Coronavirus and the myth of freedom

By Muhammed Tauqeer 

It’s been more than 70 years since the independence of India, an arduous journey of freedom from the British colonial rule; a Freedom that was going to liberate Indians from discrimination, oppression and slavery; a Freedom that was going to eliminate excessive taxes, prevent loot of India’s natural resources; a Freedom that was going to give control of the social, economic and political system to Indians; in short a Freedom where Indians were going to reclaim sovereignty of their country.

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On the other hand, another state of Pakistan was created with pretty much the same freedom drivers but additionally to protect the political interests of Muslims, who according to Jinnah would have been numerical minorities and would have to live as second class citizens if not for a separate state.

The countrywide lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus, has instilled ambivalence in people about the notion of freedom. Or rather it has prompted a question about the reality and subjectivity of freedom. What is Freedom? Should there be absolute Freedom? If not absolute freedom, then who will quantify adequacy of regulations to achieve parity between Freedom and Responsibility?

Freedom is a broad term used to define the absence of external influence in choice or action like interference, coercion, necessity etc. An ignorant human being would also understand the first part of the definition where it identifies external force as lack of freedom but what most literate people fail to understand is the necessity part. Can a hungry, thirsty man have choice or Freedom? Take the simple example of manual scavenging, would any human being be passionate about this job? Or it’s just their hunger (necessity) that is driving them to choose this profession? Or it is their status in society for generations that is not letting them come out of this stigma? Then where is the Freedom?

The reality of Freedom

In the 73 years since independence, both the countries have not been able to get rid of the social evils. Caste still define the position of a person in society; women are still forced into prostitution; men still have to get into the rat holes to clean drains for few pennies; fathers still face the burden of dowries; tribals are still forced to make way for mines; villagers still compelled to run to cities for bread & butter; labourers still left to die in slums; farmers still commit suicide under the burden of interest on loans; taxmen still taking away the earnings of the middle class; as long as handful privileged ones are happy and free. Wasn’t this the same before independence? Or has it become worse? These are merely symptoms of chronic disease and not the cause. Then what really is the cause?

When these countries got “Independence” from the British colonial rule, it was nothing more than a change of faces. Most of these faces were western educated elites driven by anti-colonial sentiment and not an independent socio-politico-economic ideology. Not to forget that these same political parties had initially decided to reform under British rule rather than choosing complete overhaul of the system but eventually caught up with an idea of self-rule although with an ideological vacuum. British succeeded in pushing their capitalist economic system coupled with a secular, democratic political structure down the throat of these countries. This adoption was made easy by the fact that these countries had a history of capitalist Sahukars & Thakurs and at the same time the politicians were western educated in this same economic and political system. So the slavery continued post-independence, this time ideologically embedded into the politico-economic system.

Had we really been a free country with an independent politico-economic system, the priorities of the governments would have been different. The coronavirus pandemic broke out in a neighbouring country and a clear response would have been to seal the boundaries upfront rather we prioritized economic benefits over the life of our citizens and allowed international travel for weeks before it actually landed at our doorsteps. Now that we are in lockdown for more than 50 days, we are prioritizing home delivery of liquor over food, clothing & shelter which used to be fundamental needs. The poor have more hope in NGOs and individual humanitarians than the Government.

The hollowness of Government’s response can be judged from the fact that they are requesting individuals, private entities to pay full salaries to employees but their own actions are contrary to what they are preaching. Govt employees, many of whom are putting their life at risk in the line of duty, are taking pay cuts. Another example is the showering of rose petals on health workers; wouldn’t it have been better if they would have been provided with sufficient PPE kits rather? The much-hyped economic stimulus of 20 Lakh Crore rupees is nothing more than eyewash to attract international capital investments. This package is being rolled out through a credit system which will further burden the individuals or organization with interest payment and only strengthen capitalists.

On the other hand, the story of Pakistan Government’s response to the situation is not very different except that they have limited control internally to implement any laws.

One must shun superficial thinking to see the real villain in this ostensible response to the health emergency of Coronavirus is not the Government or any political party but the underlying capitalist politico-economic system which influences the very thought of the polity. Corporates funding political parties is a reason for getting favourable policies and not a charity. As long as this influence exists, we cannot claim freedom. What we actually got is a lollipop of capitalist slavery packed with the glittery wrapper of “Freedom”.

Subjectivity of Freedom

It’s always hard to digest reality, especially when it contradicts your views; it’s natural to think why we should subscribe to someone’s theory. Let’s revisit the definition of Freedom again – its absence of external influence in choice or action like force, coercion, necessity and some might also add regulation. Does that mean Freedom is absolute? Does it imply I can do what I want? We live in a society where our lives are connected with others and our actions are not completely independent but consequences of our actions will impact others (not just other human beings but absolutely everything around us in the ecosystem). One’s freedom cannot be at the cost of other’s misery hence the idea of absolute freedom is absurd and there is always a need for regulations.

Thankfully every county on the surface of the earth has a regulation and no state subscribes to this idea of absolute freedom. But the question remains, if not absolute freedom then how much is not too much freedom? This is where lawmakers of every country define regulations/laws according to their interpretation and hence different countries are seen at a different level on the scale of liberty or freedom indices. So this is an established fact that Freedom or for that matter Liberty is subjective.

Regulations created by humans will always be self-serving, subject to change, subject to influence by the rich & powerful, and at the whims of limited human thinking capacity. This is exactly the reason why capitalists have been so successful in manipulating the world order in their favour by funding rulers or lobbying, not to forget the most influential arms lobby milking trillions of dollars by instigating wars through different means. Even if hypothetically we manage to create perfect laws for us, it will always discriminate against others in the ecosystem; global warming is a perfect example. The real cause of chaos in the world lies in the subjectivity of laws created by humans, for Subjectivity is inherently conflicting.

By now the question of “how much freedom is not too much?” has changed to “who will define how much freedom is not too much?”. Who should then create laws if not humans? The answer is very simple – who can create a better manual for a system than the creator of the system!

Way forward

The coronavirus pandemic has brought even the most powerful countries to its knees. Even the most liberal countries of the world had to impose restrictions to contain the effect of the virus. This is definitely not the worst crisis witnessed by humanity till now and there is no guarantee that there won’t be any worse crises in future. Just a critical analysis of its causes is not going to serve any purpose but this awakening of society has to be materialized in providing a more constructive solution to the problems. Muslims of this time have a unique opportunity to implement and show to the world the comprehensive unchangeable social, political, economic system revealed by God through the Quran & Sunnah.

This can only be achieved by the way of the Prophet through rigorous dawah and convincing Muslim rulers to adopt the comprehensive Islamic system and demonstrate to the world how this could solve all the problems of humanity. Any means other than the method of the Prophet will lead to doom only. Hence this call is for Muslims of the world to wake up and work on the dawah with the mission to implement Islam’s comprehensive social, political and economic system rather than wasting time behind petty differences.