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Muslim Societies and the Challenge of the Western Civilization: Understanding Technological Development

Translated by: Ghazali Farooqi

The model of technological progress employed by the communists is called the “Scientific Development by Virtue of Planning”. The Russians started working on it and in 50 years from 1924 to 1974, they made progress according to this methodology with a growth rate of 9% to 13%. When Khrushchev went to New York and gave a speech, he claimed that at the rate we are progressing, we will bury America under it. They conquered space first – meaning they reached there first. They were the first to develop the Biological Sciences, the Theoretical Sciences and worked extensively on this and tried to fulfill people’s needs. It was actually the Russian Red Army that defeated Germany in World War 2. The Russians defeated the Germans on the Eastern European front while the Americans did not even get a scratch, 20 million Russians died in that war. But in 1974, Khrushchev made this claim and in 1989, Russia collapsed like a balloon deflates when the air comes out of it.

The growth rate is one thing, but Eastern Europe had started slipping out of their hands in 1982 and by 1986 it had completely slipped out. Here I am not making an accusation, just search for ‘Solidarity Movements’ on Google and it will tell you that Eastern Europe slipped out of Russia’s hands due to Technological Transformation. What was the reason for this? I will explain this further. So far I have just explained the methodology they had adopted for technological progress, and that they had decided to provide the best facilities in the world to their scientists so they can keep working in the field of science and development and Russia can keep fulfilling people’s needs. Stalin had established cities and built places where he kept his scientists and provided them with the best facilities in the world so that they could continue working in the fields of science and development and fulfill the needs of the Russian people. Even then, America surpassed them in the race of progress. It surpassed so much that when Russia was drowning, America came and saved it. Russia had the technology, the commitment to fulfill people’s needs, educated people with a 100% literacy rate, and the commitment to progress and provide for people’s needs, the best army in the world, the best weapons in the world, yet Russia collapsed.

Let’s move on to the second model! Its central point is the market, i.e. linking Scientific Technological Development with human greed and envy. Meaning the sole driving force behind which scientific law to use within the market and why to use it, was how to invest money to generate the maximum possible profits. As long as it does not go against the state interest, you are free to develop whatever scientific transformation you want. As a result of this principle, all kinds of technological development took place in America and Europe. People not only earned money and progressed, but in fact, it brought technology into every household. For example, cars reached people faster in America compared to Russia, even though it was the state’s responsibility to provide cars in Russia which also had a smaller population, so cars should have reached there first. On the contrary, in America, citizens had to go and buy cars themselves, so cars should have been late in reaching people there. But that didn’t happen. What happened was that the market in America produced so many cars, so cheap and in so many varieties that every person got a car.

The situation in Eastern Europe was such that when they saw a person from Western Europe, they would ask, ‘Why do we have this mediocre type of car, while you have the best cars?’ This was because the cars manufactured in Russia were made to fulfill necessities, whereas those made in America and Western Europe were designed to satisfy their desire for luxury. History has proven that technology developed for luxury grows faster and is more easily accessible. I’m not blaming anyone; this is a scientific and practical truth that cannot be denied. The world agrees that American technology might not have been as powerful as that of Russia, but it was better, more comfortable, readily available, and easier to handle.

Therefore, if you have to use any model of technological progress for the revival of Islam, then it will either be Ideological or A-Ideological. If you are a religious person then A-Ideological is not possible, rather your mechanism must necessarily be Ideological. And if you try to impose any ideology on technological advancement, as Russia had done, then the rate of progress will fall and it will not be able to compete with the technological progress that is without any ideology.

The example of China is before you. When Mao Zedong came to power, he said that we need to progress, but their ideological commitment was to socialism. Therefore, they decided to work on metallurgy. Wrong planning led to investing money in metallurgy. As a result, famine occurred and hundreds of thousands of people died. One individual devised a plan, which was approved by the Politburo or Communist Council and implemented. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died. Now who was responsible for that? Mao Zedong was worshipped like a God, who would question him? Soon he also became the chairman. After him came Deng Xiaoping. He told the public to produce whatever they want, and he changed the course of the economy from socialism to capitalism. In most cases in the world, socialism follows capitalism but here capitalism came after socialism. When China adopted the capitalist order, you can see how rapidly it progressed. But this progress is one hundred percent product of the capitalist order, the state has no role in it. The state does not plan what you should produce. Whatever you produce, the state says there should be community contribution. If there is community contribution then you take as much profit as you want – from the Chinese, from other countries – but they didn’t incorporate their socialism into it.

Therefore, if a religious society, especially Muslims talk about progress/advancement in technology, it will inevitably have to sacrifice its values. It cannot happen that they achieve technological progress according to the market model while their religious values remain intact and unchanged, because in the market, the MCM (Money, Commodity, Money) cycle of Prime (Marxist theory) extends, meaning that your economy becomes such that you participate in the process of production solely to accumulate wealth. Additionally, in a capitalist economy, participation in the process of production is not undertaken to fulfill people’s needs. If you look at this argument of ours with suspicion, please excuse us, but your understanding of capitalism is doubtful.

Remember that both paradigms of technological progress had their own values. The values of the communists were: Fulfilling people’s basic needs, fulfilling the needs of the bourgeoisie and the working class, and exporting the socialist revolution worldwide. In contrast to it, the objectives of technological progress in Europe and America was: Freedom; and in a capitalist order freedom means freedom of capital because in a capitalist society, freedom is meaningless without capital. If you don’t have bucks in your pocket, what meaning does your freedom have? You can sit alone and think about freedom like a madman but to exercise the right to freedom you need to have capital, and capital comes as a result of accepting the coercion of the market, by accepting the values of the market, and the market has only one value which is that the rate of growth of capital should be faster. For example, these mobile phones you have were not made by companies so that you can talk to your children or parents through them. You can do this with it but if I just keep using it for this reason, one day this mobile will not remain with me. Why? Because the mobile runs on money and not for free. If I have to keep it with me, then its most effective use is how much more this mobile connects me to capitalist practices. If through this mobile I increase my business connections, then I can buy and distribute 10 such mobile phones among my relatives, but if I just keep checking on my parents’ wellbeing with it then this mobile will slip out of my hands, because if I don’t do business with it, then how will I recharge it every day? Consequently, one day or the other I will have to sell it.

The most effective use of this mobile is that I invest money in the stock market through it. I have a friend who works in a bank and has a degree in economics. He left his job and now works with the bank. His salary is Rs 180,000. Apart from that the bank gives him various allowances of Rs 120,000 extra. So his salary is almost Rs 300,000. He has a laptop and has been an expert in investing in the stock market since childhood. So the bank gives him a large amount that he invests in stocks and he is so skilled at this work that every month he earns crores for the bank, he has never suffered losses and earns crores for the bank every month. If he earns more than a certain limit for the bank, he also gets an extra bonus.

He says this laptop is not for you to sit and watch people’s photos. This can also be done with it because your parents still have their protective shade over you and they give you money to spend so you can enjoy using Facebook for free but when your father dies and you keep looking at Facebook all the time, where will you pay the electricity bill from? And how will you pay the credit card bill? The laptop is actually there so that you stay connected to the international market. If he sees a downturn in Pakistan’s market, he invests the money somewhere else. The bank has given him the freedom to invest anywhere. Wherever he goes, he carries his laptop but he remains in agony for 24 hours. He is my age but looks much older than me. He is under tension all the time, constantly popping pills because there is always pressure on him that if money is lost what will happen? And he spends lavishly and has adopted a high standard of living, now his family cannot survive on a low income. His monthly expense is Rs 200,000 to 250,000. Now if he loses this job, he cannot survive on a new job of Rs 40,000 to 50,000 so he remains tense all the time, he always has this fear that what if a bomb went off, what if things went bad?

In reality, the main purpose of mobile technology is that you stay connected to the international market. Apart from that, you can also use it for any other purpose but it is not primarily made for that. So technology grows within its own values. If you use this mobile for what it is made for, you will be more effective, you will be more successful in adopting and operating its standards. To buy a better mobile, you will have to use this mobile in a way that is consistent with its value. If from this mobile you keep giving Azans (Muslim call to prayer) in people’s homes or keep waking them up for prayers, you can do that but for that, you will need money to keep buying the mobile recharge cards. But if from you invest money in the giant stock market, then you do not need to think about anything else.

So remember this thing that the market is the most effective mechanism for technological progress and this is a historical fact. Answering the question of why technology becomes value-laden, Charles Tilly says that the modern technology in front of you has camouflaged the worst forms of barbarism. He gives the example that suppose you have a sword, as our elders used to talk about swords that you can cut your throat with a sword and someone else’s too. Meaning technology does not have any intrinsic value; its use determines whether it is good or bad. But Charles Tilly asks, ‘Do they not know what that means’? When I use the sword, suppose I attack a group of people with the sword, and those who are weak and defenseless are unable to escape, and I start hitting them with the sword. Charles Tilly says that the person who will be directly affected by this technology will be the one wielding the sword.

When my hand will fall on an elder, a woman, or a child, and when they scream, it will also affect my mind, my soul, and my existence, and it is possible that my entire moral life will change after this barbaric act. Why? Because whatever I am doing, whatever technology I am using, and whatever barbarism I am directly involved in, will I not be affected by it? When they all die and their corpses and open eyes will keep staring at me, why won’t it affect me? It is possible that after seeing this sight I might stab myself.

Why? Because the technology I used could not separate me from life and its realities, the specialty of traditional technology was that it attached you. Modern technology detaches you. Suppose some people here are sitting and thinking some bad things about America and there is a possibility that American interests may be harmed because of it. So an American in Philadelphia, while drinking coffee in his air-conditioned room, decides that this is intimidation and presses a button of intercontinental missiles and then turns on the TV and keeps listening to songs, and from there, ballistic missiles come here and in an instant countless children, elders, and youth are blown apart. Will the state of consciousness of this person and the state of consciousness of the person who had struck others with a sword be the same, is it possible?

In our vicinity, Iraq, 1.2 million people were killed there in 5 years, did anyone care? 36 thousand people have died in Pakistan, people are watching but the digitally constructed world has camouflaged everything. Apparently, you are told that you are connected but in fact, you are disconnected. When the earthquake came in Balakot and we saw its scenes on TV, me and my older brother and his friend, we then went there to help the people as much as we could. So we were assigned to work with an army platoon. We used to help them and do whatever they told us – lift this, dig here, that kind of small tasks. We stayed there for seventeen days. I could not eat anything for the first three days there. When I reached there, it had been six or seven days since the earthquake had happened. There was a stench of human bodies that I had never smelled in my life.

I am not a person accustomed to living in palaces. I am from those who are born in Nazimabad and get buried in Paposh Nagar graveyard, so I’m no high-profile person. But I could not eat in those conditions and I used to vomit. Such a stench had spread all over Balakot. Anyone who has gone to Balakot after the earthquake will confirm my words. There, I asked a soldier, ‘Brother, what is causing this intense odor?’ So, he said, ‘This is coming from the bodies of people who are trapped inside, they have died.’ I used to go down the mountain to eat, descended quite far down, yet I couldn’t eat. There was a plant there; by breaking its leaf and rubbing it on my hands, it emitted a fragrance akin to fresh coriander, only then I was able to eat. But watching on TV, people were seeing that some individuals were going there with gifts and cakes, entering the children’s camps. A child’s mother had died, his father, brother – all had passed away. The child was shivering and sobbing there. Then people came with cakes to celebrate his birthday, wearing big hats and carrying gifts, capturing their pictures on cameras. The world was watching.

Brother! People here are unable to have even a piece of bread, and you have brought cakes? Are you a Human; what are you? “No problem – we come to share in their happiness”. What’s there to be happy about? Their entire family has perished, and you’ve come here to celebrate happiness. Aren’t you ashamed? Have you come wearing makeup to take pictures? What I mean is, the people used to watch and hear these things on the TV, they couldn’t smell the intense stench? Have they not raised the cold human bodies? Do you know what it’s like to lift a dead person? Even the hands of strong people tremble. There was a child whose hand was sticking out; he was stuck and crushed. We began pulling, not knowing which structure he was trapped in. I started digging in the morning, and I continued digging till evening, but I couldn’t get him out. When I tried to pull the child, his hand ended up in mine. When I brought that hand back, there was an artist sitting there, wearing a hat and entertaining children with jokes. What I mean to say is that those people were watching it all on TV. The way of seeing is one experience, and actually feeling and experiencing it is something else. In short, when you live a technologically driven life, it detaches you.

When we talk against technology, it does not mean that all Pakistanis should go back to the stone age. Because when you criticize technology, Pakistanis are reminded of a camel’s back, and they say ‘You go sit on a camel’s back!’. So no one is telling you to sit on a camel’s back, but you should not look at this technology with admiration. This is not admirable because the market determines the value of technology. Who told you ‘this and that is expensive and whatever will be expensive will be better. That whatever is expensive will be ‘good’, who is determining the value? The market is determining the value.

When you go into a technologically driven life-world, capital becomes your value. Improvement in standard of living and accumulation of capital are mutually necessary, which is why we say that those who try to connect and combine technological growth in modern times with the revival of Islam, contradict each other, and the values ​​promoted as a result are essentially capitalist values. Technological growth cannot take place without accepting the enhancement of capital as a core value.

And it is also worth considering whether technology brings any improvement to people’s lives or not. Because thinkers like Jose Maria Sbert and Gustavo Esteva etc. say that third-world countries are not even involved in the process of technological development. They do not develop technology but re-develop it, that is, they develop something that had already been developed in the Western world thirty years ago and is now obsolete there, but they present it to their people in the name of development. When they present any technology to their people, they say it is high, modern, and the essence of long research, whereas it has already become obsolete in the West. When a computer enters the market in the third world, by that time its technology has already become obsolete in the West, because the model that comes after it is technologically consistent.

Some people say that technological growth has solved the problems of human life. I will conclude this discussion on a conference held in Copenhagen in December 2009. In this conference, many post-modern thinkers collectively raised the issue that the increase in world temperature due to technological production is destroying nature so rapidly that within the next fifty years, the world will become uninhabitable for humans. Therefore, these people believed that all the states of the world should collectively bring the overall temperature down by four degrees so that humans get another fifty years in which they can develop some alternative sustainable development mechanisms. America was also present in this conference, as were Europe, China, India, and others. No one signed this agreement. They said let the world be destroyed if it has to because bringing down the temperature by four degrees means we will have to slow down our technological progress, and if we do so, who will repay us for the capital we have invested in it? The truth is that both China and India have extremely obsolete technology that causes a lot of pollution. So China said fine, we will shut down our technology, you pay us the billions of dollars we have invested. The Western countries refused saying we won’t pay. In response, they said then we won’t shut down, let the world go to hell, what do we care? Anyway, none of the people present in this hall will be alive after fifty years, so what happens to the world after that is not our concern.

The post-modern thinker who was chairing the Copenhagen conference tore up that draft and walked out of the conference, saying that people have prioritized progress over the future of humanity, so only God can save this world now. And she was not the only one to say this – a famous atheist philosopher Heidegger wrote a book in 1926 called ‘Essay Concerning Technology’. When asked if there was any solution to this monster of technology that has arisen, he said “Only God can save the world from this monster of technology.” And mind you, he himself did not believe in God. This meant that no one can save the world because this is an evil cycle that is easy to get trapped in but impossible to get out of. It is like a noose that is easy to put around your neck but does not let go once it catches you.

Some people here say that we are not even involved in technological progress, it is Europe that is participating, so what do we have to do with it? We will always remain subordinates. Some people say that the way to slow down the process of technological progress is to become a bad consumer. If you become a bad consumer, the global economy will sink. A famous economist says that if for a month a large number of people detach themselves from the consumption process, the production process will still continue to produce! These hens that you have raised keep laying eggs due to a certain technology. If you want them to stop laying eggs, it cannot happen, they will keep laying eggs. Whatever is in the technological process, if you try to slow it down, its price mechanisms will be disturbed and the entire international market will collapse.

So those people who oppose American policy due to its wrongdoings and want to defeat it, they need to understand that for this they do not need to launch missiles and bombs on America. Rather they should attack it from the side that it cannot defend itself against, and that is – stop following its capitalist values and stop purchasing its technological products. Look! America does not tell you to go to Pizza Hut and eat a thousand rupee bread when bread for five rupees is available in your country. It does not tell you to sit in a car that costs one and a half crore rupees.

When you or someone from any third world country buys a 1600cc car, Charles Tilly says that the local population, if it has an agriculture-based economy like Pakistan’s, then a hundred households will be deprived of two and a half maunds of wheat. After depriving a hundred families of flour, he buys that car. If he says I have not looted them. Surely you did not loot them, but you are using a technology that you did not create, so where will you pay for its cost from? Only by slitting the throats of your own people (by exploiting them).

If you say what’s the big deal in this? Then understand that a car does not grow on a mango tree that you can just go and pluck it. To manufacture a car, humans have to face thousands of kinds of difficulties. If someone asks your leader what is his idea of heaven, he will say that heaven is a huge highway on which I am cruising in a limousine. If his mind works this way, then it is obvious how the common man’s mind will work.

In short, if you want to defeat the West’s technological progress mechanism on the basis of weapons and want to work technologically in the military field, you can do that too. But the fundamental way to defeat the West is that you stop imitating its values. If your values ​​are the same, if you want what the man sitting inside the White House wants, then what’s the fight about? What’s the problem? But if you desire the lifestyle of Pharaoh and the Hereafter of Moses, then both of these things cannot coexist. They will not come together. The footprint of a revered scholar, be it this way or that way, cannot be both at once; it is not possible.

We do not suggest that you immediately stop using current technology and break it apart to discard it, and then tell me, “Sir, you yourself are sitting under the fan and presenting those same old and worn-out arguments against it”. Brother! Although Moses (peace be upon him) ate the same bread produced by the Pharaonic civilization, he did not idolize the lifestyle of Pharaoh, and when he got the chance he turned that lifestyle upside down. He did not demolish the pyramids of Egypt but he also did not say let’s turn it into a library.

When Muslims reached near the Mediterranean Sea, they said – what kind of people were these who lived protected lives in the mountains yet were being killed? From this, they understood that living in the mountains for protection was also useless, and they decided that they would live in the open fields and defend themselves and defeat the enemy there. What this means is that if you want to adopt the same technology-based lifestyle that America and Europe have adopted, then what is your problem with them?

We say that technology brings its own values with it. See how the movement for unity progressed in Eastern and Western Europe! When the people of Eastern Europe saw that the people of Western Europe had progressed a lot, they thought let’s adopt their technology and as a result, we will also progress similarly. For this, they took information technology from them. As soon as they took information technology from Western Europe, they were told that they need to have financial institutions that can aid in this technology transfer. So the Eastern Europeans thought okay let’s make some financial institutions that can enable the transfer of technology between Eastern and Western Europe. But through these institutions, eventually, the whole society got transformed and they kicked out the communists. The average lifestyle of Eastern Europe’s population had increased by only 14% from 1924, after the First World War, until 1982. When they saw Western Europe, they thought we also need such progress. They were told they will get this progress on the basis of a competitive life world. So they agreed that they need free competition. Why should I stand in line and wait? Rather whoever has the strength should step forward and take it. Thus they said we do not need technology on the basis of principles of equality but on the basis of efficiency. Efficiency is not equal in everyone, whoever has more efficiency should take more technology from Western Europeans. What was the result? Eastern Europe and Western Europe came to the same conclusion. If you also want to use the same technology, then you will also have to unite on the same values.

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