An Empire in Decline

In their book, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco take us to the streets of America where they explore the gruesome realities of an empire in decline. Poverty and its concomitant perverse friends—criminality, drugs, violence, and death—run rampant in places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Camden, New Jersey. These are some of the nation’s “sacrifice zones” where human life and the environment have been offered up as fodder for the corporate marketplace.

Like a genuine belief in divinity, precious democratic values are becoming hallmarks of a bygone golden age. Corporate forces rule without precedent, wielding a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and influence over how society is run and culture is shaped. The objective of the corporate state is self-serving: make as much profit as you can as fast as you can. Everything and everyone is commodified for the maximization of profit. The result is lives of meaninglessness, despair, and destruction. This will continue, Hedges argues, until systemic collapse. Our only option as a people is to mobilize and exercise our sacred right of dissent.

But is civil disobedience the only solution to corporate corruption or can we work within the system?

The trite argument I hear from American Muslims is: if you’re not at the dinner table, then you’re on the menu. In other words, if you’re not actively participating in shaping public policy, then you risk falling prey to the dominant political agenda. But what if the dinner guests—with their fancy tailored suits and politically correct pleasantries—make for fruitless conversation? What if due to my dietary restrictions I can’t consume what’s on the menu? What if I’d rather eat with my hands than use eating utensils? What if—you guessed it—the entire dinner party is a farce?

If the dinner party is ultimately futile, then we must assume that the system we had hoped to work within is dead. In fact, the system perished a long time ago when our political leaders succumbed to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. Signs of rigor mortis continue to emerge as with the recent ruling in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This Supreme Court decision effectively allows for corporate powers to make vast campaign contributions to federal candidates and political parties. Now a wealthy few (.000042 percent to be exact) dictate policy to the detriment of the American citizenry.

American Muslims would do well to question the powers that be. This starts with questioning more than just the corporate state, itself a symptom of a greater pathology: the onslaught of secular-modernity. Liberal secular forces that have relegated moral religious values to “a recognisable ghetto for traditional religion” prop up the oligarchic structures we see today. American Muslims seeking to cultivate an indigenous Islam in America need to seriously question the health of this country because, whether we like it or not, our future is inextricably wrapped up in the future of the West. Thus, the larger and most apt question we need to be asking ourselves is the Qur’anic one:

فأين تذهبون؟

Where then are you going?

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3 comments

  1. Hey Safia! Excellent article. You articulate your points quite powerfully and I am 100% on board with you on the sad state of affairs with issues such as income equality, corporate influence, and the environment.

    And, of course, engaging the powers that be is only one, and not always the most effective, means of bringing about change. It depends on the circumstance. “Engaging” Bashaar al-Assad or being a part of his farcical government obviously won’t work. During the Civil Rights Movement, the circumstances and environment led to non-violent civil disobedience being one of the main tools used.

    So I would scan the political and social climate American Muslims are in, and ask “What is most effective now? Is it civil disobedience? Is it engagement? Is it something else?” I’d venture to answer its a combination of engagement and civil disobedience. We are not in the circumstances of African Americans in Jim Crow south. We are not in Syria. In fact, we have it quite good: American Muslim women are the second-highest educated religious group in the US (can’t recall if Pew or Gallup), American Muslims rate life in five years more optimistically than any other group (Gallup), we are wealthy, we are educated, and we are pretty integrated. Of course there are injustices that we face everyday (and your piece and my comment is on how do we correct those injustices), but overall the fact we can talk about this openly seems to say something.

    Unfortunately, our community (mainly our elders) is still suffering from the victim/conspiracy mentality, where the world is against them and whatever we do won’t work.

    So I think after we scan our environment, we ask what would work. Engagement doesn’t always work, but to say it doesn’t work at all is not accurate, I believe. Congress last week passed HR 418, urging the Burmese government to end its persecution of the Rohingya. A lot of us met with Members of Congress and their staff. Those meetings were granted to us because we had a certain level of respect and qualifications that made a relationship possible, and they listened to us. I guarantee you if we had just screamed and protested outside, HR 418 would have not even made it out of subcommittee. That’s just one example of positive change done through engagement.

    So if I’m invited to the dinner table, at least there I can say “Hey, I eat zabiha, try and get me that next time”. I can request to hold the dinner party next time. I can influence what we talk about. But if I’m not there, I’m just outside shouting in (Once again, if I’m in another country, maybe the dinner table is truly just for show, but I would say in our situation, engagement has been shown to work, so we should keep it as a tool in addition to civil disobedience if needed).

    Thanks!

  2. well said Safia..reminds me of the recent study that came out : http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

    Hedges makes some poignant observations about our current state..but I’d be more interested in what solutions he offers, if any (I haven’t read the book). the corporate bashing mantra is an old one….and I am starting to realize that the industrial age is the corporate age, there isn’t a way around it. Our best bet is to mitigate what currently exists…try to moralize them somehow…perhaps by working from within? As consumers, I think it would be more effective to work on initiatives to give incentive for corporations to behave ethically…or suffer the consequence. Unfortunately, we consumers have our own moral crises and can’t seem to overcome greed, miserliness and vanity.

    1. Hey Waleed I would suggest reading the book. Hedges does a better job of explaining the full weight and meaning of corporate power. We can’t “moralize” the morally bankrupt. As I mentioned in the article, corporations exist solely for profit. We can’t impose ethico-religious values on them. That’s why a deeper look at our current situation and its secular-liberal assumptions is so essential in understanding how we came to be in Hedge’s words, “a world of masters and serfs.”

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