Tuesday, July 26, 2005



Kassim Ahmad

Five hundred years ago, the European colonization of the non-European world started the process of unification and modernization of the entire world. Towards its end, as the independent modern nations are going through the end-phase of that process – now known as globalization – it is appropriate that humanity should think about bringing a universal code of conduct as well as ethic to regulate the behavior of our human family as we step into the Twenty First Century and Third Millennium. In this sense, the Chicago Declaration is welcomed.

Such a code of conduct should draw its inspiration from and be based on the fundamental and universal teachings of the great religions and moral systems. This is acknowledged in the Declaration. The core of these spiritual and moral teachings is the belief in the existence of One Supreme Power upholding Love, Beneficence, Goodness, Harmony, Truth and Justice in man’s affairs throughout the universe. That is the only source of a universal ethics. It is from this source that we derive the principles of universal obedience to this power, and of equality of all humankind. Religion, color, race and nationality do not distinguish us. We differ only in the degree of our obedience and service to God, this power of Love, Beneficence and Goodness. Unfortunately, this first point is missing in the Declaration; it should be included.

As the Declaration states, humankind is going through a great crisis. This crisis covers all aspects of our life: economic, political, ideological and philosophical. However, the Declaration shies away from making a concrete analysis of the causes of this crisis. This is a weakness of the document; it should be rectified.

The crisis is not due to any inherent weakness of humans. The Muslim scripture states that God has created man in the best of moulds. The crisis arises from man’s disobedience to the universal laws created by this Universal Power. Throughout history there was always a group of people, always a very small minority to be sure – the oligarchs – who acted in defiance of God’s laws to serve their selfish interests. They succeeded in influencing the majority to follow them. This created the crisis. Throughout history, without exception, such crises brought about the end of the system or regime, and a new one comes into being. The cave men gave way to the tribal nomadic tribes, later to the agricultural feudal system, and on to the present industrial system. The central planning, communist industrial system had vanished before our eyes. The capitalist industrial system is fast collapsing. A new universal system is arising. To guide and regulate this system, a universal ethic is necessary.

To break the sometime meaningless cycles of rise and fall of one evil regime to be replaced by another equally evil system, the masses must be made aware of and be committed to the truth. To its credit, the Declaration emphasizes this point. This is the basic guarantee for continuous human progress for progress can only be possible only if we adhere to the truth. This is a question of science and the study of the universal laws of truth.

A universal ethic does not mean one law and one culture for every country and nation. The desire of any superpower to impose its laws and way of life on others is nothing more than a manifestation of racism and imperialism. A universal ethic is not contrary to multiplicity of laws and cultures. Indeed multiplicity of laws and cultures can exist side by side within the framework of a universal ethic. This is because each society has its own peculiar history that shapes its laws and culture. It is not just the question of one nation tolerating another. It is the basic matter of respecting each individual culture and society.

The creation of a just economic order, which the Declaration mentions as one of its principles, is very important. It is only in such an environment that each individual, family and nation can live in dignity and freedom, and at the same time can progress and advance. The present widespread starvation, poverty and diseases is precisely due to an oppressive economic system that has for long been imposed on the people by the international oligarchy and its national allies.

Much as we like to live in peace, it is always has to be snatched away from the jaws of war-like tyrants. As long as tyrants (be they individuals or groups) exist, wars cannot be avoided. Indeed, it is the right and duty of individuals and nations to resist tyranny and oppression. True peace is possible only when oppression ceases. It is wrong and unpractical to stipulate, as this Document does, the principle of non-violence. It is the right of the people to resist tyranny and injustice.

Human progress depends on science and technology. There is a reactive trend of blaming science and technology for the evils of the 20th century. This is erroneous. Without being drawn into the controversy between the subjective and objective in epistemology, science and technology are both knowledge and techniques to bring nature and the universe to man’s purpose. There is no contradiction between religion and science or between religion and philosophy. During the Middle Ages the two had warred against each other, but the present trend is for the two to synchronize with one another. The Declaration does not mention science and technology as important components of human life now and in the future. This weakness needs correction. A truly universal ethic should rightly accommodate science and technology.

The last point is the influence of the post-industrial ideology of environmentalism in this Document. The Muslim scripture tells us that the whole universe was created to serve humankind. To build a civilization, we must cut down forests and “destroy” some parts of the natural environment. We do that to build cities, towns, factories, universities and parliaments. This is inevitable, though we must be concerned with esthetics. This is a matter of planning, but to make an ideology of not “destroying” the environment is to carry the matter to ridiculous extremes. That would only serve the purposes of the neo-colonial oligarchy that conspires to stop the development of the Third World and the progress of humankind.

Georgetown, Penang,
25 November, 1997.

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