Tyranny and the Tyrants: lessons unlearned

Category: Life & Society, Middle East Topics: History, Iraq, Saddam Hussein Views: 9173

The saying goes "history of the world is the world's court of justice."

Is it true?

The tyranny of the Red bears in the former Soviet Union has ended. The Taliban grip choking the Afghani people has come loose. The genocidal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia was thrown out. The Shah of Iran, a puppet dictator planted by the United States, was dethroned. Recently, the menacing statue of Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Baghdad, fell to the ground quite unceremoniously; one more tyrant is gone, along with his symbols.

These events occurred right before our eyes. As these tyrants and their tyranny find their place in the annals of history, they seem to consistently repeat a common lesson of history, as in the words of George Bernard Shaw: "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history"

Learning is power. But those who seem to be at the helms of power have little learning, from both the past and the present. Hence, power seems most commonly a source of delusion and a veritable tool of abuse against others, instead of serving as a springboard for positive pursuits.

Whether it is the world's court of justice or not, history does record rather consistently that tyranny and abusive powers don't last. It is just as true for individual tyrants as it is for tyrannical regimes.

Empirically speaking, all the empires of the past that were based on tyranny or the abuse of power, subverting the common bond of humanity, have fallen from their heights - sometimes to their nadir or became extinct.

Egypt is still here, but only with the mark of the Pyramid-high pomp and arrogance left by the Pharaohs, to bask in the old glory. Rome is still as prominent as one of the European cities. As recently as the last century, the ugly face of tyranny resurfaced under Mussolini's fascism, but the Roman Empire, one of the most expansive, aggressive and overpowering ones in history, lives only in the antiquated historical ruins or monuments. Great Britain, the only country that calls itself "Great", is still a world power, but nothing like the overreaching empire, across which a while back in time the sun never set.

One can argue that some moral determinism or force may have been at work. But that might be an optimistic view; people cannot count on such moral determinism to take care of those power-hungry ones who do not learn from history. Those who wish to leave such matters to the "world court of justice," i.e., history, do not need to bother. Yet those who believe that people have the power to change or to make a difference, have to be proactive.

As Saddam's regime was undone in Iraq, one must not forget that there are many regimes and governments at the helm of power in their respective countries that are comparably tyrannical, depriving their people of liberty, prosperity, and human dignity. Many of them are understandably nervous, facing the potential dual wrath from their own people on one hand and the liberator (?) of this century led by the Bush regime, on another.

Whether the tyrannical, unIslamic and unrepresentative rulers are in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt or Pakistan, they know that they are sitting on catbird seats. Tyranny in these societies has a strong internal root, based on the theological trap that people are supposed to obey whoever is in power and that power is given by God. Such dysfunctional notions have taken firm root in the orthodox Islamic theology, legal discourse, and the psyche of common people. The Qur'an, of course, rejects any fatalistic and passive outlook or position in this regard.

Seeking change does not mean seeking or resorting to violence, but proactive effort to bring about positive change at all levels, individual and collective, is at the core of the message of the Qur'an. While the Qur'an takes the tyrants and abusers of power to task and repudiates their legitimacy and power, it also emboldens and empowers those who think that they are weak and powerless.

However, the fall of a tyrant, as in the case of Saddam Hussein, does not confirm the end of tyranny either in Iraq or among its neighbors. While the real reason for which America invaded Iraq without any international mandate may be unclear, the reasons for which it did not invade are not so unclear. Democratization or true liberation of Iraq is not one of those reasons. A similar approach has not been taken in a SINGLE country or region except for in Europe, as American Marshall Plan helped rebuild Europe and Japan and firmly implanted democracy after the World War II.

In Vietnam, America got involved in a war of its own making. In Iran, contravening all moral and legal norms, it toppled a constitutionally elected government and installed its own puppet regime. In Afghanistan it used the Afghan people to kick out the former Soviet forces and then abandoned the same folks amidst ruins, only to return later to further level the country. In Pakistan, it stood by a genocidal regime in 1971 and even sent its 7th Fleet in support, as that regime pulled off a genocide of millions of people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and force-converted 10 million people into refugees, seeking shelter in India.

If there is a single, overtly denuded manifestation of hypocrisy in the US foreign policy, it is its lopsided engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, causing further and sustained suffering, alienation, and radicalization of the Palestinian people. Expecting any genuine democracy, other than a possible puppet regime in a democratic cloak in Iraq, would defy the long-standing and consistent relevant record of the US. Thus, departure of tyrants, especially former bedfellows of America, may not mean a complete deliverance from tyranny--in Iraq or anywhere else.

The world is well aware that Saddam Hussain, one of the worst dictators of our time, has been a buddy of USA, when USA helped and used Iraq in the war against Iran. Saddam and his regime were no different at that time, except one factor: that is, the US at that time needed to use the Bathist dictator of Iraq. Now, the consideration has changed, and America has made an example out of the removal of him and his repressive regime. The message: a similar fate may await other tyrants if they don't tow the line of the greater powers. Of course, the role of superpowers has nothing to do with tyranny!

Would the other tyrants in the region evaluate the unlearned lessons of history? It would be nice to have the history's most common lesson proven wrong, but it is very unlikely. Tyrants and regimes don't change personalities. In case of the contemporary tyrants and regimes of tyranny, there is an additional complicating factor. These are not independent tyrants. Most of them are installed, facilitated, or protected by the greater powers of our time. When the interest of these greater powers would dictate, such tyrants would go, as it happened in case of the regime in Iraq.

Moreover, there is a further sinister dimension. It is expected and desired that the forces proclaiming democracy, justice and human rights should be sincerely and actively working toward spreading the same to the rest of the world. That does not seem to be the case. Whether the role of France in Algeria or that of the USA around the world, these democratic countries have a consistent pattern of conduct based more on narrow, misdirected national interest than on any principle that they supposedly uphold for their own nations. Thus, as anomalous as it may appear, USA seems to have been naturally comfortable with the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, Asia, Africa or Central/Latin America. This makes doubly difficult the challenge for people of many of these countries to overcome the tyrannical systems and environments.

Yet, history is full of human achievements in terms of mankind's ability to bring about positive changes while facing significant odds. People in the Muslim world as well as elsewhere must pursue such positive changes. "Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)..." [13/ar-Raad/11] In seeking such changes, people can't count on history as the "court" to take care of tyranny and the tyrants. Unfortunately, given the contemporary global power structure that regards Islam as a threat to it and its interests, the bigger powers of our time are not interested in democracy, especially in the Muslim world, since they perceive that the democratic process would facilitate the emergence of those to power who are committed to Islam.

Yet, for Muslims, at least, seeking positive changes is both a human and religious quest - for their own betterment and hopefully for the betterment of the humanity. To achieve this, several factors are important.

First, even though throughout the history, many notable Islamic scholars and jurisprudents had repudiated tyranny, the practical undertone of the classical and orthodox Islamic theology and jurisprudence has been an accommodating attitude toward tyranny and the tyrants. Muwayia was legitimized. Then, even Yazid was legitimized. After that, theology and jurisprudence kept adjusting in tandem to accommodate almost anyone who was able to grab the power. This was inconsistent with what Islam stands for.

Based on the vision, ideals and principles laid down by the Qur'an and on the struggle as exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad and all other prophets before, tyranny must be categorically repudiated and tyrants must be regarded as illegitimate and illegal. In classical Islamic discourses, fearing violence and anarchy, such repudiation of the established authorities - even when it involved tyrants - has been broadly discouraged, or even disapproved. However, this is a gross misunderstanding regarding the issue. Repudiating and challenging tyranny and tyrants do not necessarily have to involve violence and the result does not have to be anarchy. The Prophet's methodology of repudiation and challenge against the existing power structure of his time did not involve violence on the part of Muslims. Without having our head and heart clear - that to Muslims, tyranny is intolerable like all other harams (prohibited) - we can't expect the desired change. The norms and ideals that Muslims should seek are peace and justice for all. "Let there be no hostility except against those who practice tyranny or oppression." [2/al-Baqara/193] As this verse indicates, there should not be any tolerance for tyranny. Making peace with tyranny is self-defeating. However, intolerance toward tyranny does not and should not necessarily mean violence. The pursuit of change has to be in a creative, constructive, systematic and determined manner.

Secondly, Muslims should neither cause any tyranny nor allow themselves to be tyrannized. Toward that end, Muslims need to work against tyranny and tyrants for the freedom of their own as well as of others.

When we treat this issue as a matter of principle, a broad common ground can be found with the rest of the humanity, much of which also suffers from tyranny. Human dignity and the realization of human potential require a world free of tyranny. It is a broad and common challenge for the humanity to marginalize tyranny in the world. However, effectively meeting such a challenge requires that we all intellectually and spiritually reorient ourselves to stand up for justice and freedom.

Courtesy: The Message International (monthly)

  Category: Life & Society, Middle East
  Topics: History, Iraq, Saddam Hussein
Views: 9173

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Older Comments:
My pledge of allegiance to the United States of America assures a greater degree of security for fellow residents of the United States of America. If any citizen refuses to pledge allegiance to their country I would politely suggest they ought to consider emigrating to some other country.

There is no god but God alone and Muhammad (God bless him) is God's messenger. Surely, if Muslims felt compelled to emigrate for the sake of God then God would presumably reward them for doing so. May God's peace be with them.

I suggest that we promise publicly to have good intentions - in the manner required of immigrants to our country - politely suggest an alternative method of doing so or move to another country. Peace be with you.

H.A. FROM USA said:
This is in regard to Mary C. George's Comment:
- Many Muslims do not read the Quran and Sunnah. Even those who do (many)do not read the meanings or influenced greatly by modernity or western materialistic culture. Saddam used to be the puppet of the United States and he is NOT A TRUE MUSLIM. Remember Donald Rumsfeld shook hand with Saddam about 20 years and Saddam was U.S.'s best buddy in the 1980's. Saddam prays only for propaganda. Similarly, there are many puppets and tyrants in the Middle East today, for example, Eyptian president, King of Jordan and Saudia Arabia to name a few. Islam has nothing to with how they behave.
Also, Christians and Jews are being scared at their Churches and Syngagoues by their priests and Rabbi's, respectively. They are making people Islamphobic by telling them lies about what is being preached at mosques. Similary, the politicians are using scare tactics (using Muslims and 9/11) for propaganda and for the purposes of getting re-elected.
In the U.S., there as many extremists and tyrants as there are in the Muslim worlds. Non-muslims should read the Quran and Sunna/Hadith; that will tell what Islam is all about. Muslims should do the same. Most Muslims do not open up the books until tragedy hits them. Sometimes, it's true for me, too.


Muslims are suffering by tyrannts since the demise of Khilafat. The time has come that our ulema should speak fluently and openly as to who was wrong between Ali and Mawiyah. Being Sunni myslef, I should judge the Islamic history in its purity instead of blaming Shias contribution to the history. We should build libraries all over the Muslim world for Imam Hussein's (rd) vision of democracy for his magneficient contribution to further democracy against tyranny of Yzeed. Our Ulema has always prevented the ordinary people understanding Islamic history by the stupdity of confusing statements like: "We cannot speak of Sahaba" "We don't know who was wrong?". Today, with such irresponsible statements, Muslims lack the vision of openness and guided freedom of speech. Instead of praying for tyrants, Muslims should remove and overthrow them into the oceans. I agree with Sofia Shums, that Muslim tryrants are every where, from homes, to businssess, to politics. Prayer is an easy option. Allah (sbt) requires us to act. Action is lacking. We should restore Khilafat like of Omar (rd) all over the Muslim world without hestiation. No matter how big the sacrifice may be, we should be ready to give. Untill we have the democractical institutions fully restored, Muslims will wander all over the globe cluelessly. Shuja Syed

Let there be no hostility except against those who practice tyranny or oppression. Unless what?

Would anyone say there ought to be an exception - perhaps - or perhaps two exceptions - to these instructions? Perhaps, unless those who practice tyranny or oppression are Muslims (preferably similar to us)? Perhaps, unless those who fighting the tyranny or oppression of Muslims cherish another one of Allah's books?

Also, in my comments at this site I have included prayers for Saddam Hussein, Saddam's two oldest sons and (yes!) even George W. Bush - may peace be upon them. My wish is not to offend - but I have yet to read any articles at this site that appear to include prayers for any one of them.

For that matter, should we assist leaders we have refused to say a prayer for? If we refuse to say even the simplest prayer for a leader then what might we earn for assisting them to exercise authority over others - after refusing to pray for the leader?

May Allah have mercy on all of us. May I receive what I pray for my enemies to receive. Amen.

Peace be upon you (Amen).

Does everyone live by the Qur'an? (from Mary C. George). A: Every Muslim must belief on Al Quran and must follow it. Nowdays, most of Muslim doesnt take Al-Quran as their main reference on their life's problem.
Q: And if they do, then why is there such dissension between the different tribes? A: If this things happened that mean they not really take Al Quran as their references/guidence on thier lifes'.Q:why is tyranny allowed, such as that employed by Saddam? In Islam, tyranny did'nt allowed at all!.Q:why are there Muslim Clerics that preach hatred for anyone that isn't a Muslim? Islam didnt teach to hatred anyone.Its very hard to explain about Muslim problems to nonMuslim. Why not u try to study our religion, what Islam teach about?, what inside Al Quran? .... when u understand ISLAM then u will understand what Muslim facing right now and dont judged what is Islam by observing Muslim today because some of us are good some not.Q:What do you think? From my opinion, any Muslim will progressive if he/she take Al Quran and As Sunnah as main reference on every aspect of life. Pls do not judge people on thier dress, Only Allah know everything in our heart and what we done.

Does everyone live by the Qur'an? And if they do, then why is there such dissension between the different tribes? And why is tyranny allowed, such as that employed by Saddam? Also, why are there Muslim Clerics that preach hatred for anyone that isn't a Muslim? I just have an enquiring mind, and wouild like to know. I had the honor of meeting an Arab Muslim family. The father was the football coach for my grandson's team, and his son also played. His wife would wear the scarf over her head and shoulders, even though she wore bluejeans. They were very nice people, and Omar, had the patience of a saint. All the little boys adored him. I do believe that they are what I would refer to, as progressive Muslims. What do you think?

History of Muslims in a nutshell: (1) Greed for worldly power (to lead, rule, dominate) and material greed for booty or monetary rewards to turn in fellow Muslims to their enemies. In other words, Muslims are not fighting for a cause so dear to their heart and soul that nothing but nothing could deter them from their goal or purpose. Muslims today betray a lack of sincerity and belief in their deen.(2) Leaders, including ulema, sheikhs, mullahs and political rulers who have no long-term goals or vision that could be of benefit to the ummah or humanity in general, wastage of resources and wealth in irreligious, bankrupt activities and lifestyles. (3) Individual Muslims, young and old, male and female with total lack of character, and conscience in day-to-day living, self-absolved, decadent, phycholgically and emotionally imbalanced and disfunctional, lacking a true sense of community, abdicating their personal moral responsibilty by transferring religious and ethical responsibilities onto their "sufi teachers" "mullahs, etc., uneducated and ill-equipped to deal with the world, The list could go on and on....

Regarding tryrany and tryants, we have one in every nook and corner of our ummah. The tyrant husband and father, hell-bent on destroying the lives ofhis immediate family and beyond in the name of Islam. The mullah, ulema and teacher who tryannize all to accept his interpretations of God's Word and commands-- as if they themselves were Lord incarnate. Fragmenting the Word of Allah SWT without hesitation, qualm or fear.
The tyrant political leaders and the submissive, passive, pathetic hordes under them--all are players in this game of tryanny

Instead of organizing annual conventions of this, that or the other organization, we need perhaps to organize outselves to have honest and democratic discussions and dialogue amongst ourselves to find out what went wrong? How did we get to where we are? How may we get rid of all the tyranny in our midst?

Regarding the latest news from Iraq: inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un.

Assalamu alaikum wa barakatuhu wa rahmatullahi.

Tyranny is worst. Muslims should take all the legal steps to overthrow the governments of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim juntas. However, Taliban were not dictators. The author is wrong. Shuja Syed

Salam To All

Muslims are the only ones who do not learn from history because they are being destroyed in the same manner in which the Africans, The native Americans and the Aborigine. They are being internally manipulated and they are too busy arguing about differences of opinions and ideologies to care.

By 2020, all hope for a muslim nation will be non-existent. Why? Because muslims who boast of tolerance to others cannot be tolerant with each other.

Hope we learn our lesson in time.


AsSalaamuAlaikum, Alhamdulillah, the article is practical and insightful. It adheres to the underlying concept that Islam opposes tyranny of every sort - and in this Islam appeals to the voiceless oppressed all over the world (not just Muslims). This is an article I would share with colleagues at my work who are from different faith backgrounds. Oh and i encourage everyone to visit CAIR website and follow up contacting your congress reps. (esp. Reject Daniel Pipes's nomination to US Institute of Peace).

I am proud that a Muslim Author condemn the Taliban.

No nation on earth with the exception of the Saudis and the Pakistanis gave them recognition and they didn't even control the whole country except in name

I can't understand why the author chooses to have a myopic view of history. Calling Saddam Hussein 'the butcher of Baghdad' and 'one of the worst dictators of our time' is incomprehensible-- if anyone deserves the first epithet it is George W Bush , and surely there are worse dictators in the world than Saddam -- in Iraq under Saddam's regime people of all religious denominations lived relatively peacefully but the US-led invasion has only led to chaos and a humanitarian crises of massive proportions--who is responsible for all this? ; What about the thousands of Iraqi children who will be born maimed thanks to the depleted Uranium scattered all over their country?
To see the truth and speak about it requires guts. I hope the author doesn't remain entrapped in the media hype projecting America as the saviour of this planet.
History will surely prove that tyranny pays no dividends-- the american 'empire' will also be consigned to textbooks if it keeps going this way.

what a great article! i didn't know about the 71 regime in Pakistan, i'll try to find out more about it. Good thing to talk about france in Algeria. I just wonder if it is possible to have power without tyranny. because everywhere they seem to be the same...

Assalam Alakum to everyone:

Mr. Omar Farooq makes a good point but he is (sadly) focusing on what the mass media has portrayed the "Muslims" and "Islam" and has told the world that all Muslim rulers and leaders that are placed into power by the US and other superpowers are evil. The issue is not counting the evils of men but the focus should be Islam. Islam also means peace and those who cause mischief and war are not true Muslims. Who is to say this dictator was an evil tyrant and another a "good" leader? I don't trust the media or the flawed history texts that have been alertered and pumped with lies. I trust the Quran and the laws it has set forth for humanity to follow. And I trust and follow the rules and principles of our last prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who taught us how to practice Islam.

It is sad to see a Muslim author calling the Taliban tyrants. They are not the ones who
bombed the Trade Center, Dr. Sahb. They were the legitimate Government of Afghanistan.

KAZI said:
muslims must go back to Quran and sunnah for guindece for 24 hours of our lives. Islam came to uplift the mankind from depth of darkness to light. we must not blame other power such as USA, British or franch for the crime they did to manking, question should be why should these power do any good things for anyone. Once you don't believe in Alllah i don't see any reason to do something good.

There are countless tyrants in the muslim world. How many tyrants have muslims overthrown over the last say, 50 years. Only one comes to mind, that is Shah of Iran (and they did it beside the tremendous support from US). Why so few?.
Was overthrow of Shah an anomaly? And who did they replace the Shah with? Egyptians killed Sadat, but had no further plans who was going to replace Sadat.

Now iranians might overthrow tyrant ayotallahs; but do they know who will replace those tyrant ayotallahs; I doubt they have any clue (except a vague concept of Islamic Government).

A great article, doesn't give any specifics on how to challenge tyranny, but he makes a good point. We need to be proactive and better the world through constructive means, not through blowing ourselves up or strapping our children with bombs and sending them towards the "enemy." Not by celebrating "human bombs." Not by hijacking planes, or kidnapping hostages. We need to stop and discourage Muslims from doing such things. There is much tyranny in this world, tyranny of Israel against Palestine, Sudan against Christians, China against Tibetan Buddhists, Russia against Chechnya, and on and on and on. They only way we can fight against tyranny these days is through Jihad with peaceful means, in cooperation with all human beings around the world, whatever their race or religion may be, who want peace and end to tyranny. We have to start using our BRAINS, and not blindly follow what our fathers, sheikhs, and imams tell us. So let's do it. Let's start changing the world, Insha'allah.