Month: February 2018

Muslim Brotherhood Inc., and righteous greed

Both ends of the spectrum of Political Islam have more or less collapsed.

The presence and influence of moderate Islamist political parties is in steep decline, particularly since the debacle of the Mursi presidency in Egypt, and the coup that ended it. The territorial demise of Da’esh, and with it, the evaporation of their delusional political project, as well, represent the coming irrelevance of the ideology of Political Islam in the Muslim world.

That is not to say that Islamists have renounced their ambitions for power. On the contrary, they are just as power-hungry as ever; it is just not manifesting itself in the desire for political positions so much as it is in the desire to accumulate wealth and to form business syndicates around the world.

This is not, of course, an entirely new trajectory for them. When the Muslim Brotherhood held the government in Egypt, however briefly, they articulated explicitly that the satisfaction of foreign investors was their top priority. Indeed, a contingent of government officials and businessmen from the US visited Egypt at the time, and characterized the Ikhwan as indistinguishable from the American Republican Party (historically regarded as the party of Big Business). Mursi agreed in principle to the demands of the International Monetary Fund, all of which are designed to favour multinational corporations, and generally to the severe detriment of the population. Mursi merely requested a longer timetable for the IMF reforms to be implemented.

It seems the Brotherhood has taken a tip from the AK Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and perhaps learned from the scattered efforts of activists in Egypt against the IMF and foreign investor domination; that lesson being: real power rests in the private sector. This realization, of course, makes it inevitable that the Islamist political agenda will collide against the private business interests of party members. This was most apparent when the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt went deafeningly silent about the IMF loan agreement for $12 billion (the largest loan the institution ever offered to a Middle Eastern country), which handed over Egypt’s economic sovereignty to Christine Lagarde and her successors for the next twenty years. The country’s fiscal policy, budgetary program, monetary controls, and everything from the price of medicine to the system of taxation, were all surrendered to the IMF; all without a word of protest from the “Islamic” opposition, despite the fact that the IMF reforms would have, and are indeed having, devastating effect on the economic lives of average Egyptians.

But, you see, the Muslim Brotherhood have become not only committed Capitalists, they have joined the ranks of the Neoliberals; presumably in the belief that this will financially enrich them as an organization, and with the newfound wealth they will wield greater political influence. The paradox should be obvious. They tell themselves that they will be able to serve the Islamist agenda in the long run, by sacrificing it in the short run for the sake of making money. This is not dissimilar from their previous strategy of serving the Islamist agenda in the long run by sacrificing it in the short run for the sake of infiltrating the established power hierarchy.

Based in Turkey, they are quietly building global business syndicates, particularly in the real estate sector; and continuing to fund projects for private profit through financial contributions to their many charities by religiously motivated, if naive, believers in the Ikhwan’s advertising slogan that “Islam is the Solution”.

Their political posturing, their continued declarations about Political Islam, have become exactly that: advertising.  A way to sell the Ikhwan brand, to keep revenues flowing in support of their private enterprise ambitions.  Their greed, you see, is righteous, because they have high-minded future plans of how they will use their nascent economic power.  Their less than exemplary actions must not be judged poorly because of their exemplary intentions.  So when they call for “escalation” in Egypt, which they know perfectly well will only result in the death or detention of who knows how many young people, it is still good, because it promotes the brand.  If the brand is successful, everyone wins in the end.  There is, however, no guarantee that either we or their intentions will make it that far.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that the Muslim Brotherhood become completely transparent about their finances. Where does their money come from, and where is it spent? Who is profiting, how much? Or are we to believe that their private business interests do not impact their public statements (or silences), nor their political aims; because why? They say so?

Jordan Peterson and the “clean room” theory of social change

When he is not offering esoteric Jungian interpretations of the Bible, or dissecting Postmodernist ideology, Dr Jordan B. Peterson is telling us to clean up our rooms. It is an old-fashioned bit of advice, springing from Peterson’s Protestant values; “take responsibility for those matters under your immediate control”.

It also reflects his experience as a clinical psychologist treating people suffering from depression, anxiety, and those with an overwhelming sense of living in chaos. The idea is, encourage people to apply themselves to the simple day-to-day things; help them organize their lives from the ground up. People, Peterson says, should be careful to remain within the boundaries of their own competency; and for him that means that most people should not preoccupy themselves with “changing the world”.

Peterson’s view is also influenced by his exposure on campus to young, idealistic, and very often narrow-minded and naïve political activists. He sees them (probably accurately) as biting off more than they can chew; dedicating themselves to changing society for the better, while they have done little or no work on improving themselves, developing their ideas, and cultivating their own maturity.

The problem is, all of these contexts that have influenced Peterson’s views lend themselves to a very skewed perspective. Peterson, for instance, has never been involved in any social, political, or human rights activism himself; hence his critique is entirely one-sided. He has no idea what sorts of discussions take place among activists, doesn’t know anything about their lives, or indeed, if their rooms are or are not clean already.

He also fails to recognise that the overwhelming majority of the population already implements his advice; i.e.; they are entirely consumed with their own daily lives, their own private concerns, their own personal issues; and have very little interest in anything else going on in society, or in the world, that does not impact them directly. And this is precisely why many activists become so vehement; because Peterson’s advice encourages an approach to life which enables horrific injustices to be perpetrated without the slightest notice from the general public.

I have personally seen regular, average people successfully delay a catastrophic loan agreement between the Egyptian government and the International Monetary Fund, and the only reason they were not able to derail the agreement altogether was because too many Egyptians opted to busy themselves with their own personal lives. The impact of that agreement has already increased the misery index for millions of people in Egypt. Being too focused on “cleaning up their own rooms” to participate in the opposition to the IMF, has made it more likely that they will have no rooms of their own to clean in the near future.

I have seen a housewife in England organize boats on the other side of the world to rescue Rohingya refugees from certain slaughter. Would she have been better advised to organize her closet?

I have known a husband and father who struggled every month to pay his own rent and to provide for his family’s basic needs, while simultaneously raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in charity to fund relief efforts in the Third World, which made millions of lives better. Should he have rather discarded those efforts in favour of a stable 9 to 5 office job with a livable wage?

Every significant social and political movement has been advanced by individuals willing to sacrifice their own well-being, their own comfort, their own personal interest, for the sake of a cause greater than themselves. The theory that society would have advanced in a similar, or in a better way, had all of these people instead attended to the tidiness of their own rooms, so to speak, is dubious at best, and delusional at worst.

I fully agree that everyone must try to remain within the boundaries of their own competency, but I do not at all agree that those boundaries can just be assumed. One does not definitively know the limits of one’s capabilities until one tries. There is also something to be said about the degree to which individual competency can be compounded with the competency of others through solidarity in a collective effort. That is something very real, and again, it is something attested to by the many triumphs of social and political movements throughout history. The “clean room” theory, is more or less an argument against solidarity.

I do not think it is as obvious as Peterson thinks it is, that one who cannot focus on “cleaning their own room” is automatically incapable of doing anything greater or more complex than that. Indeed, it may very often be the case that people opt to engage the greater and more complex challenges precisely because they (correctly) evaluate them as being more important and more urgent; and if they were to heed Peterson’s advice, they would be undermining their own potential, and robbing the world of what they had to offer.

A clean room is not necessarily a womb from which a better and more just world is born. It is sound advice, but with a very limited scope of relevance. If taken as too strict an injunction it is a call to self-absorption and indifference. Sometimes, it is necessary to step out of your room, regardless of what state it is in, and push the boundaries of your competency in an effort greater than your own self-interest.