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Trivial Minds

If history has taught us one thing, it is that disagreement is normal. Disagreement occurs in two ways; maliciously and violently, or peacefully and sensibly. It is most progressive to take a Nichomachean attitude towards disagreement; that it should always lead to some good.

By this very virtue, which need not be ascribed to any belief system, disagreement for the sake of disagreement is a useless and counter-productive endeavor. Insistence on seeing the world in a certain way, as the primary building block for all actions or discussions, will lead nowhere. It is impossible for people to have uniform views, especially not world-views and/or belief systems. Surely a negligible amount of people will change their views as they grow and experience new ideas, but seldom do ideas change en masse with speed and fervor—the exceptions being those few phenomena in history that ignited already massive-and-growing feelings or sentiments.

One such phenomenon which can be seen through virtually any lens was the revelation and emergence of Islam. No matter what a person’s belief system or what opinions people have on it, Islam’s growth and spread throughout the world is remarkable. Indeed, it is today constantly being acknowledged the fastest growing religion in North America, if not the world.

It is simply imprudent to believe that discussion about the development of a country should begin with religion, especially if one side sincerely believes that progress can only occur with uniformity of religion—or ‘non-religion’. More foolhardy is such a belief when the topic of discussion is for one side something along the lines of: ‘for development to take place, the largest, as well as the fastest and one of the few still-growing religions in the world must renounce all faith. Progress will only come after’.

As painful is it is for some to accept, people will never be uniform in any beliefs, whatever beliefs may be held in question. In contrast, for progress to occur, people must look for common pursuits and subsequently pool their efforts in order to better achieve their goals. Even the earliest hunter-gatherer societies must have known this; otherwise it is doubtful that they would have survived.

If one finds another person’s views repulsive, he/she simply need not subscribe to them. When it comes to a matter such as personal beliefs, discussion is healthy only so long as it is peaceful and remains in its rightful realm. Discussion of personal beliefs is a personal matter, and has no place in matters of societal political goals. Since religion is a matter of personal faith, it is to be discussed as such, between willing persons who freely wish to discuss it.

Development is not a personal matter. Professional scholars who study political development never proclaim that uniformity of belief-systems is the starting block for development. Even Western scholars constantly and earnestly try to be objective and sensitive when analyzing development. Some, such as Karl Marx, Max Weber and Talcott Parsons, have written extensively on the relationship between ideologies/beliefs and development. But the contemporary scholarly tradition has shaken off sentiments that a certain way of thinking, namely Western precedent, is a requisite for development. Development strategists must harness all forces; social, religious, political, geographical, etc.; to reach developmental goals. Harnessing these forces is quite different from imposing views, especially belief systems, which leads to stagnation of intellectual thought; something which a certain John Stuart Mill has written beautifully against (see On Liberty).

If we look at a few scholarly names that are or have been at the forefront of development studies, we find that none begin a discussion on development with religion. In addition to our new champion of Libyan development, Michael Porter, all his contemporaries and influential predecessors; Schumpeter, Keynes, Rostow, Barrington Moore Jr., Myrdal, and more recently an interesting and influential favorite of mine, Adam Przeworski; none of these proclaim that uniformity of beliefs, religious or not religious, are important for development. Even well known international relations realists such as Hedley Bull and Samuel Huntington, despite their widely differing views, agree on this basic and seemingly obvious truth: at the political level, belief-systems are not to be discussed as policy, especially not as a starting point for policy.

Just as a last remark, to those who seemingly wish for a new ‘renaissance’ in which all Muslims, Libyans included, will renounce their faith and embrace atheism as the light by which to follow towards development; I say that you are hopeless and, in addition, misinformed about the renaissance. I honestly do not mean this as an insult, but rather as a fact. In probably the most important watershed event of the European renaissance, the ‘Last Interdict’, a man of God led the march against the pontiff! Surely you know of Paolo Sarpi, the parish who Galileo called ‘my father and teacher’, who was a remarkable scientist as well as a priest of the Catholic Church. He was also the spokesman for Venice during those vicious and trying times when that once powerful maritime republic was being threatened by (another) excommunication. Sarpi’s arguments won over many in intellectual battlefields all over Europe; and they were not that ‘atheism is the way to go’, but only that religion is a matter of personal feeling, and so it should remain a personal matter, not a matter of statehood. The platform was liberty, NOT atheism.

As for the case of Libyan development, there is only one legitimate and universally common point of discussion; the matter of Qadaffi. Until he is out of the way, or in the (unlikely) event that Libyans decide freely that he is the answer to all of Libya’s problems, there can be nothing more appropriate matter of discussion (and even therein is room for disagreement).

A. A. Omar

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