The Muslim world: Medusa’s wreck

By Shamshad Ahmad
Published: July 19, 2014



The story of the Medusa begins in Paris in the year 1816. The French monarchy had been restored to the throne by the English after they had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. In a show of support for the newly instated king, they offered the French the port of Saint-Louis in Senegal on the West African coast. King Louis XVIII appointed a personal friend, Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys, as a frigate captain and tasked him to lead the fleet to take possession of the gifted port. He had never commanded a ship, to say nothing of a fleet. Throughout his career, Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys had worked only as a customs officer.

Woefully, the Muslim world today represents the tragic story of the Medusa, the ill-piloted French naval ship that ran aground because of its captain’s blunders and his dependence on others for navigational guidance, leaving behind a tale of helplessness, desperation and death. The Medusa’s wreck is still out there, lying stuck on the West African coast, and isn’t going anywhere. The Muslim world today is in no better shape. Like the Medusa’s wreck, it is just lying out there, aimlessly floating like a stricken ship, with no one to steer it out of troubled waters.

Representing one-fifth of humanity as well as of the global land mass spreading over 57 countries, and possessing 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and nearly 50 per cent of the world’s raw materials, the Muslim world should have been a global giant, economically as well as politically. Instead, rich in everything and weak in all respects, it represents only five per cent of the world’s GDP. As a non-consequential entity, it has no role in global decision-making or even in addressing its own problems.

Poor and dispossessed, Muslim nations emerging from long colonial rule may have become sovereign states but are without genuine political and economic independence. Their trade, their oil revenues, their investible funds, their banking, their savings, every thing that the affluent countries in the Muslim world have is concentrated in the West. Though some of them are sitting on the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, the majority of Muslim countries are among the poorest and most backward in the world. With rare exceptions, they are all politically bankrupt with no institutions other than authoritarian rule.


They have no established tradition of systemic governance or institutional approach in their policies and priorities. Every ingredient of political life in these so-called sovereign states has been faked; sovereignty is not sovereignty, parliament is not parliament, law is not law, and the opposition parties are as corrupt and wasted as the ruling parties. Even the independence following the colonial powers’ handing over of the reins of government to local rulers was not true independence. Other than being members of the United Nations, they remain virtual colonies of the West with no sense of freedom or dignity.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the religion itself is being demonised by its detractors with obsessive focus on the religion of individuals and groups accused of complicity or involvement in terrorist activities. Religion is being blamed for everything that goes wrong in any part of the world. With violence and extremism becoming anathema to the world’s high and mighty, Muslim freedom struggles are being projected as the primary source of ‘militancy and terrorism’. Global terrorism is now being used to justify military occupations and to curb the legitimate freedom struggles of the Muslim peoples. The tragedies in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan represent the continuing helplessness of the world’s Muslims.


Muslim issues remain unaddressed for decades. Palestine is tired and has given up. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace. Kashmir stands disillusioned. Lebanon is simmering. Libya has been tamed. Egypt is once again the bastion ofauthoritarianism. Syria is on notice for regime change. Iran is being coerced to give up on its legitimate rights. And Pakistan is on ICU resuscitation. These are all a dreary phenomenon for which the rulers of the Muslim world alone are responsible. They have mortgaged to the West not only the security and sovereignty of their states, but also the political and economic futures of their nations.

What aggravates this dismal scenario is the inability of the Muslim world as a bloc to take care of its problems or to overcome its weaknesses. We cannot entirely blame the West for the Muslim world’s institutional bankruptcy and its deficiency in education and science and technology. It makes no sense in dwelling nostalgically over the past and ‘lost’ glory. For us, the steady erosion of polity and power, and the Muslim world’s stumbling lurch into Western colonialism, and now, with total industrial and technological backwardness, our political, economic and military subservience to the West should be stark reminders of the historical magnitude of the failures of the world’s Muslim leadership.

Things will not change unless the Muslim world itself fixes its fundamentals and puts its house in order. Angels will not descend to help or salvage it. They are busy helping the West and others in the non-Muslim world. It must take control of its own destiny through unity, mutuality and cohesion within its ranks. Its wealth and resources, now being exploited by the West, should be used to build its own strength and for its own socio-economic well-being.The key to reshaping the future of the Muslim world lies in its political and economic independence and military strength, with each Muslim nation opting for peace and for knowledge and technology as top strategic priorities. Each one of them at the national level will have to revamp its existing mindset to opt for peace, and for good and accountable governance. Ultimately, governments alone bear the responsibility for a turnaround in the Muslim world and for recovering from its political, institutional and intellectual morbidity.

The salvation of the Muslim world lies in the policies and priorities of each Muslim nation, for which the ownership lies with the leaders and governments alone to ensure not only their state’s security and independence, but also their political, economic and social stability and strength.

On its part, Pakistan has a pivotal role to play in reinforcing the solidarity of the Muslim world. In doing so, it must focus on cohesive rather than divisive strategies by promoting greater political, economic and strategic cooperation among Muslim countries and also by serving as a beacon of good quality education, scientific and technical knowledge and modernism.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.

The Muslim world: Medusa’s wreck – The Express Tribune