A phenomenon has seized my attention just as a young dog might seize and worry a rag doll thrown to it as a plaything. But this phenomenon is no philosophical abstraction, for men, women and children are dying, an enormous amount of wealth is changing hands, a whole country is being re-shaped while others look on, some with trepidation and some with anticipation. And a part of the phenomenon is the interpretation of it.
We are used to having reality interpreted for us. And we have become inured to the voices of the status quo, of the boundlessly greedy capitalism under which we live interpreting events in ways which plainly contradict what we can see is happening with our own eyes on our screens. Thus bombs become protectors of the civilians even though we know that ever since the invention of aerial bombardment it is usually the civilians who suffer. We can no longer believe the propaganda about surgical strikes, except that perhaps because the reality is too appalling we will ourselves to be lulled to sleep, and imagine those bombs zooming in, just as in the films, and taking out the bad guys. Hollywood has conditioned us to a fantasy land in which such things can happen, even though we know too well that it is most often not the bad guys who suffer. As an appalling and monstrous man, Colonel Ralph Peters, said, “They really believe we can do all the stuff in the movies.”
And awful though the carnage is and the theft of a nation and its resources, sometimes the lies offend us even more deeply. The naked teamwork between the BBC and NATO et al is simply too much. So we turn elsewhere, and since we live in the age of Google, we are unwittingly fed precisely what we want: an alternative interpretation. As Stew Albert, ageing Yuppie, remarked, “What capitalism managed to do that was brilliant was to actually create products that people like me would be interested in.” And now it has been refined. Google is viewer-agnostic: if he wants porn, porn he must have, but if he wants the inner secrets of the pyramids or white supremacism, that he must have as well. And thus, by the religious dogma of capitalism, if the viewer wants anti-capitalism, he must also have that as well. And a series of intrepid and challenging thinkers counter-interpret the anodyne news that Fox News or CNN have so carefully packaged for us.
And thus the news we receive of the battleground is also a battleground for another set of forces, capitalism and anti-capitalism, and yet brought to us by the most cutting edge of capitalist entities. And because we are also not in harmony with capitalism, then we naturally find ourselves resonating with this anti-capitalism. Until an event like NATO’s assault on Libya.
And the spoke in the wheel? People, of course. People do not fit into the machine. They do not fit into the interpretations of the capitalists nor of the anti-capitalists who are so deeply beholden to capitalism. People tell us that this shadowy body of ‘rebels’, that some of them are actually human beings, not mere political figures. We have become, you see, tired of political figures, the political class. More than tired. Disgusted. But because we know some people there and they know us. And some of them know and have met these men, and they say: they are upright decent people. (We must pass over, if not in silence but at least lightly, their having taken NATO as their ‘guardian-friends’, just as we have a disquieting anxiety about the presence among them of those better known for their intransigent hatred than for their life-affirming qualities.) But the presence of such men has thrown into highlight these interpretations and taught us a lesson. For just as it is capitalism that brings us both the interpretations of the capitalists and the anti-capitalists, we realise that in fact both are facets of one beast, or as a Libyan acquaintance once said to me, “Left wing, right wing; it is one bird.” They are both absolutely fixated on the physical economics of greed, one with the greed of the few and the other with the greed of the masses. They are both utterly determined to ignore any other meaning to human existence than filling the belly.
One group believes rather pathetically that if a very few extremely rich people are able to fill their bellies to a gargantuan degree, to an obscene degree like that dismaying scene in the Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life”, that somehow the crumbs from the table will trickle-down to the dogs, that is the rest of us, the great masses of humanity. They hold this as a fixed dogma, the doctrine of ‘trickle-down’, and have redesigned the entire planet to this end. The problem is that it is clearly a false thesis that has no convincing proof, and there is a great deal of utterly convincing disproof. Since capitalism is the root and core, anti-capitalism merely wants to share the greed around. It is built on envy, but not of something high and noble, but envy of the other pigs at the trough, and their snouts caked with mud. “We all want equal rights to be pigs.”
Now the presence of actual men and women, real human beings – and they are not a commodity that is in excess in our age – has recalled to us that although we abhor and detest capitalism, we are not yet anti-capitalists. That would be to make the raison d’être of our lives a negative, the empty hatred that is ressentiment.
The emblem of both parties is paper with numbers printed on it, or screens with numbers flashing across them. Our emblem is a gold coin and a silver coin. But these coins themselves have already been re-interpreted within the capitalist model: they are savings, they are secure investments for when the dollar wobbles, and bankers, shareholders and stockbrokers worry about their billions and millions, we men worry about how we will feed our families and the women worry about feeding the children. And many people are worried. It is the byword of the age: worry. Global recession, depression and worse loom large on our horizons and we feel helpless. So we want to put some aside for that rainy day, for which we are almost certainly too late.
But that is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. The purity of these coins, and their mischievous twinkle demands a purity from us, for otherwise they just represent one of the oldest of lusts: pecuniary lust. How often has the madness engendered by gold and silver destroyed men. And yet there they twinkle quite innocently. That twinkle is a challenge to us. Its innocence and purity is a challenge to us to come up with an equally pure and innocent response. That response is that these coins are not for acquisitiveness, but for altruism. Since giving to the poor and needy is one of the highest acts of Divine worship, only something pure and noble will do. How can you give a needy man, a piece of soiled paper, full of bacteria from its insanitary path through existence? It is demeaning. But give him a gold or a silver coin, and you have given him something pure and noble, something that lifts him up and elevates him. And giving it away has elevated the giver as well. The coin is bright and beautiful, and you gave it to someone else.
If it stopped there, we would merely have Christian self-abnegation, worldly denial, an unearthly asceticism. It fell to the last of the Messengers of the Divine, Muhammad, peace be upon him, to bring a way that held in balance all these aspects and a road that fits and has fitted people from every age, land and culture. That allowed acquisition – for if one does not acquire, how can one give? – but tempered it in a beautiful fashion in the form of zakat, the taxation of one’s held wealth, not for the state and its insatiable appetites for war and administration, but for the raising of the poorest. And they are raised not by giving them crumbs from the table like dogs, but by giving them capital. For gold and silver are the original capital of the capitalists before they put in motion the abstraction of numbers whirring between screens. The zakat takes capital from the wealthy and transfers it to the poor, even if sometimes only a few silver coins. And this almost homoeopathic tax engenders sometimes in the givers a fever of giving, a gargantuan generosity that defies all the logic of greed and capitalism, leading to societies in which when the wealthy go out eager to find people to receive their generosity, they can find no one in need of it.
And we would say to these actual human beings among the ‘rebels’, that if this poetry means anything to you, then you have a fight on your hands such as will make the one you have just fought pale into insignificance. (And you will find NATO, your ‘guardian-friends’, your worst enemies and indeed also those men and women among you who are so eager to hate and to kill.)
And the first real shots of this battle were fired in the state of Kelantan in Malaysia with a massive zakat fest on the 24th of Ramadan 1432/25th of August 2011 when very publicly zakat was taken from prosperous Muslims in gold and silver and given to the poor and needy. That was raising the flag in the battle against capitalism. And this is the way of Muhammad, peace be upon him. This is Islam.