WWII and its aftermath, the US–returned in 1957 to install dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc Duvalier,” who both sequentially ruled the country on behalf of the US for the next 20 years. Under the cover of the Cold War, the US–financed, coached, and enabled these “anti-communist” proxies to pave the way for the US corporate takeover of Haiti’s indigenous resources. Opposition to the US-backed Duvaliers’ policies was put down by internal terror campaigns, to the tune of over 10,000 dead during their two decade rule. After embezzling an amount reported to be in the tens of millions of dollars and sheltering it in anonymous off-shore accounts, the Duvaliers ran up a national debt of several hundred million dollars that the innocent Haitians still “owe.” However, his profligacy and brutal repression finally could no longer be borne by the people, who forced “Baby Doc” into exile in France, courtesy of the US Air Force.
Before the Duvaliers took over at the behest of the US, Haiti did not have to import rice or sugar, in fact it was the most prolific sugar producer of the Caribbean. Through the agency of the Duvaliers who basically killed or tortured any opposition, the World Bank and the IMF, as conditions for “development” loans, forced Haiti to privatize agriculture and open up its markets to foreign competition. The US used the opportunity to flood the Haitian market with cheap rice and sugar produced by agri-businesses in the US, thereby undercutting poor Haitian farmers and wrecking homegrown agriculture. After forcing local farmers out of business, US agri-business corporations came in to “buy” land that the locals could no longer afford to farm, with the result today that Haitians cannot even profit off their own land. Haiti is now an importer of rice and sugar. The destruction of their agriculture forced thousands of Haitians to move into the cities to work in sweatshops for less than $2/day, with the bulk of the profits from the manufactured goods going to US–corporations and the US-backed Haitian rulers.
Finally, in 2004, the US unseated another representative government in Haiti when it backed a coup against the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Bill Quigley, a human rights activist for Haiti sums it up this way, “The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.”
Given this tortured history with the exploitative power culture in the world, especially the big bully in North America, is there any wonder why Haiti does not have any mature civil institutions; why it does not have any infrastructure development with regard to roads, electricity, and telephone lines; why its education and health care systems are nonexistent; why its efforts at self-preservation are disorganized and ineffectual; and why its would-be representatives have not been able to engage in any constituency organization and development, thus forcing autocratic political mechanisms on the people.
How many hundreds of billions of dollars has the free world extorted and stolen from Haiti –” wealth that could have been used to improve the condition of the people and relieve the unremitting cycles of poverty they have had to endure under US occupation and exploitation? To be sure, the Haitians have made a lot of bad decisions over the past 200 years; however, if Haiti would have been given the respect it deserved as a free country with a free will 200 years ago, if it could have operated freely without having to constantly counter the racist spectre to the north, today its people would have been able to deal effectively with hurricanes and earthquakes, minimizing human suffering, degradation, humiliation, and dependence.
And so it is not less than the greatest folly in the world for two past US presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to get on the airwaves and appeal for aid for the Haitian earthquake victims and their families. Are they trying to assuage a guilty conscience? Probably not, because these two and all the US administrations that preceded them did everything they could to turn Haiti into an 18th century plantation, complete with an endless supply of (African) slaves. But then again, this is the kind of hypocrisy and duplicity that racist Americanism and symbolic democracy for export are made of.
Pakistan: third-class US ally
Now to the situation in Pakistan, and the inability of the government to properly address the crisis. Any subscriber of Crescent International knows that Pakistan has been the subject of numerous articles and opinion pieces, and thus this is not the place to go over a detailed history of the country and outside involvement in its internal affairs. Some broad historical strokes will do. First, all of Kashmir, East Punjab, and West Bengal were supposed to be part of Pakistan, as all three are majority Muslim areas; however when separation actually took place in 1947, Kashmir, Punjab, and Bengal were basically split in two, where East Punjab and West Bengal became part of India proper and Indian-occupied Kashmir became a UN protectorate, much like the partition of Palestine.
To put the boundary lines of the new countries right through Muslim majority areas to the north (Kashmir), east (Bengal), and west (Punjab) was obviously no accident, as the British hoped to create a permanent impediment to the unification of Muslims in the subcontinent, not only by separating East and West Pakistan by a 1,000 miles but also by inflaming nationalistic passions in the indigenous ethnic groups of the newly formed countries. By contrast, the Hindu majority in India was not divided into separate countries. To a large extent, after 60 years this strategy has worked, as two wars have been fought over the Kashmir problem, and East and West Pakistan ultimately separated into independent countries in 1971.
In so far as Kashmir is concerned, the political image of India has not taken a hit for routinely oppressing the Kashmiris –” who are majority Muslims –” for 60 years running. Just like the Israelis and their brutal dispossession of the Palestinians. This means that there is broad international (read that, American and European) support for the idea of an occupied Kashmir. In nuts and bolts, this means that despite violating the civil, natural, and human rights of the Kashmiris, the Indian government will be able to conduct its economic business as usual –” opening new markets for Indian goods, inviting foreign investment and corporations, becoming a member of international treaties, joint military exercises with superpowers, etc –” without necessarily being hampered by potential economic and political sanctions or similar measures. But for Pakistan, all of its efforts to militarily, politically, and economically foster the liberation of Kashmir have been labeled as terrorism, the more so recently as India has become a satellite in the Western orbit; thus Pakistan has been forced to go it alone, causing a major drain to its economy.
During the Cold War, when the US needed Pakistan and limited US subsidies were flowing Pakistan’s way, this drain might have been tolerable. But with the end of the USSR, and the new front opening up in Afghanistan, and with all its indigenous paramilitary groups dedicated to the liberation of Kashmir (such as Lashkar) being labeled as international terror organizations, Pakistan has become more and more isolated economically as well as politically (ie., it is not considered to be a good investment for foreign capital). Hence, over the last 15 years the issue of Kashmir has been relegated to political kryptonite that is tossed around between the various ruling parties and intervening military governments who collectively have abandoned the Kashmiri Muslims. But the problem has not gone away, and it is not going to go away. Why? Because Kashmir has always been, and is today being manipulated as a hot spot to drain Pakistan’s meager resources and thereby destroy its integrity.
Separation leading to the birth of Bangladesh was a major shock to the dream of the pluralistic Pakistani nation-state envisoned by the founding fathers; and it is something that neither of the two resulting independent countries ever fully recovered from, especially Pakistan. Bangladesh is basically homogeneous, and can base a national identity on top of a common language and culture; not so with Pakistan, which is an amalgamation of several ethnic identities, languages, and cultures, and to this day a distinct Pakistani national identity has never emerged. Maintaining, even symbolically, East Pakistan as part of a greater Pakistan was key to its multi-ethnic Pakistani (Islamic) identity.
Imagine if the US would have come out of its own civil war as three separate countries (with the secession of the South, the North would not have been able to hang on to the western states in the union) that were competing with each other for markets, resources, alliances, and treaties. No one today would be talking about a unified America or superpower status, and the geopolitical dynamics of the Americas would be completely different. Many say that separation was inevitable, because the Bengalis were routinely given second-class status by the West Pakistani politicians, military men, business people, and landowners; but, nonetheless, this “chipping-away” at Pakistan’s integrity, effected not only by the US/UK/India on the outside but also by their self-serving crony collaborators on the inside, set the stage for the further ethnic bantustanization of Pakistan that would come 30 years later.
Second, a crisis of leadership, not always of its own making, has burned Pakistan right from the beginning. Its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, died of “natural” causes after several attempts on his life. The #2 man, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951 –” most probably by an Afghan working for the CIA –” after he refused to help the US in occupying Iran’s oil fields and intimated at ordering the evacuation of US bases in Pakistan. Even though he was a secularist at the ideological level, with all the damage this has caused the Muslims over the past 80 years, Khan’s personal character was most likely sincerely dedicated to the advancement of the new nation, unlike his counterparts today. Although a wealthy man before becoming involved in public service, he passed on without any funds in his account, having put all of his fortune to the service of Pakistan, and with holes in his socks. Khan’s assassination set the stage for Ghulam Muhammad, a known CIA operative, to usher in 17 years of military rule. When military ruler Ayub Khan (in office, 1958–”1969) was in the final stages of formalizing a “free-trade” zone, an economic union of sorts, between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, he was set up with a prostitute in London, photos of their “affair” being broadcast all over the world. He lost all credibility at home and abroad, the economic union fell through, and the reins of power were handed over to another military governor.
Civilian rule returned with the election of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973, after Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1971. Given his leftist leanings, Bhutto made overtures to the USSR at the height of the Cold War, and also started talking about the “Islamic” bomb. This was enough for US-backed strongman, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, to depose Bhutto, have him executed after a Saddam Hussein-type trial, and bring back martial law in 1977. Haq was himself blown up by the CIA in 1988 when he tried to steer Pakistan away from US hegemony over its military and intelligence apparatus.
For a short time after Haq, civilian rule alternated between Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the elder Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, but it would not last long as Sharif was sacked in a coup d’etat shortly after he refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on his visit to Washington in 1999. Once again, at the encouragement of the US, civilian rule in Pakistan was aborted, this time by the US-trained and approved, philandering General Perwez Musharraf, the US–partner in the war on terror, who enjoys for his personal amusement decked-out women parading by him on a runway, and weekly sips of cognac and brandy. Finally, after outliving his usefulness to America, Musharraf was forced to resign, giving way to the first criminal with a record to rule Pakistan: Asif Ali Zardari. In the past, faux-criminals may have ruled Pakistan, but this is the first time that an indicted racketeer and extortionist has assumed the top spot. So much for US-inspired democracy. With this see-saw between civilian and military rule, and the US batting Pakistani governance around like a tennis ball, should anyone be surprised that the country has no stable political institutions, that it is perpetually in debt, and that its brightest people look for every opportunity to leave?
Third, and this is closely tied to unstable leadership, the economy has been severely curtailed by the development of an atomic bomb and privatization, in addition to what has been said about Kashmir. Unlike India, Pakistan had to endure 15 years of economic sanctions after it tested its first nuclear bomb; it only got some relief from this punishment after Musharraf decided to sign away Pakistan’s future by making Pakistan a card-carrying partner in the war on terror. The privatization program implemented by Shaukat Aziz has had the same impact on Pakistan as on Haiti. One case in point is Nestle, the Dutch dairy company; Nestle has basically put out of business all the local dairy producers in Pakistan, with the result that profits from the sale of dairy go to a select elite in Pakistan who are the local partners of Nestle, and Dutch corporate coffers. Most of the dairy farmers, owners as well as workers, get next to nothing. Lentils (daal), a staple of the average Pakistani’s diet, are now as expensive as meat. Many of Pakistan’s indigenous industries –” steel mills, communications, sugar plantations, cotton mills, etc –” are now owned either directly by investors in the Gulf Arabian countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and others, or in partntership with them and Pakistani businessmen who store the bulk of their assets in properties and investments outside the country.
Pakistan: third-class US ally
And fourth, there is the situation in Afghanistan ever since the US occupation of that country after 9/11, which has been extensively covered in Crescent with regard to US attempts at destabilizing the entire region. When the US occupied Afghanistan in 2002, and now more recently with the shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, the US has regularly dropped more ordnance in the mountains and villages of Afghanistan in one month than it did in the entire campaign of Vietnam. It has used depleted uranium as well as white phosphorus and who knows how many other banned toxic weapons. Is it not possible that all this incessant bombing could be doing some major damage to the underground earth, the effects of which could be exhibiting themselves in Pakistan? All US actions –” including its support and financing of multiple secessionist movements inside of Pakistan (BLA, MQM, the Taliban, Pashtun nationalists), as well as creating an internal atmosphere of fear and insecurity with drone attacks, indiscriminate bombings of civilians in major cities, and carte blanche immunity to Blackwater and other private contractors –” indicate that its policy is to break up Pakistan from the inside out.
With all this going on, how is it possible for a people to build themselves up, or build a response to a potential disaster in the future? With no chance and no luxury to plan for a brighter future in a secure and stable environment safe from war and economic upheavals, how can the people expect anything but the worst? Could it not be said that after 60 years of damming up the Chenab, Suthlege, Ravi, and Jaelum Rivers on the Indian side of the border, with the result that these rivers have dried up on the Pakistani side, the earth is trying to rebalance the loss of water by flooding the Indus?
Certainly there are no Muslims asking these types of questions. To be sure as in the case of Haiti, Pakistani leaders and other influential types (the Islamic parties of Pakistan are a good place to start) have taken a lot of wrong turns and made myriad destructive decisions, but even these cannot be divorced from the socialization/worldview that led to them. The Islamic worldview, the opposite of the limited material worldview, suggests that there is no such thing as a purely “natural” disaster; human activity, especially the undisciplined activities of those who have power, has much to do with the degree and severity of the earth’s reaction to man’s carelessness. Seismologists have indicated that repeated underground and underwater explosions of nuclear devices may have contributed to the tsunami that hit Indonesia.
Why poor countries repeatedly fail
Imperialists, Zionists, capitalists, and their enabling analogs in the poor countries of the world run around and tear up the lives of ordinary people, cause havoc in global markets, run down the environment and everything else in their path, leading to all manner of human suffering, and then have the nerve to employ their pundits to popularize the idea that poor people deserve the kind of governments they have. And power hungry Muslim wannabes who should know better parrot the same mantra. The suggestion that something lacking in the collective character of poor people –” who are the majority in all these societies, who disturb no one, who are only trying to put some bread on the table, who never occupied somebody else’s land, who do not mess with financial markets, who do not drop depleted uranium bombs on innocent mothers and their children, who do not form corporations that profit at the expense of their workers’ rights, and who do not maintain a pernicious atmosphere of constant war and fear –” somehow me its ineffective, illegitimate, exploitative, and characterless leaders is an insult to human intelligence and human dignity. The only ones who merit this kind of leadership are those who have the luxury of time and resources to make a change, but nonetheless while away their time in entertainment, porn, drugs, liquor, gambling, intrigue, political spin, and needless war.
Such are the rationalizations of the elitist academic trash that now graduates from Harvard and Oxford (or for that matter the University of Madinah, the University of Riyadh, or al-Azhar) and lines up behind the world’s power brokers ready to justify, legitimize, and anchor all of their misdeeds in popular culture. When they begrudgingly give paltry millions, after causing billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars of damage (the Saudis donated $80 million after spending $30 billion on a weapons contract with the United States so that both together could use the new arms against other Muslims in Iran and Yemen), they use their public relations departments to advertise how great a gift that was. Who is there to say that the world’s mega-rich owe the world’s mega-poor multi-trillions, not as a favor, but as a right? This is the tragedy behind the tragedy: the world’s poor get the crumbs after their societies have been raped, pillaged, and denuded of their resources and their human potential has been robbed by humiliation, desperation, occupation, and anxiety.
We can do all we want at the local level, and this will definitely help us; but there will never be any permanence to our solutions and efforts unless we make a commitment and have the courage to deal with the corrupt and illegitimate power culture in the world. The United States is exporting unprincipled capitalism with only a symbolic rubric of democracy. Wherever Western-style democracy (capitalism) has taken root, it has always entrenched special interests (of the wealthy) into the public decision making process. Democracy will never be able to shake this characterization. It is the government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. The more so in poor countries. Current Pakistani president, Zardari is the second richest man in Pakistan with a reputed personal worth of $1.8 billion, and previous prime minister and chief rival, Nawaz Sharif, is the fourth richest, with a personal worth of $1.4 billion; and others in the top 10 are friends and relatives of these two. So long as we continue to employ these systems in our representative processes thinking that we are going to improve on them, and so long as we continue to use this jargon to characterize what we are doing, we are going to be condemned to endless cycles of suffering and pain.
What’s preventing the world’s poor from being free is not serial natural cataclysms, or famine, or lack of education; it is the self-serving exercise of power by a suffocating, asphyxiating, maximalist plutocracy that thrives on injustice, greed, corruption, inequity, and terror. And this plutocracy’s tentacles extend into the mundane facets of everyone’s lives, either through systems employed by proxy governments or through the iron fist of despots and tyrants, who act as sentries for their Zionist and imperialist enablers. Lasting transformational change will only be possible when corporate presidents are toppled from their executive offices, when kings are expelled from their palaces, when financial barons will no longer hold their meetings behind walls protected by praetorian guards, and when governments like the one in the United States are divested of their power.