The expenses scandal that consumed Britain’s political class in the last year would be laughable if they weren’t quite so serious. Governance has an impact on people’s lives. Political systems and the politicians therein set a standard for society. So, a corrupt government, a flawed system and dishonest politicians eventually set the standards for the rest of society.
The depths of the crisis in Britain’s political system
The impact cannot be overstated.When pious politicians lecture people who wrongly claim benefits,”hoodies”, parents and greedy bankers from their pulpit dripping with sleaze, tax dodging and corruption – who will listen to them seriously? When tax payers facing the greatest economic crisis in almost a century face home repossessions and job losses, how does it sit with the ‘ruled’ that the rulers and rule makers have serviced second homes (moats, duck houses and toilet seats included), dodged taxed and taken bribes for amending legislation… and hardly anyone of them loses their job.
They will all hope that pressure building up from public anger will be released by an angry ‘X’ marked on the ballot paper. Then a new democratic political cycle will begin: massive egos jostling for promotion; image makeovers to make them more media friendly; lobbying, lobbying and more lobbying; cash for political parties and policies; retirements into lucrative directorships etc.
The truth is that this expenses crisis is just the tip of an iceberg. Outside of this recent problem there have been:
• Two members of the House of Lords caught by a newspaper accepting cash for amending legislation.These two have been caught, but their initial complacent reaction would suggest that the practice is common, and they felt they weren’t doing anything extraordinary.
• The ‘loans for peerages’ scandal that saw Lord Levy lose his influential position as fundraiser for the Labour government.
• The ‘Lobbygate’ scandal that exposed former cabinet ministers accepting cash for influence.
• The vote rigging of postal votes in local elections.
• The private finance initiatives have brought big business unbelievably generous contracts at the state’s expense.
But, this problem is not confined to the United Kingdom. Italy, France and other countries face frequent political scandals. In the United States the former Governor of Chicago was caught trying to sell the Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated; not to mention the shenanigans that surrounded the election of George W Bush in 2000 with the suspicious ‘hanging chads’ on ballot papers.
If the financial crisis proved the myth of the free market as an ideal economic model and reveals the greedy, selfish values that drive Capitalist business, then this political crisis proves that politicians are driven by similar greedy, selfish values and money politics simply don’t mix. The only difference is there the defenders of the system blamed the greedy individuals. Here the greedy individuals blame the system.
Is this a defect IN the Democratic System or OF the Democratic System?
It is my view that all of this was inevitable and stems from a defective system. Some people may view this as a harsh judgement, but nonetheless, the evidence of the widespread nature of the problem in the west, and the fact it has gone on like this for two centuries or more, points to a system that encourages a climate of corruption.
There are two reasons for this: a) A crisis in society’s values b) A system dominated by money
In Capitalist states money pushes consciousness of God into the sidelines
It is the near total separation of God from collective life that has left society to be dominated by material values. ‘WIFM’ – ‘what’s in it for me’ is the fundamental question people ask themselves, and not how will I be judged on my behaviour. Western society has virtually confined all values bar material ones to the home and the private space. When such values are relegated to the periphery of society, when success and failure is judged purely by the wealth that you have, the value of your house and what you materially own, is there any wonder that politicians behave like they do, no matter where in the world one lives.
The Islamic ethos ensures that society is more evenly balanced between material, moral, humanitarian and spiritual values. Politicians must have a strong foundation rooted in values which are strongly correlated with helping the needs of their citizens. It is, in the end, only an atmosphere of God-consciousness that can ensure that every penny they earn should be made transparent, so as to ensure that even the appearance of corruption is questioned.
Money and Politics don’t mix well
People always say never mix religion and politics. But the western cocktail of money and politics has caused huge problems in personal behaviour, in society’s values and in global peace and security.The Islamic system would take the money out of modern politics.The electoral circus every four or five years in the west (every two years in the United States) positively encourages the growth of money in politics forcing politicians to either to raise vulgar amounts of money for re-election or maximise their own wealth before they get booted out.
The Islamic alternative
When looking to the alternative for the Muslim world, we should work for Islam’s system of governance. The Islamic system though not immune from the temptations on offer, seeks to actively detach both finance and the interests of corporations from politics. Whereas capitalism and democracies are fused at the hip in the west, so creating a class of politicians who are either personally corrupt or beholden to a corporate class, no such influence is permitted in an Islamic political model where strong restrictions surrounding relationships and influence are in force. The Islamic economic system is also the complete antithesis to the capitalist economy, putting the problems of the ordinary man over big business.A Khilafah state is the only vehicle to establish this Islamic political system and today provides a unique opportunity to show that there is a better way to manage politics. When it implemented Islam in its politics the Muslim world was a giant in global affairs leading in science, prosperity, healthcare and helping Europe to emerge from its dark ages.
Tried and tested in the Muslim World
The Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz (717-730) once said “Rulers usually appoint people to watch over their subjects. I appoint you a watcher over me and my behaviour. If you find me at fault in word or action guide me and stop me from doing it”.This was an institutionalised mechanism of accountability, but his personal God-consciousness was such that it is said that he would put out a candle which was fuelled by money from the treasury even if someone busied him asking about his personal well-being.
The combination of values and rules in Islam made for a political culture where the first Caliph Abu Bakr once said:”after my death hand over to Umar (his successor) this milk-camel and dish which were given to me on account of my Khilafah (Caliphate)”.They were not to be inherited as part of his personal estate.
The rules of the system compliment the values in society
The Islamic political model, has a fixed source of legislation – that is the Shariah texts. Hence, manipulation is much diminished. It is difficult to buy influence as Ijtihad (legal reasoning), cannot go beyond the boundaries of its known legal principles.
The elected Khalifah must be accounted by an independent media, political parties and the people. Indeed, there should be a People’s assembly, where the people’s elected representatives can be consulted on various matters and, as well, formalise the accounting and scrutinising process.There is a court, known as the Mahkamat al Mathalim (the Court of the Unjust Ruler), whose sole remit is to judge between ruler and ruled, and to scrutinise the actions of the executive. It has the power to remove a Khalifah if he breeches the terms of his contract of ruling, and may not be dismissed once he has started an investigation until its conclusion.
After seeing this disgraceful mess in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, Muslims would do well to learn from these errors and look to the system Allah has given, and work to see it implemented in the Muslim world, and thereafter illustrate to the world the best example of a society built on sound values, and a system that diminishes corruption.
Allah (swt) informs: “Verily we have revealed the book to you in truth for instructing mankind.” [Sura Az-Zumar 39:41]