Dr. Rais Hussin
Speaking at the press conference after the end of a three-day working visit to Pakistan, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad affirmed that the “Islamic world is over-reliant on the West”. This has significantly reduced its capacity to speak up.
Dr Mahathir may have a point. Islam, as a religion, is not merely about peace. It is also about having the capacity to speak truth to power; indeed all the powers that be.
In other words, a Muslim must be brave and courageous. Not by being a suicide bomber in sheer frustration, but empowering oneself intelligently; such as with the sound acquisition of knowledge.
Over the last century, the Islamic world has diffused into more than 50 predominantly Muslim countries, all of which are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) now.
Although OIC member states form a quarter of the world’s international community, effectively 25 per cent of the member states in the United Nations, the share of OIC’s total global gross domestic product (GDP) is less than five per cent; roughly what China was in 1979 prior to its economic reforms.
China has increased the share of its global GDP to nearly 30 per cent. It has advanced, as a single collective, but not so with the entire membership of OIC.
If one removes oil and gas as a portion of the contribution, the actual share of OIC’s global GDP could well be as low as two per cent.
Something is seriously wrong with OIC member states. It is not learning anything revolutionary or dynamic for a start.
The Centre of Islamic Studies in University of Oxford, ironically, enjoys more prestige than the Centre of Islamic Knowledge in Istanbul or Kuala Lumpur for that matter.
The OIC was formed on Sept 25, 1969; but after all these years and even after a crazed Australian Jew dashed into Masjid Al-Aqsa in Baitul Muqaddis (Jerusalem) to gun down some worshippers, the unity and purposive-ness of the Islamic world have been lacking.
It is not learning, but leaning almost entirely on the West. And it is also not learning anything from the major powers in the East, such as Japan. More importantly, the Islamic world, divided by a motley group of nation states, do not know if they should be embracing democracy at all.
Without democracy and basic concepts of open society, how can it learn and earn its place in the world?
Therefore, Dr Mahathir is right. But only right up to a point. By failing to solve and answer such a simple question (on democracy), the Islamic world has become confused, and often confounded.
There are serious implications. When Uyghur Muslims in China were detained to the tune of more than 1.2 million, a feat not seen since World War 2, (when the Nazi-led regime did the same and more between 1939 and 1945), the silence of the Islamic world was shocking, save for Turkey and to a smaller extent, Malaysia.
It is almost as if the Islamic world is unaware that what China is doing can potentially lead to mass concentration and death camps.
Yet the late Louis Althusser, a French post-Marxist scholar, has pointed out such “structural” and “symbolic violence” cannot be underestimated. They can lead to mayhem and murder by the state (s).
If not careful, such detentions can go haywire, leading to the punishment and massacre of thousands and thousands of innocent Uyghur Muslims — even though the intention of Beijing is to “re-educate” them. Islam, in other words, would be moulded to suit Communist “characteristics”, the “communification of Islam”.
Yet, just as the Muslim world is weak viz-a-viz China, a new and emerging superpower, the Islamic world is equally weak against the West by not learning from the East too.
Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have advanced scientifically. South Korea was behind Malaysia in the early 1980s.
Now they are way ahead of Malaysia. Why? Why isn’t the Islamic world learning from such countries? It is weak in the East and West; it is so weak that the OIC member states have collapsed, internally and externally.
The OIC, in many ways, is almost a “defunct” entity with only lamb and baklava meetings. Dr Mahathir has merely opened a can of worms with this topic in Pakistan. Should a new Muslim alliance be established instead? Be that as it may, Dr Mahathir has to guide Malaysia, Pakistan and OIC to learn from Japan and other top Asian powers too.
To redress its weakness, the Islamic world must emulate the best practices of Japan and other top Asian countries.
A policy of learning from Japan alone would significantly alter the trajectory of the Islamic world, making it more ethical, honest and honourable, all of which are the basic edifice of a healthy and democratic society.
As things stand, Japan is an open society that has embraced science and democracy. Japan is not perfect, but it has made considerable progress. It a country that is generous on sharing its know-how and resources.
Yet, with the exception of Malaysia, no Muslim country has tried to catch up with the pre-modern, modern, or current Japan with a Look East programme.
Malaysia has a Look East policy which can cultivate its citizens to be intellectually stronger, healthier and less abrasive.
But there is no way the Islamic world can rise up if it does not take the first step to learn from Japan and other top Asian countries, and concurrently speak up against China's atrocities on
the Uyghur and Chinese Muslims.
The writer is president/CEO of EMIR Research, an independent think tank who believes in research-based outcome, without fear or favour.
Published in: New Straits Times, Tuesday 26 March 2019