On Islamists, Hindu Nationalists, and Education
The parallels to my native Egypt are staggering. Indeed, Nader Bakkar, who may still belong to the Salafist Nour Party, for which he was a spokesman until recently, raised a question in his op-ed yesterday: What have the highly-educated offered beyond criticism of Islamists? At the other extreme, we find democracy advocate Mohamed Aboul-Ghar today saying that he and his party will not deal with prospective parliamentarians from the Nour Party, ostensibly because the party is religious and therefore unconstitutional (never mind that this constitution would not have been possible without the alliance of Salafis with military and civilian-democratic forces to oust the Muslim Brotherhood government).
This also reminded me of a vignette with the late Jamal Barzinji, who passed away last month, at IIIT in 2010. He had invited me to a two-day discussion of a proposal for IIIT to sponsor a textbook on "Islamic Economics." Naturally, I stuck with my view that you can't write a respectable textbook on something that doesn't exist, and which is almost certainly neither needed nor possible. My view was that it would make sense to write a book on "Economics for Islamists," as a way to introduce them to modern social scientific thought, which would be of value beyond economics per se. Needless to say, this was not a popular view, especially with the advocates for this proposal, but I believe that it prevailed, at least during that short visit. Late in the second day, Dr. Barzinji spoke to me privately during a coffee break, with apparent embarrassment regarding the Islamist project to which he once belonged, saying that when they were high school and college students, the dominant cultural forces in school were communist, and they sought to balance it out, but found nothing but these anachronistic Islamic references to counter. There, also, the Arab literati and elites are primarily to blame.
As the world's largest democracy, India provides a perfect example of the difficulties of balancing democracy, which will put majorities in power, sooner or later, with the need to have decisions made by those who are best educated. The tension becomes particularly high when the latter elites fail to deliver sufficient economic dividends to support some degrees of authoritarian or elitist bargains. They get even worse when the highly educated use their positions of power to make Wall-Street-style fortunes, as their fellow Western-educated friends in the West do, again without producing sufficient dividends for the less fortunate strata in their societies, but demand to remain in control because they know best.