Tag Archive for democracy

Can sci-fi redefine our political system?

Ballots for the world - DemocracyCompletely by accident this morning I have seen a post at the Science Fiction & Political Thought blog that briefly reviews my novel. The blog’s name is pretty self-explanatory. Its author, Dadrocant, is interested in exploring the links between sci-fi and political thought. In his latest post, ‘Can Science Fiction help us redefine our political system?‘, he mentions Systems as an example of sci-fi that questions whether or not democracy really is the best possible political system. This passage from that post caught my attention:

The center dilemma of this story lies in a social experiment simulation conducted 20 years before the events of the book, where several political systems are put to the test in a comparison, and even though there is no explanation as to what exactly the ideal system that is the center of the test [Libredux] is exactly like, it does hint at some interesting points, which can be seen today in some of the discourses from those who are discontented about the current state of affairs in western democracies …

That, of course, is the point Systems attempts to make. There is no such thing as a fixed ideal system. The distinguishing characteristic of an ideal system is that it is never fixed. That’s why you won’t find a blueprint for the Libredux model in Systems. And for any Pakistanis reading this post, this should be big clue as to why Iqbal also never offered any sort of blueprint for an ideal political system, and why even that epitome of pragmatism, Mr Jinnah, was supposedly ‘vague’ about what Pakistan’s system would be like. ;)

So, does Systems question democracy? Yes, it questions the modern democratic state – just as it questions all fixed ideologies – but not democracy in principle, which is based on both the ideals of liberty and justice. In fact, I always assumed that the Libredux model would likely be set up as some sort of democracy and evolve from there, in line with what I have said in SJ2 about ideal systems being able to develop by using any contemporary polity as a starting point. To reiterate: A ‘Libredux’ system would be one that theoretically takes the shape of almost any system, as long as it was fit to survive in the conditions of its time, and it retained its ideals (as per the theorem). Like a living organism, its body or structure can take any shape but its ethical DNA remains ultimately the same. I wrote this in an earlier draft of the manuscript for Systems – in its long-winded synopsis, actually – but it never made it into the final version of the novel. I didn’t want too much technical stuff to get in the way of the story.

The whole post on sci-fi as a medium for exploring future political systems can be found here.

Systems in an Iqbal education programme

Dr Muhammad Iqbal

Courtesy allamaiqbal.com

Yesterday I learned that the Systems trailer has been included in a course (Title: DNA of History: History According to Iqbal) being run by the Marghdeen Learning Centre, a body affiliated with the Iqbal Academy. I felt truly honoured at the mention, especially because of the particular focus of the lesson in which the trailer appeared. (I would have linked to the lesson page, since the course is run online, but you can’t view it unless you’re a participant on the course).

THE AGE OF POTENTIAL

Here are some of the most interesting points made in the lesson by the course teacher, Khurram Ali Shafique:

“Do we find any common strand” in the events of our times? Yes. Everything happening in our times is related to “Potential.”

In the field of natural sciences, we have already moved on from principles to potentials: the “principles” of natural sciences discovered in the previous phase gave birth to an age of invention in our times.

The problem is that while we discovered the tremendous potential of the physical world, we have not matched it with similar progress in discovering the potential of the human soul …

… Let’s begin with the most basic thing: Tawhid, or the Unity of God. According to Iqbal, the three principles implied in the Unity of God are “equality, solidarity, and freedom.” …

… Let me summarize. What I have tried to share is that we are now living in the age of potential. The three traits of this age are:

  1. Nations cannot be forced into slavery anymore, although they can still be deceived into it – and this is regardless of how weak the victim or how strong the oppressor. This is the potential of freedom.
  2. The world is rearranging itself into nation states, which are likely to develop a symbiotic relationship. This is the potential of solidarity.
  3. Nations can become aware of their destinies and make informed choices based on this awareness. This is the potential of equality.
Snapshot from Systems trailer

Snapshot from Systems trailer

LITERALLY TRUE

So once again, the focus is on the three ideals that appear in the Cohesive Ethics Theorem. Most interestingly of all, Mr Shafique has stressed that Iqbal’s own reference to these three principles in his famous Reconstruction lectures should be understood literally. In other words, the key to unlocking human potential in full can only come from mastering our understanding of these specific three principles, just as we have begun to unlock the creative potential of the physical universe by mastering our understanding of the laws of nature. As someone says in Systems:

‘Some would say that what I have suggested is utopian, and moreover impossible. This is not so. As I see it, humanity cannot realise its true potential until we accept that an ideal society is not only possible, but absolutely mandatory.’

The lesson opens with this question: Do you think that this video (Systems trailer) is relevant to what is being discussed in this post?

I reply: Why yes, and not in a small way!

But then, I would say that. :)

And a final note: I highly recommend joining the courses at the Marghdeen Learning Centre. They are cleverly designed to be as informal as possible, while introducing some thought-provoking ideas.

How Secular Jinnah inspired Systems Part 4: Reversal

Chief Justice AR Cornelius

Chief Justice Cornelius. Public domain image.

[I] am slowly beginning to understand what is built into the Constitution of Pakistan, in the way of political obligation … I have learnt that a non-Muslim can only be a full citizen of Pakistan if, on the secular side, he conforms to the requirements of the Objectives Resolution, read with the first 8 Articles, that is Parts I (the Republic of Pakistan) and II (Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy). So far as I can see, at present, this is entirely possible, and would be easy, if there were some formulation of the basic principles contained in the Scriptures of Islam, in regard to equality, tolerance, social justice etc.

These are the words of Alvin Robert Cornelius (1903-1991), one-time Chief Justice of Pakistan, in a personal letter dated July 1965. A practising Christian, he was one of the many people who supported the Pakistan idea. He was also amongst the few who understood the content of the Objectives Resolution as a statement of universal human ideals and one that made great promises to all its citizens regardless of caste and creed. But, he said, these ideals hadn’t been spelled out.

AN OVERLOOKED ISSUE

And Cornelius wasn’t the only person to say this. Two other Pakistanis (Mian Iftikharuddin and PD Bhandara, father of MP Bhandara) also made similar remarks in criticism of Pakistan’s constitution-making body during Pakistan’s fledgling years. All three of these individuals stated in no uncertain terms that some fundamental principles had not been accounted for. Iftikharuddin complained in 1949 that the Objectives Resolution didn’t …

incorporate those principles which will make real democracy possible …

– and PD Bhandara said in 1954:

The very essence of an Islamic Constitution which is brevity and simplicity is conspicuous by its absence. … In the process of evolution gained by experience, I trust our Constitution will be remodelled to conform more to the tenets of Islam

But their words went unheeded, and with time the Objectives Resolution became an issue of enormous contention.

MA Jinnah on 14 August 1947

MA Jinnah on 14 August 1947, and not 11 August as shown on Wikipedia. Image from my personal collection.

Critics of the Objectives Resolution see it as some sort of backdoor to theocracy, even though a religious state was the last thing on the minds of those who penned it. MP Bhandara’s 11 August 1947 bill (introduced in 2006) was an attempt to insert one of Jinnah’s most famous speeches on civil equality alongside the Objectives Resolution in the constitution. Bhandara said the speech would act as an ‘ideological balance’. Ironically, unlike his father, MP Bhandara had actually misinterpreted the Objectives Resolution and his bill (his version of it, anyway) was only going to make things worse by causing a conflict. I tried to tell him this, but I don’t think he heard me.

THREE WORDS

All this made me think of the theorem. By now I saw the connection to the three words in Iqbal’s Reconstruction – the three basic ideals of equality (justice), solidarity (unity), and freedom (liberty). That passage of Iqbal became my muse. Even Jinnah had been subconsciously drawn to these three ideals, which was why he quoted the French equivalent liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity) several times during those last few months of his life as Pakistan’s first Governor General.

By 2009, a publisher in the UK and another in Pakistan had both already offered me a contract for SJ1’s revised edition. They expected me to get it to them in a few weeks. It took me 14 months, and thankfully both publishers were very patient with me. By the time it was finished, SJ2 was a brand new book containing new and original research, and only parts of it coincided with SJ1.

LEFT UNSAID

Snapshot from trailerIn SJ2, I briefly mentioned this ‘missing’ element of Pakistan’s constitution, and even said that my old appendix (imported from SJ1 and improved in SJ2) contained the very same ‘core principles’ of the Quran that could help complete the constitutional work begun back in 1949. What I didn’t mention – though I discussed it with one or two people including a prominent Pakistani retired senior judge – was that I also had an idea for a bill that could introduce the same ideals as those listed in my old appendix, the source of the theorem. To my mind the introduction of binding, interconnected values would not only strengthen and clarify the promises made in the Objectives Resolution, but would also put an end to the misinterpretation of what it contains.

And what happened after that? Well, the idea remains an idea. In the end, I made it – the theorem, that is – ‘real’ only in my fictional universe. But there it makes for useful commentary on the human condition … and it’s my way of paying homage to the Pakistan idea.

This is the final part. Earlier posts in this mini-series:

Introduction … Pt 1: The first book 

Pt 2: Libredux … Pt 3: The missing principle

(Some images in this post are copyrighted)

Systems: What the title says

Despite having seen a lot of people get the wrong end of the stick about the title Secular Jinnah (and though I admit I let that happen on purpose), I had never thought that the title of the novel might be similarly open to misinterpretation.

Imran S Bhinder is a young Pakistani philosopher who gained notoriety after he exposed a major literary scholar for plagiarism through translation. When he heard that my novel was titled Systems, he emailed me with the comment that my choice of title was interesting, given that it has become fashionable to be anti system – or, more specifically, that philosophers tend to dismiss any concept of a system based on ‘metaphysical categories’. And that got me, because in the first place it hadn’t occurred to me that the title might appear to be advocating a particular type of system, when in fact it’s just a title on the themes of the story, and of course the Systems Experiment.

In fact he’d raised a good point and I felt it was worth mentioning here. In the Systems Experiment, five social systems are put to the test in a supercomputer simulation. Two of them, theocracy (or religious state) and monarchy (kingdoms) are the control, since they are accepted as historical failures. The next two are modern capitalist democracy and communism, which are down in the novel as the systems ‘still being tried in history’ (never mind that in real life there is a debate as to whether communism has already failed or not). The fifth is based on the Cohesive Ethics Theorem. In the novel the theorem is described as follows:

Omar believed that justice and liberty are the only universal ideals; all other ethical principles are either derivatives or aspects of these ideals. But justice and liberty are themselves interconnected because they come, just like the physical universe and every law of nature, from a single source. He called this universal relationship cohesive ethics.

The social system based on the theorem is described as:

The fifth represented Omar’s theorem in action, and it was the only one without a name. Omar wasn’t keen on giving the model a formal designation. To his mind it created the false impression that his model was offering a fixed system, when in fact dynamism was its driving force. Nevertheless for the sake of the experiment he gave his model a descriptive name: Libredux.”

So in short, the title ‘Systems’ is a reference to the experiment itself. The ‘libredux’ system is based on a metaphysical theory, but it’s not a fixed ideology. And whereas metaphysics is generally treated as something that cannot be tested in a lab, in this story the Systems Experiment is an empirical test for the theorem.

By the way, any resemblance to the idea that Pakistan was a ‘laboratory’ is completely coincidental. (What do you mean, you don’t believe me?)

Note: There is a page coming (not too difficult, I promise) to explain the idea behind the theorem. I’ll update this post when it’s ready.