In the previous post, we looked at how political accountability works in Islam and essentially is non-existent in democracy; contrasting the US invasion of Iraq to the Islamic invasion of the same land. In this post, we look at how Capitalism pretends to be democratic but, is controlled by the moneyed interests. More importantly, we explore how Islam has dealt with problem of getting the elite to pay their fair share and ensuring the rules are applied uniformly – regardless of status or wealth.
Propaganda: How do liberal-democrats pretend money has no influence in politics?
Pop quiz: who invented propaganda?
We probably think that it was Hitler, fascists or communists. None of the above. Propaganda is an invention of liberal-democratic societies, which speaks to how effective Capitalist propaganda is. Woodrow Wilson’s Committee of Public Information (CPI) whipped up sentiment in the US to motivate people to join WWI and go to war with their relatives. (We think of the US as decedents of the English, but in 1795 there was a debate whether to make German an official language. Although they didn't, America printed its federal laws in German. That's how German the US was in its early history.) It’s at this Committee the infamous Edward Bernays got his start in his career "public relations." In fact, he published a book about it called Propaganda.
Given this reality, we can easily find quotes from Democrats and Republicans that will pay homage to democratic ideals but then deliver laws that benefit the Capitalist elite.
In a speech on July 2018, the former US president Barack Obama said:
“More and more peoples, having witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism, the repeated mass slaughters of the 20th century, began to embrace a new vision for humanity, a new idea, one based not only on the principle of national self-determination, but also on the principles of democracy and rule of law and civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual.”
His predecessor, former president George W. Bush, offered similar remarks a few months earlier in October 2017:
“No democracy pretends to be a tyranny. Most tyrannies pretend they are democracies. Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy. That has not changed, and that will not change.”
Despite the alleged distance between Barack and Bush, we can see the common theme that they appeal to. But as we can see in the next section, these are just empty words. Such politicians use them to satisfy people with their mouths but continue to propagate a system that only cares about wealth and those that own it.
Counter-propaganda: In democracy Capitalism, its profits over people.
The reality is that Capital trumps votes: America was designed from the get-go to ensure the rich get richer. James Madison stated in 1787:
“In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body.” [Emphasis added]
Why James Madison was so worried about poor people taking away "property of the landed"? It turns out that there was an uprising of sorts against creditors. This came to be known as "Shays Rebellion," which started a year before the drafting of the constitution. The rebellion was organized by Daniel Shays, a former Revolutionary Army captain to stop courts from redistributing farmland from the farmers burdened by high debt and taxes to creditors. Now we can see why Madison and his fellow plutocrats were so were worried.
Adam Smith was also aware of how the wealthy would overwhelm a democratic society and use the legal system to ensure the "minority of the opulent" stay rich. In the Wealth of Nations, he stated:
“Civil government so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”
Fast forward to today, and the system established by Madison and his colleagues has remained intact. Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page completed a study where they found that:
“A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues…Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [Emphasis added]
Campaign contributions and lobbying is also another way that the elites get to put the “capital” into Capitalism. For example, Obama's largest funder in 2008 was Goldman Sachs (GS). And though Romney was able to get GS's money in 2012, he still found other elites corporations, such as Google, to fund him. So is it any surprise that the anti-trust case against Google went nowhere? Trump exploited this reality of the elitist Clinton (who said of the psychopathic-Egyptian-dictator-Mubarak was her “friend”) who unapologetically took $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for speeches because “they pay." Trump being the lying narcissist that he is then goes on to hire at least 8 of the ex-Goldman alumni to run his administration.
Although people can choose "A" or "B," their role of both candidates is to protect the minority of the opulent, i.e. the rich people. This is how the system is politically democratic but controlled by money. Why else do they find trillions of dollars to save the banks, but refuse to provide life-saving healthcare to people?
What if the rich refuse to pay?
The problem of elite running over the system is not a new phenomenon. This problem was something that occurred early in the history of Islam. After the death of the Prophet (saw), some Arab tribes attempted to get out of paying the Zakat. This is the asset tax of 2.5% paid to the poor and others hard done by. The rebellious tribes claimed that it was only owed to the Prophet (saw) and not to the rulers after him. In other words, the wealthy attempted to "lobby" the government out of paying the tax.
How did the newly elected ruler Abu Bakr (ra) respond?
“I will fight anyone who separates prayer and Zakah; Zakah is the compulsory right to be taken from wealth. By Allah, if they withhold from me a rope that they used to give to the Messenger of Allah (saw) will fight them for withholding it.”
And Abu Bakr (ra) insisted on this despite the turmoil his state was in. Other tribes just flat out left Islam and were politically seceding from the State. And yet the poor-tax had to be collected and given to those who needed it.
Can the wealthy lobby the judges to get their way?
The ability of the rich to get out of facing justice is a common problem in Capitalism. For example, Brock Turner was convicted of raping a woman, but he only got 3 months of jail time because he’s from the elite class. This is unlike Walter Scott, who was shot to death for a broken taillight. Death sentences for poor African Americans with broken taillights, lenient sentences for Sandford-elite rapists.
In Islam, this problem was also dealt with during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (saw). In the following hadith narrated by Aisha (ra) Usama Bin Zayd (ra) approached the Prophet (saw) to intercede on behalf of a woman (from the elite tribe of Bani Makhzoom) who had committed theft. After Usama (ra) made his request to the Prophet (saw), the colour of the face of RasulAllah (saw) changed (i.e. he got angry), and he said:
“Do you intercede in one of the prescribed punishments of Allah?” He (Usama) said: 'Messenger of Allah, seek forgiveness for me.' When it was dusk, RasulAllah (saw) stood up and gave an address. He (first) glorified Allah as He deserves, and then said: “Now to our topic. This (injustice) destroyed those before you that when any one of (high) rank committed theft among them, they spared him, and when any weak one among them committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment upon him. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, even if Fatima daughter of Muhammad were to commit theft, I would have cut off her hand.” [Muslim]
Perhaps the difference in leadership can be best summarized by Abu Bakr (ra) when he took the position of leadership. In this speech, we can clearly see that Islam offers a system that is built on justice for all and that strength is derived not from money but from the truth:
“O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me. Truthfulness is synonymous with fulfilling the trust, and lying is equivalent to treachery. The weak among you is deemed strong by me, until I return to them that which is rightfully theirs, in sha Allah. And the strong among you is deemed weak by me, until I take from them what is rightfully (someone else’s), insha Allah. No group of people abandons military/armed struggle in the path of Allah, except that Allah makes them suffer humiliation. And evil/mischief does not become widespread among a people, except that Allah inflicts them with widespread calamity. Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. And if I disobey Allah and His Messenger, then I have no right to your obedience. Stand up now to pray, may Allah have mercy on you."
In sha Allah, in the next post, we close this series by looking at how rulers get paid in Islam.