Democracy (Part 2)
Our previous editorial dealt with democracy. The conclusion was that firstly, democracy is not properly understood. Next, it does not exist in practice anywhere in the world in the sense in which it is commonly understood. Thirdly, democracy does not get the credit for material progress. Cheap raw materials (mostly from poor countries to rich countries), new technological methods, unprecedented human sacrifices, and a few other factors are responsible for this phenomenon.
With these factors gone, and they have to go, sooner or later, material production will dip, appliances of comfort will disappear, people will get poorer, and democracy will be able to do nothing about it. Indeed, democracy will then be abolished. The rich and the powerful of the society – who have turned it into a tool to serve them – will come up with a system of government in which the poor do not disturb them to any length – as they occasionally do now.
We are told however that at least in one respect democracy is preferable over autocracy, dictatorship, monarchy and the like. A democratic system prevents a tyrant from climbing to higher positions, and never allows him go up to the highest seat of power. If someone shows such tendencies, he can be removed by the next election. But in the autocratic systems, there is no way a tyrant can be got rid off.
Our answer is that presently we are not sure of the worth of this claim. At best we can say that once it used to be so. That is, democratic system had the advantage of removing from the government men of tyrannical tendencies. But now the situation has changed. By now, with the experience of a few decades, politicians have learnt the inner secrets of the democratic system. They manipulate and turn its every advantage into a disadvantage without disturbing its mechanism or outward appearance. For example, a political party with a fascist manifesto can install lots of lower grade tyrants, fascists and plain thugs in the various departments of a government and democratically execute the party manifesto remaining within democratic norms. In fact, even if it is a well-organized terrorist group, it can, with lots of money, funded by the rich who are given full assurance that once they have contributed, they and their wealth will be safe, can democratically come to power. Then, as they control the state machinery (the local officials, fire department, the police, the army, the bureaucrats, the courts etc.), they can terrorize minorities without breaking any democratic rule. They can even organize a massacre and then blame the lawless elements and wash their hands off. If it was a despotic regime, you could at least blame the man on the top. But, in a democratic set up, there is no one to receive the blame. So, at present we don’t see that, on this account, democracy has an edge over autocratic systems.
Another advantage pointed out is that in a democratic set up people are safer. They cannot be picked up from their homes and jailed or hanged without trial. Some kind of rule of law prevails and procedures have to be followed. True. But this is another of the democracy fruits that is dying in the tree. In today’s democracies, both in the West as well in the East, people are being picked up, either on unspecified charges, or as suspects, and kept in prison for interrogation as long as the authorities wish. They either emerge as insane because of the tortures, or are shot dead and the body handed over to relatives with the tag, “killed in encounter.” It might be said that this is not the norm. The answer is, it will be in coming times. Never it has happened in the past that stringent and exceptional rules were made for a (hateful) section of the society (such as the Muslims in India) but it became the norm applicable to all, within a couple of decades.
The above also goes for the individual’s rights and privileges. In today’s democracy, an individual (unless in a high position), is as afraid of freely expressing himself as he is in an autocratic system. He can get murdered at the hands of the secret services. Further, even if he can express, his voice does not go any farther than six inches from his mouth. In the USA, the media – all kinds of it – is so thoroughly controlled by the Jews that even Presidents are afraid of speaking out the truth. As for the public, most Americans say in private that the so-called freedom of speech is an eye-wash. You are free only to speak out the indecent, the foul, the lies, which the media will report, but never the truth.
The point then is, a democratic system is a mechanical apparatus. It can be put to both good as well as bad uses. In countries where it is working well, it is not because the system is so good, by itself. But rather, those running it run it that way. The credit then goes to them and not so much to the system.
The conclusion therefore is that there isn’t a system that cannot be manipulated to whatever advantage those running it wish to turn it to. Democracy is no exception. It can in fact be cited as a classic example. Further, changing such a system is all the more difficult. That is because, outwardly, and for all its functional purposes (the mechanical steps), it is democratic. But, in actual fact, it is something else. Now, if it was a despotic rule, the people could murder the man at the top (which they have often done in the past). But, a democratic, but in actual fact autocratic or fascist government, cannot even be referred to as anything but democratic and hence cannot be removed lock stock and barrel. In an autocratic system, you have a single powerful figure at the top. But in a democratic system, actually operating as a tyrannical system, or even as a terrorist system, there are so many tyrants or terrorists spread all over that, even if a milder man were to be placed at top, (as an icon and a symbol, although truly one of them), those in power can still terrorize the people. Indeed, even if the party is changed, the system cannot be changed and hence tyranny by one party will be followed by tyranny under the rule of another party – even if the party next running the government does not wish it. That is because, the system allows it.
This takes us directly to the point at which we wish to begin explaining the Islamic system of government. As one that follows Divine Laws, the Islamic system of government prevents manipulations that other systems are susceptible to. Such prevention is in-built. It is its main feature. Therefore the system can be referred to as a revolutionary one, that works as a deterrent rather than merrily go hand in hand with the manipulators.
How does an Islamic government come into being? Well, at the point of start, the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd” (those who bind and loosen) select a single man to head the government. So, what body is this? Well, this is a body that binds and loosens the common people to a leader. They are also known as the “ahl al-ra’yi” (men of opinion). They are not an elected group; or those appointed by the government; or those the people push forward as their candidates. None of that. They are a loose body of people, who come into being by the natural forces operating within a Muslim community. Its members themselves know best who deserves to be in and who not. If one of them, a single individual, expresses his dissatisfaction of another, the matter will be taken up in the court: either the man committed calumny, or he is true. If he committed calumny, he is out of the body. But if he proved his statement, the other man is out. Thus, only those who have an unblemished character survive. Men of loose character gradually find their way out. Their number is not fixed since eminence cannot be put limit to.
If the “ahl al-hull wa ‘aqd” agree to a man as the most suitable to head the state, then they enter into his allegiance and the public is bound to follow their example and instruction. If they say he is not suitable, the man is out. Public opinion is not sought. But this of course is their function. Some more clarity is required about who they are.
They are the leading citizens of a country, its prominent people, chiefs, scholars, intellectuals, top military men, men of wisdom, etc. – anyone whose opinion is respected by the highly educated class. But, in addition, and essentially, they must be men of perfect moral integrity. Their only function is to agree by consensus upon a man and appoint him to lead, or, remove one already in place for whatever reason they feel he should be removed. Their decision is final. The military has no say in it. The political parties have no say in it. The millionaires have no say in it. Associations, organization or unions have no say in it. The general public has no say in it. Call them the elite of a society, if you wish. They have the final say in the affair.
The chosen person, the “Ameer,” need not be a politician (in fact that will disqualify him), nor should he necessarily be a popular person. For example, a religious scholar or preacher could be the most popular man among the general public. But, that means nothing to the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd”. He should be of weight in the sight of the intellectuals, the pious, the prominent citizens, in short, the most able, wise, and ethically upright individuals of the Muslim community. One of the qualities of the man selected for the top post is that he should not be vying for the position. If he does, he is disqualified. So, when the body looks for the top candidate, they look for the most other-worldly who despises this world. He has all the qualities of leadership but refuses to be a leader. That is, when asked to lead, the first thing he says “No. I don’t think I am the best one around.” And, when another is chosen, he heaves a sigh of relief and readily enters into his allegiance.
Thus, the top man, freely chosen, on moral, intellectual and ability grounds, is one of the best all rounder around in the nation. Surely, this is a revolutionary achievement. In other types of governments, somehow it happens that it is the most deceptive, the most cunning, the most crooked who finds himself installed in the top seat.
Qualities of leadership, what are they? Well, he should act extremely humble when dealing with the meek, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the righteous, but tough like steel when dealing with the unrighteous, the arrogant, the oppressor.
What are his special monetary allowances, in keeping with his position? None. He can draw from the state treasury more or less what an average citizen earns – if he is poor. If he is wealthy, he might not take anything. He has no access to the government treasury. He cannot even borrow from the treasury. He cannot construct a palace for himself, a governor house, a white or red house, or the like at governmental costs. Guest houses, large halls for governmental functions and the like can be there, but he cannot live in any of them. He has to live in his own house, constructed from his own money. He is required to lead in the five daily Prayers, and deliver the Friday sermons in the main mosque of the town exhorting people to live by Islamic principles, he himself being a good example. What if he misappropriates governmental funds? Simple, he is immediately brought down.
What is his main job? It is not to sign on defense bills, or the yearly budget, or on parliament rulings, or contracts with foreign suppliers. He will do these important things alright. But they are not his main job. It is, firstly, to enforce the Shari`ah. He must see to it that everything that happens in the country follows Islamic rule of law in its true spirit. Second, he is responsible for enjoining the virtuous and forbidding evil. Third, he is there to assure to every citizen his five basic and inalienable rights: life, honor, property, religion and intellect. There can be no rule of law that allows for encroachment upon these basic rights of the individuals in an Islamic State, whatever the religion of the individuals, nor can the state ignore to provide these to every individual to his satisfaction. These basic rights of the individuals are the personal responsibility of the Ameer. It is not the responsibility of the police, the courts, or law enforcing authorities. It is not even the responsibility of the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd.” It is of the top man. To achieve this objective, the Ameer might establish a “secret service” department. They spy on the people to find out who is wronging whom and report to the Ameer even before the oppressed come to him. Similarly, officials of the “The Department for Enjoining the Virtuous and Prohibiting the Evil” back up the Ameer’s efforts to persuade everyone to live an Islamic life.
The above means every citizen has the right of access to the head of the state, or to his deputies who attend to the citizens’ grievances pertaining to their five basic rights. There is no need for a citizen to go to the court when he is clearly wronged. Courts in Islam are there for cases of doubt; i.e., those involving disputes. But when someone is clearly wronged, he need not go to the courts. He can go to the Ameer. The Ameer orders immediate action on any citizen’s appeal. For example, we assume that a few people have been killed by a crowd of terrorists. The victims approach him. He does not order an inquiry. He himself conducts an inquiry then and there. What does the police have to say? Let us assume the police say, (as in India), they know nothing about the culprits. Every policeman of the area loses his job immediately, on the spot, and there is no court of appeal. Next, eye-witnesses are sought, such as those who are trustworthy moral men. If they are found, and bear witness, the criminals are immediately prosecuted. A warrant of arrest from another authority is not required. Subsequently, the extent of crime is judged by the courts. If convicted by the court, first, the criminals pay blood-wit to the murdered kin. If they cannot, as individuals, then their families pay. If the families cannot pay, then other near of kin pay up. If they can afford but do not pay, they are locked up until they pay up. Next, the punishment is executed. The Ameer does not have the right to forgive anyone. Life for life, eye for eye, the criminals are executed and no mercy is shown. In a country like India, where thousands get murdered by murderers who announce their crimes before committing them, and boast about it after the crime, go about free, because the democratic set up allows for it. Sometimes the setup rewards the criminals with first class jails, and then frees them from the back-door. That is not possible in an Islamic system since the Ameer is questionable both by the common public, as well as the appointing authorities, the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd.”
This kind of government, administration of justice, and safeguarding of the five basic rights of the citizens might sound phantasmagorial in many countries. But this fantasy is a living reality in the Gulf countries: the reason why you do not hear of riots and killings. A few other non-Gulf Islamic countries also follow this pattern of government, although not in details. Therefore, the law and order situation is not a serious problem with them. But in states where the Islamic set up is not followed at all, such as some of the North African Muslim countries, of course, the situation is no better than that in any other country.
To illustrate with an example how the democratic system can be manipulated, recently after the assault on Muslim lives and property over an area equal to the size of France, the government announced double the compensation for the original perpetrator-turned-victims, but half that sum to the non-perpetrating victims. (In truth, it worked out to twice for Hindus and half for Muslims). Now, democratically this is wrong. But the wronging party is the government itself. Yet nothing can be done about it. Because, the government’s main job is not the safeguarding of the rights of the citizens. It is to form ministries, appoint men (of its party) in government, sign on bills, award local and foreign contracts (with a good pay-back to its members), etc. So, no one can go to the government and make a complaint about it. Indeed, there is no one sitting there to receive grievances. It will be triumphantly said, “The courts are open. This is a country of law and order!” But, the government knows that it will be ten years before a judgment is out by which time nobody will even know what it was all about. Further, with the government’s control over who sits in the court benches, a favored judgment is not a distant dream. Thus, in a democracy, a distinct undemocratic bill goes through. At best the citizens can shout, demonstrate and curse. But, if they do that, they will have to spend their lives in shouting, demonstrating and cursing (which, of course in a country like India, is what many people spend their lives doing). But, in an Islamic government, a blatantly wrong rule of this sort cannot cross the room where it was declared. It will be immediately challenged and corrected. If that does not happen, then just one of the citizens, not even a prominent person, can see the Ameer or the Governor about it and get it reversed. Once again, the Ameer or the Governor cannot ask the petitioner to go to the courts. Why? Because, it is the primary duty of a Government in an Islamic system to administer justice, and allow nothing to happen that is against the Holy Law, the Shari`ah of Islam.
And, what is applicable to the Ameer or his Governors, is also applicable to every state officer. Not only the lowest (actually there is no lowest in an Islamic state) can see the top most, the head of the state himself, any time, but, also, every citizen can see any government official at any time. He need not start from the bottom to reach the top. In a democratic system of government, for example, if a citizen has a grievance against the income tax department, he has to first see the clerk, then the case worker, then, if allowed, the Income Tax Officer. As for the department head, he has no time for ordinary citizens (unless the citizens are millionaires). But in the Gulf, that is not the situation. One can go and see a head of the department anytime during the duty hours. Hence, the general instruction there is that no officer should close the doors to his office chambers. So, as one passes through the corridors, one can see all the doors wide open, and the officers visible at their desks. Only in very rare cases one encounters a secretary before he can see the officer. But in such cases, the secretary is there to arrange appointments and not to say “no” to anyone. (Once a foreigner, new to the country, was led by mistake to the top floor of a governmental building, and walked in to complain about something trivial. The big officer listened to him patiently, offered him a cup of tea, and instructed a deputy in military uniform to look into his grievance. Only later the foreigner learnt that he had actually walked into the office of Abdullah, the Crown Prince! Now, we are not finding an opportunity to praise the Saudi system. But, credit does go to the system).
So, administration of justice, maintaining law and order, guaranteeing every individual his five rights, are the basic functions of the man at the top. For this he appoints his deputies in various provinces: in accordance with the need. Sometimes a single large city can be split into two or three units and for each a Governor appointed. A provincial governor has the same duties, within his jurisdiction, as the head of the state. In this manner, peace, the fruit of Islam, the basic requirement for a civilized living is achieved. In contrast, let us assume that this entity is missing in a country, but the country is fast developing technologically or materially. What does it mean? It means suffering for the people of the state. The more the nation develops, the more means of wrongdoing will be available to the crooks, the thugs, the fascists, and the terrorists and hence the greater the suffering. Look at India. The largest democracy in the world. A fast developing economy. But, see how people can get killed in thousands with not a single individual ever punished for the crimes that are being perpetually committed, in a most organized manner, with definite results, since last fifty years. This then is the butt of our argument against democracy. You can play with it. But, an Islamic system of government can be no tool in the hands of those who run it.
After administration of justice, the Ameer is responsible for defense, foreign policy, management of finance, education, development, industry, and so forth. To carry out these functions he may appoint committees, create departments, establish ministries or do whatever else. He also creates a “Shoura” (the advisory council). The men he will appoint will be state employees, chosen on merit and not men of a political party, or his own kith and kin. The “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd” once again, do not have any role in the running of the government. Some of their members might be in the “Shoura”, depending on merit. But they themselves are not the governing body. Its members are free citizens, kind of monitors. When they see that the basic rights of the citizens are threatened, or the state run badly, then they come alive, and by consensus remove the top man. If the Ameer broke a rule of Divine Law, or a deputy did that without being punished, they step in, remove him and appoint another. There is no fuss about it and the next man can be in place within minutes without disturbing the state machinery. (The previous Ameer’s deputies are not removed). This makes the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd” like a sword hanging on the Ameer’s head. He needs to act in a way pleasing to all. And he has no control over the members of this body. They have to be men who earn prominence through their own, non-governmental efforts and bear a good moral standing to be within the body.
Thus, the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd” are a different body with different functions from the “Shoura” (the Advisory Council). The latter are like the members of Parliament. (Many people are confused between the two). But the Shoura has no legislating authority. That belongs to Allah, worked out through the Qur’an and the practices of the Prophet (saws). To remind, what qualifies a man to be part of an Islamic government is not merely his functional abilities. What has to be assured is his moral integrity. Let us say one of the committee members, or a state official, or a Minister of department is a wonderful administrator. But he drinks. He is disqualified.
The revolutionary part however is not in the method of formation of the government. It consists in fixed laws based in the Qur’an and hadith that no one can overrule. They are in place by default. Any transaction, any interaction – of the state or individual – in contradiction to the Islamic laws is null and void by default. A rule above all rules is: “There can be no obedience in the disobedience of God.” So, everyone, including the “ahl al-hull wa al-`aqd” are bound to obey the Ameer. But not when he flouts an Islamic law. When he does that, nobody obeys.
So, the head of the state, his deputies, the Shoura, the government officials, the courts and committees are not legislating authorities. They are there to implement the laws that have already been worked out by the jurists, and do the day to day work of the governance. Not only that allows the governmental officials, agencies and institutions to concentrate their efforts on purely developmental works, but also gives stability to the government machinery, the state and the people. Needless to point out, fixed and permanent laws assure every individual that no mischief will be done to him by laws or by-laws, since all laws pertaining to him are Divine Laws. In this, the Islamic system of government stands unique.
Now, are we speaking of a dream government? No. This type of government, though not hundred percent Islamic, is in place in several countries in the Gulf and other countries. And it works well. Millions of Hindus and other foreigners living there since a quarter century have never been burned, killed, nor has any of their women been kidnapped. (Recently a local youth spent a few weeks in lock-up for having boxed a foreigner). This is despite the fact that the Arabs are strongly xenophobic and economically many are worse off than the guest workers. But, out of ignorance, (deliberate and out of spite), the foreigners think that this is because of the use of strong arm methods by the government. No. The “Islamic System of Government” is the strong arm.
We have deliberately avoided giving examples from the past (which Gandhiji had said he would love to see installed in India), or from the present to curtail the growing length of this article. But we must point out in conclusion that, as we have said in the previous article, anything works that has a broad agreement of the people. Democracy, oligarchy, autocracy, communism, the Indian village Panchayat, the Afghani Jirga, everything works. Why not an Islamic system of government? Of course, for full efficiency it requires men of quality, well-spread over the population. But that does not disqualify other kinds of people from using the system. At worst, instead of a pure Islamic government, they will end up having a government by the elites, the well-educated, the honest and the experts. Now, what’s wrong with that?