Saturday, July 28, 2007

History's Verdict


Maryam Sakeenah

All the King’s men sang the glories of the empire from behind a glass screen in a desperate attempt to preserve their privileged selves from some angry man’s bullet. It was a heavily funded show of power, an attempt to look good, suave, settled comfortably in their high chairs. The same day in Karachi, those of a lesser god lay writhing in pools of blood as the police and government authorities watched the mayhem. A Theatre of the Absurd.

What historians tell us sounds curiously similar. They sang and played the harp while Rome was burning. When Baghdad was ransacked by the Mongols and Tartars they were busy proving their oratory skills in religious argument. It heralded the fall, the demise of the great empires. “Or are the people of the town secure from the coming of Our wrath upon them in the daytime when they play?”(the Quran, 7:98)

Soon, in a matter of years, history shall issue its verdict. Soon, in a matter of years history shall remember them as the diminutive pygmies they are, who made merry holding their noses over the stench of corpses. Soon, in a matter of years history will strip them of their sham grandeur to expose the paltry lusts stuffing these papier-mache figurines. Soon, in a matter of years they will be like little stains on the ever-expansive canvas of Time. Soon, in a matter of years, the Truth will out, rising like the moon that the grey clouds had dimmed, persisting and rising again when the billowy shadows pass away; reigning supreme in the end. In the end…

History remembers. In the heart of the Shah’s Iran was the formidable ministry of foreign affairs, which today is a public museum displaying the dungeons and instruments of torture used on the enemies of the Shah and the enemies of the Shah’s Friends. It happened all the while the Shah insisted he did not know the whereabouts of the missing people. History unmasks the dirtiest, deadliest secrets. It is only a matter of time… Visitors at the museum today are educated in this greatest lesson of history.

History’s judgement is unvarying. Its Criterion is the universal Moral Law we all know in the deepest of our hearts, not the shifting, selfish, utilitarian compulsions we invent to justify the wrongs we do. In history’s pages, it is the Moralist who lives, not the Pragmatist. For, the Moralist unconditionally upholds the universal Ideal. He does not shift, adapt, mould, flex or switch over expediently. He does not have the temporal in view. His vision is not narrowed down to visible, achievable, immediate, selfish ends. The Pragmatist lives in the present and for the present. He thinks, plans, believes in the present and vies for the immediate and the tangible. Like the extent of his vision and aspiration, he too is temporary_ a momentary flicker in the abyss of Time. Leaving behind little else but a stain of grease. “By Time! Man is in Loss. Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds; Who exhort one another to the Truth and exhort one another to Steadfastness.” (The Quran)

It is in History that we live eternally. And history commends not these paltry shows of power. It commends not those who have as the sole end in sight their worldly power and its continuity. It commends not those who fight for an alien agenda on their own soil; who forsake the identity of a nation for a cheap image-boost; it commends not the survivors for the moment. It commends those who water the soils with their own lifeblood to let those who would come after see the Spring; those who live, struggle and die for an Ideal they believe in_ an Ideal that promises to liberate and create Peace. The richness of their vision and mission outlasts them, sanctified in the pages of History. Such are the Immortals who keep the Flame going.

Each one of us_ moralist or pragmatist_ carries this awareness, this realization within. Tony Blair knew this. He was full with the knowledge in his farewell address. He knew that it wasn’t his ‘missions’ in Iraq and Afghanistan that would be, in the final analysis, the feather in the cap. It wasn’t his mission against terror he’d be remembered by. And so, in the list of his achievements, it was his public welfare work that did him proud and that was worthy to be claimed as his legacy.

Musharraf too, in the legacy he would be accredited for, wouldn’t have his expediently engineered ‘Enlightened Moderation’, or the mayhem in Waziristan as the salient features. Rather, it would be the development of the economy and the welfare work for the people that would (if at all) write his name down with some fondness. It is not his pragmatic side, not the expedient tools and ploys leaders use to preserve and serve temporal power that history would eulogize. For the heart of mankind knows and believes it is the Moralist who rises out of History’s dust, not the Pragmatist. It is only a matter of time…

Visibly broken, Blair said that after all he did, it is his sincerity in doing it that should acquit him. “I did what I thought was right,” he said amidst uproarious applause. It may well get him forgiven as a fumbling human being, but it also makes him another one of history’s pygmies. Great leadership is not about ‘doing what one thinks is right’ (which turns out all wrong). Good leadership is about thinking right, and doing it, despite the odds. For, a leader’s error of judgement becomes the destiny of nations.

Musharraf probably would say the same, though in words of greater bravado, being an army man. So would Bush, if he had the grace. And this is where the tragedy of these dark times lies: our leaders merely do what they think is right…

In his address to the faculty and students of International Islamic University, Musharraf had ranted against ‘obscurantist elements’ dreaming of an Islamic State, wanting to go thousands of years back (to be accurate, 1428 years back), who, (ever so preposterously), ‘even talk of going back to the Khilafah’, thus taking the world backward, ‘towards regression.’

Today we need right thinkers who think what is right and then do what is right, testified by the witness of Time. Our leaders need to embody the moralist vision. They need to be visionaries, idealists matured beyond the compulsions and the tug-and-pull of power. Like Umar bin Khattab (R.A), the Conqueror of Jerusalem entering the city in coarse white robes on a single camel shared with a slave; Umar the Mighty who slept with a brick for a pillow and carried sacks of grain on his back for widows and orphans, pleading to them to pray for the forgiveness of Umar the slave of Allah for any oversight that may have caused them to go hungry a night; Umar the Magnificent who spent nights weeping and praying, trembling in fear of God’s questioning if a dog on the banks of the Euphrates died hungry; Umar the Glorious, beholding the awe-inspiring simplicity and integrity of whom the patriarch of Jerusalem had remarked: “Verily Islam has excelled all religions today.”

It is his Moralist Idealism, his principled integrity and conviction that shines through the pages of history, stirring a longing in the Muslim heart for a return to that bygone glory of the Great Khilafah. It is the ‘Shadow of Umar’, in the words of M.A Niazi, that haunts the Muslim today, so that the foreign-sponsored temporal regimes scourging Muslim lands make us restive, still seeking…