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Sakmongkol ak 47

Sunday 4 January 2009

Perspectives of Economic Growth

No: 5/2009.

The very intelligent blogger, de minimis( whose thoughts are not) wrote an interesting essay at the close of 2008. Readers may read it here. And the point I find particularly interesting is a discussion on the economics idea of Ibn Khaldun. We are accustomed to hearing Adam Smith as the father of economics- but a lot more people think Khaldun deserves that accolade.

Who is this bn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun.? I have to ask this question because many Muslims I know, parrot his name but has no inkling who he was. His real name is , ABŪ ZAYD ‘ABDU R-RAHMAN BIN MUAMMAD BIN KHALDŪN AL-HADRAMI, (May 27, 1332 AD/732 AH – March 19, 1406 AD/808 AH). He was a famous Muslim thinker and polymath. He was the jack of all trades and master of everything. Just look at his intellectual credentials —an astronomer, economist, historian, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, hafiz, jurist, lawyer, mathematician, military strategist, nutritionist, philosopher, social scientist and statesman—born in North Africa in present-day Tunisia. Military strategist? Yes maybe he was the Muslim Sun Tzu.

He is considered the forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and modern economics. He is sometimes considered to be the "father" of these disciplines, or even the social sciences in general, for anticipating many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were founded in the West. He is best known for his Muqaddimah (known as Prolegomenon in the West), the first volume of his book on universal history, Kitab al-Ibar.

How did he acquire all these? His family's high rank enabled Ibn Khaldun to study with the best North African teachers of the time. Meaning his rich parents knew the value of education. He received a classical Islamic education, studying the Qur'an which he memorized by heart, Arabic linguistics, the basis for an understanding of the Qur'an, hadith, sharia (law) and fiqh (jurisprudence). He received certification (ijazah) for all these subjects. The mystic, mathematician and philosopher, Al-Abili, introduced him to mathematics, logic and philosophy, where he above all studied the works of Averroes, Avicenna, Razi and al-Tusi. At the age of 17, Ibn Khaldūn lost both his parents to an epidemic of the plague which hit Tunis.

Following family tradition, Ibn Khaldūn strove for a political career. In the face of a tumultuous political situation in North Africa, this required a high degree of skill developing and dropping alliances prudently, to avoid falling with the short-lived regimes of the time. Ibn Khaldūn's autobiography is the story of an adventure, in which he spends time in prison, reaches the highest offices and falls again into exile.

So given a choice, I would more likely be convinced by Ibn Khaldun than say, ibn Awang( hj hadi). One of the ideas enunciated by Khaldun is the concept of ‘asabiyya or asabiyah. In the past, this concept in particular has been derided vehemently by PAS firebrands and followers. Indeed anyone labelled as ‘asabiyya’ was made to look as though he was carrying a transmittable sexual disease. Or worse, he is seen as an infidel. UMNO was called an ‘asabiyya party.

`Asabiyya or asabiyah refers to social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness, and social cohesion. Originally it was used in a context of "tribalism" and "clannism", but sometimes used for modern nationalism as well. It was a familiar term in the pre-Islamic era, but became popularized in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah where it is described as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history. In the modern period, the term is generally analogous to solidarity. However, the term is often negatively associated because it can sometimes suggest loyalty to one's group regardless of circumstances, or partisanship. Here, in Malaysia, it is used as a means to denigrate others by PAS.

That denigration arises from a failure or refusal to understand the concept. Khaldun's central concept of asabiyah, or "social cohesion", seems to anticipate modern conceptions of social capital arising in social networks: This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. To me then, it is instructive to look at the concept of ‘asabiyya as an older version of social capital. That’s where de minimis’s essay spawns interest.

Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.

Interestingly, Khaldun's concept is that social capital is instinctive and does not involve any social contract or explicit forms of constitution or other instructional capital that would provide a basis for appeals, in law or otherwise.

Why do I find the concept of social capital interesting? And that essay by de minimis useful? Because that essay leads us to a re-examine the thinking about social capital. And as modern scholars such as Francis Fukuyama and others attest, therein lies the greatness in the thinking of Ibn Khaldun. Because social capital or ‘asabiyya is important to the efficient functioning of modern economies, and is the sine qua non of stable liberal democracy.

Let’s see. Social capital arises from social networking. It is spontaneous. Khaldun even says its instinctive or second nature. It does not involve any social contract or explicit forms of constitution or other instructional capital.

Would anyone( PAS or UMNO) for example dare say, if one were to reject Khaldun’s idea, then one is un-Islamic? And one of these is the idea about ‘asabiyya and therefore rejection by PAS people, render them unIslamic actually? No? then why do many Muslims/Malays accept wholesale what PAS fatwa-ed on? Unless of course only if people disingeniously say that Khaldun;s Islamic credentials are not that great. But you would certainly find it tough going when looking at the man’s intellectual credentials above. The typical PAS member is also a polymath of another kind- pasar malam trader, medicine man, silat instructor, husband to 4 wives, village preacher and moral gendarme. The problem with the concept of ‘asabiyya lies in the politically negative connotations attached to it. So lets grow up.

Using this concept of Khladun’s ‘asabiyya or its modern version of social capital, I say, one of the major reasons for the failures of the NEP, is because social capital among the Malays is very low. Because it is very low, Malays cant dispense with excessive government patronage, willingness to work needs to be legislated, the Malay’s economic station needs to be decreed and willed into the constitution. So this year, 2009, I shall say it. The NEP has degenerated into a huge protection racket. The UMNO goons want to continue it because they derive power and spoils from there. Those who want a free ride and get everything easy, support the protection racketeers. The comprador Bumiputeras (non Malay towkays), the honorary royals( tengku Lims, tengku wongs) countenanced them because the goons and the free riders will call on them for help- at a humongous fee charge.


de minimis 4 January 2009 at 04:28  

Bro Sak

It looks as though our nocturnal habits are coinciding. You have successfully articulated the concept of social capital first articulated by Khaldun and brought it home to the Malaysian context with a powerful closing statement.

I have now learnt more about Khaldun, thanks to your post. What an amazing and versatile intellect the man had.

Anonymous,  4 January 2009 at 12:06  

Elements propping up the Umno hierarchy converge in heaps at the bottom. By being assiduous networkers albeit within a narrow band, by flocking together, they dull their senses and sharpen predatory instincts. In any other environment they would require some kind of safety-net protections. Umno has snatched them from hopelessness. Umno is the elevated track to aim for perches somewhere at the top. Umno will do well to take a keener interest in the development of the children of this particular constituency. Have they yielded straight As children or are the children set to emulate their dads? Should a middle class tradition take root within their families, the fringe meetings that follow an Umno defeat could talk about this accidental engineering as a matter of consolation. The slice of society Sakmongkol talks about, those who run the party at the Cawangan, must have developed some ideals. No? The party has ceased trying to motivate or change them. That is a pity. Instead of encouraging them to acquire paper qualifications, compete, work harder, write, fulfill their true potential, they are pampered. A purge will weaken the party. At least this crowd belongs to something. Perhaps send out cadres (not looking to get rich quick) to engage this powerful group. Motivate rather marginalise.

Susah? Mungkin boleh? Kena Cuba? Mana nak cari cadres yang tak mahu kaya?

Ir. Hanafi Ali 4 January 2009 at 18:17  


This essay alone proved TAK RUGI that I made your acquaintance, albeit through a blog. Thank you for having piqued my interest (credit perhaps to de minimis, too) in Ibnu Khaldun.

Thank you again.

ajip 6 January 2009 at 01:42  

terima kasih sebab hina ahli pas spt peniaga pasar malam

dengan menghina pas, maka UMNO akan kelihatan hebat

terima kasih...kah kah kah

satu lagi... nik aziz cakap undi pas dapat pahala sebab pas perjuangkan keadilan untuk semua.....tak pulak dia cakap undi umno dapat dosa......kenapa takut? atau memang betul umno suka menindas = berdosa? berapa ramai orang pas kena tindas dari segi ekonomi kat kelantan and ganu?

Anonymous,  6 January 2009 at 14:53  

I am extremely impressed with your analysis and expansion of Ibn Khaldun's originating economic concept or social capital! It is well known that Muqaddimah was exploited to extract its many socio-economic concepts and ideas without real acknowledgement by western philisophers and intellectuals. Your excellent summary should stimilate many of us to relook at the works of some of our own oriental/eastern philosophers and intellectuals. i will certainly do so. thank you for electrifying intro!

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