Elite’s hegemonic role By M. Zaidi - Monday 11th April 2011

THE Nazi German state and the Balkans in the heart of Europe brought down the Weberian model of authority which assumed that societies moving along a secular path would be guided by a rational bureaucracy set in a working democracy.
Charismatic leaders would demonstrate the power to veer the trajectories of rationally functioning state governance frameworks towards genocide and the Holocaust. To a large extent, this kind of hegemonic role of the power elites has purportedly been responsible for radicalisation in the Muslim world, by default, design or misplaced intentions. This is one of the reasons why we are now starting to see grass-roots agitation in Muslim countries which have experienced such
hegemonic rule.
Islamic polity contextualises the leader to embody both political and moral authority, since the Muslim world needs guidance by capable leaders. The emphasis on the revival of the caliphate by Islamists is related to this discourse, as well as the explanation of the unflinching obedience to ‘amirs’ or ‘sheikhs’ such as Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
F. Zakariyya, an Egyptian scholar, suggests that contemporary religious movements as a whole deviate from creating critical consciousness in their followers by a tunnel-vision obedience to a leader or doctrine, without giving critical attention to mundane socio-economic and political contexts. Since these doctrines offer sanctuary “from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence”, they remove themselves simultaneously from the realities of these problems. A simple cure-all solution is unflinching obedience to a leader or doctrine, which Zakariyya has labelled “the suspension of human reason”.
Thus, radicalisation in much of the Muslim world is not necessarily a revolt against modernity per se, but an expression of resentment against efforts to impose a western or Marxist ‘imported’ variant by leaders, who at one time or the other took over; many times (but not always) due to an inherent need ‘to be led’. This has usually not fared well in the face of staunch traditionalist resistance, and has propelled many of these defensive entities towards Islamist trajectories.
Dismal socio-economic frameworks, unemployment and income inequalities have also made the ruling elite feel insecure about their power base, and in the interest of self-sustenance they have held on to it via processes ranging from brutal military dictatorships to Marxist models of governments to an appeal to the Sharia.
According to Zakariyya, the recent resurgence of radicalisation in the Muslim world is “a clear reflection of the lack of consciousness among the masses. The spread of these movements becomes inevitable after more than 30 years of oppression, the suspension of reason, and the domination of a dictatorial political system”.
In the colonial past of many Muslim countries, the colonising force was a symbiotic entity with local elites who opted for a favourable compartmentalisation of policy, as against a uniform national political arena which would have allowed populist politics to flourish and put at risk fragile vested interests. The unbridled monarchies of the Gulf states and tribal chiefs in East Africa and Nigeria, along with some feudal interests in Pakistan are such inclusive entities, besides many others.
When direct rule from the centre broke down in countries such as Algeria, it boosted the cause of the elites in taking the political centre stage in many post-colonial Muslim nation-states. In many such nascent states, the inherent power relationship structures within colonialism were perpetuated by these elites, until they met expressions of resentment; this is happening in many Muslim countries currently. Many such states also have tribal trajectories; Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of tribal settlement presumes that outlying tribes tied together by kinship solidarities conquer, settle and rule a state till the time kinship loyalties loosen, the rulers urbanise and lose control over distant tribes; the cycle then begins again. Logically, the tribal cliquish mindset of the leaders in an Islamic country built on the ashes of tribalism will tend to persist even in a state framework. In a way, this seems to be the situation in present-day Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, states which are most affected by violent radicalisation, Islamism and tribalism. Not coincidentally, autocratic leaders in these states have been blamed for the current dilemma.
This tribal mindset may also be a driver of political processes in countries of the Middle East, explaining why dictatorships have arisen so easily and have been tolerated by the masses. In historical tribal warfare, winning against an opponent counts as a victory. There is no such thing as a graceful defeat, since victory counts for everything and victims are often despised, not pitied.
Some leaders in such a state may cultivate this tribal mentality as well, since many have ruthlessly persecuted the political opposition, and put down dissenting voices as sedition. This persecution is further heightened by a disdain for persons who do not have tribal affiliation, aggravating the causal cycle of discrimination against ‘non-members’ by the ruling elite. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami observes, “triumph rarely comes with mercy or moderation [in the Arab world]”.
Muslim leadership in the 20th century has seen a bewildering array of kings, military dictators, mullahs, democrats, tribesmen, etc; adding to this motley arraignment of leadership are newly emerging, aggressively ultra-right, literalist Islamist movements. Unfortunately, most of these leadership frameworks share the commonality of having a sole political agenda of survival or sustaining foisted regimes.
Since this system of governance is imposed by an elite driven by political motives, it can loosely be classified as elitist-political Islamism, which has generally identified itself with what it considers as an ally of convenience in the shape of a particular variant of Islamism that it thinks is pliable. It has then flirted with it, with little success. The Egyptian regime’s flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood (ranging from cordiality to brutal suppression) is just one trend amongst many.
Thus, besides issues of corruption, nepotism, suppression of freedom and democracy, this elitist-political Islam has fostered radicalisation in many Muslim states through the devices of governance frameworks which consorted with rightist religious movements in the hope of sustaining themselves, but in the process doomed their constituencies to violence.
The writer is a security analyst.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/11/elites-hegemonic-role.html

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