Freedom: Fraud of the Century

“The winds of change are with us now. The forces of freedom are united. We move toward the next century, more confident than ever that we have the will at home and abroad to do what must be done, the hard work of freedom” (George Bush Sr. speaking at the State of the Union Address in January 1991 as the bombs were being dropped on Baghdad).
The US and British government’s unyielding policy towards Iraq would at first sight appear bewildering. Both countries are faced with mounting human and financial costs, doubts about their true motives have reached critical mass, and recent reports of systemic torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq are fuelling a surge of international and domestic criticism that could probably cost Bush and Blair their political careers. In all the circumstances, one would expect the riposte of the countries to be of capitulation and immediate withdrawal rather than high rhetoric and defiance, which begs the question: Is there anything beyond the obvious motive of controlling the world’s second largest oil reserves? Is there a deeper ideological motive underlying the West’s unrelenting stance on Iraq?

Western states are united in exporting freedom to the Muslim world. The West hope that the call for freedom will become the clarion call of those who live under occupation or are ruled by repressive (and usually Western appointed) regimes. Prominent preachers, scholars and thinkers have given speech after speech and written page upon page in an attempt to reconcile Islam with freedom, while those Muslims who point out that it is un Islamic are labelled reactionary fundamentalists.


It is evident that even if all their initial justification for the war has been discredited the two leaders are convinced that they do indeed have a compelling argument, which justifies continued occupation absolutely. This belief was encapsulated by President Bush in a joint press conference with Tony Blair on 16th April 2004, when he said ‘we don’t say freedom is only consigned to one group of people or one religion. We believe freedom is universal. And free societies are peaceful societies. And freedom will be the cure for those who harbour deep resentment and hatred in their heart.’

In the Arab world, nationalists when referring to liberation from Western colonialist invaders used the word hurriyah. Sati al-Husri, the Syrian social philosopher who first formulated the ideas of Arab nationalism in the 1920’s, was influenced by 19th century German nationalist thought which opposed liberty. His view was “patriotism and nationalism before and above all … even above and before freedom”. Husri’s ideas were adopted by Michel Aflaq, the founder of Ba’athism, which again used the word in the sense of an anti-imperialist struggle. The same can be said for the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who used the term in his speeches to ostensibly mobilise the masses against Western imperialism in order to consolidate his authoritarian rule. The advent of Western-backed Arab satellite stations and newspapers has only recently led to the use of hurriyah in the sense of liberty.

Although it can be traced back to ancient Greece, freedom as understood today originates with the Renaissance when there was a rediscovery and reappraisal of Roman and Greek ideas. This period marked a clear shift away from viewing the world as being centred on the Creator, to a viewpoint that emphasised man and how he could succeed in life by dominating and exploiting his environment. The humanist philosophers of the period criticised Christianity as being a barrier to material progress. Machiavelli, for example, attacked religion for not valuing ‘worldly honour’. He held that man should be free to achieve power and glory without the constraints of religion, even if it necessitated murder as in the case of the legend in which Romulus killed his brother Remus and founded the city of Rome.

The modern-day concept of freedom was perhaps first clearly defined in 1651 by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan: “Liberty, or freedom, signifieth, properly, the absence of opposition; by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion”. Hobbes continued ‘One is free when he is not hindered to do what he has a will to do’. This definition was reiterated by a number of political theorists, among them the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham who, in his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), wrote: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. To them…we refer all our desires, every resolve we make in life.” Bentham further declared that ‘Every law is an evil, because every law is a violation of liberty’.

The word freedom in its basic form means to think and act as one desires. Bertrand Russell defined freedom as ‘the absence of obstacles in the realisation of desires.’ In the political context, Orlando Patterson, a Harvard professor and award-winning author of Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, states in his book that freedom is the ‘supreme value of the Western world’. He describes it as the ‘catchword’ of Western politicians, the ‘secular gospel’ of free market economics and as the foundation of Western culture.

Freedom is viewed the world over as a natural concept and consequently, it has become the clarion call of the Western states to those who live under occupation in Iraq and Palestine and indeed for those who live under oppressive Muslim rulers. The political culture of Western countries is built upon the bedrock of liberal-capitalist values. Ideas which form the pillars of liberal democratic societies such as personal freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, right to own property are all drawn from liberalism, which per se is built upon the secular thought of division between the spiritual and the temporal.


Tony Blair addressing the US Congress last year said, ‘our ultimate weapon is not our guns but our beliefs … ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, and the choice is the same, freedom not tyranny.’

The underlying assumption behind the West’s claim is that the value of freedom and its associated beliefs such as Human Rights are universal ones. In fact, the codification of Human Rights is no more than 60 years old when the West formulated them unilaterally after the Second World War. One therefore has to question whether freedom or liberty is a universal value. Indeed, why should it be considered paramount in relation to other values? Piety, humility, courage, patience, justice, mercy, honesty, honour, integrity, modesty and chastity were in the past viewed as far more important in non-Western cultures. Moreover, from a linguistic point of view many countries did not even have a word for freedom before contact with the West. The Japanese had great difficulty in finding a word for the concept of freedom after they opened their doors to the West in the 1860’s. They resorted to the word jiyu, which originally meant ‘licentiousness’. Koreans also began to use the term in the nineteenth century after the Western intrusion.

The English language therefore played an important role in exporting freedom to the East, but for those who have assimilated freedom into their culture, the consequences have been disastrous. For instance, in Japan family honour was seen as one of the most important social values but today this has been traded off with liberal and Capitalist values and is illustrated by the outbreak in prostitution and promiscuity, which has now become widely accepted as a natural component and even a necessity in society. According to Yumi Yanmashita, a writer who has studied this phenomena, ‘instead of feeling ashamed for trading their bodies for currency many girls are proud that they are able to make so much money.’ The values of family honour and courage have become archaic and obsolete.


Clearly, freedom is a Western concept and its values are not ‘universal.’ But what of the claim that the freedom to pursue happiness, to express one’s opinion and to trade on the open markets, should be shared by all, regardless of creed, history race and culture? Such freedoms are so firmly entrenched in Western societies that they are seldom challenged openly or even questioned. Admittedly, liberalism has brought the West economic and technological success, but Western liberal culture has however caused many problems in society. High rates of crime, family breakdown and high levels of anti-social behaviour have caused widespread concern. Freedom to pursue happiness means nothing less than following one’s desires. In the true spirit of liberalism, respected legal theorists such as Jeremy Bentham have openly advocated for sexual promiscuity and the legalisation of sexual practices such as bestiality.

The US has been at the forefront in exporting its hedonistic culture of personal freedom to the Iraqi people. The Arab papers are awash with reports of US troops in Iraq distributing moral corruption by selling pornographic movies and liquor and hashish, which the West brought with it to Iraq. Al-Hawsa newspaper recently reported that the US is showing ‘pornographic movies in the cinemas and people are drinking alcohol in the streets.’ The report went onto say that the showing of ‘bad and immoral movies on the Hebrew media network [a reference to the American-established Iraqi media network] and Hura TV [a US government-produced television station] and even in children’s movies in order to create a new generation that is far from the Islamic religion.’ The West is so convinced that encouraging moral laxities and advocating sexual freedom will liberate the Iraqi people that it rarely pauses to consider whether or not such values are in contradiction with the nation upon which it is attempting to impose and whether these ideals can be shared by all.

The abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison is a deplorable illustration of how US and British troops have exercised their ‘freedom’ by subjugating civilian prisoners to humiliating acts of indecency. The now notorious female soldier, Private Lyndie England, committed several acts of fornication with her colleagues in front of Muslim prisoners. Images of a hooded prisoner with wires fixed to his body, nude inmates piled in a human pyramid, prisoners forced to simulate sex with each other are but few examples of the vile treatment of those arbitrarily incarcerated without charge. Other pictures not yet widely released show a boy being raped, inmates ridden like animals and religious abuse. These photographs will no doubt also serve as a poignant reminder in the minds of the Iraqi people that unbridled personal freedom represents sexual depravity, brutality and inhuman behaviour.

Alarmingly, it is now emerging that not only are Iraqi women being held at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison but soldiers are also raping them and several of the women are now pregnant. Ironically, the West claimed that “freedom” would bring equality and respect to the women of Iraq. It is the same “freedom loving” soldiers who dishonoured these women. A report by Luke Garding in the Guardian entitled ‘The other prisoners’ states that women are forced to strip naked in front of men. A woman prisoner who managed to smuggle out a note, ‘urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women from shame.’ As if this form of criminal behaviour was not enough, it was also reported that an elderly women in her 70’s had been ‘harnessed and ridden like a donkey’ at the Abu Ghraib. There appears to be no limits to the wanton behaviour of the occupying forces.

These are not the conduct of a few ‘rotten apples’ since the wealth of growing evidence shows that such maltreatment is systemic rather than sporadic. Lending support to the former, the Guardian recently revealed that the sexual humiliation and physical coercion was part of a ‘special programme’ endorsed by the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, and President Bush himself. It was governed by ‘Grab who you must. Do what you want,’ and was used because it was such a successful strategy in the war on terror in Afghanistan. The feelings amongst Iraqis who have tasted the sour fruits of ‘liberation’ were aptly summed up by the sceptical sentiments of a former detainee of Abu Ghraib, Hyder Sabber Abd, who appears in the picture in which Private Lyndie England is seen pointing to the genitals of a group of Muslim men with her thumbs up. He told the New York Times, tapping on the photographs, “I ask you: Is that democracy? Is that freedom?


Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental principles of liberal democratic theory and is oft quoted as being a value that is deficient in the Middle East. However, one need only survey the US attitude towards free speech to conclude that this is a value that the West neither truly upholds nor believes in. On 28th March this year, Iraq’s coalition’ forces shut down the newspaper al-Hawsa. It was accused of inciting ‘violence’ through headlines such as “Iraqis of all religions and sects refuse to watch half naked women on television.” Although it is debatable whether such headlines would incite violence it was enough for Iraq’s all-powerful civilian chief Paul Bremer III to order closure of the newspaper. Mr Bremer assigned himself absolute power over the Iraqi press claiming that freedom of expression is a privilege that only the ‘responsible’ may enjoy.

Of course, the reality is that the US closed down al-Hawsa because it was attempting to silence a vocal and vitriolic critic of their efforts in Iraq. This is not the first time that it has taken such steps to curb criticism from the Press. The occupying forces have already punished al-Jazeera satellite news network during the war by bombing its offices and more recently al-Arabiya was shut down because it broadcasted programs that the Americans found distasteful. In a desperate bid to win Iraqi hearts and minds the Pentagon funded al-Iraqiya TV to provide an optimistic, pro-American slant to news reporting. It seems that little has changed since Saddam’s reign when TV news was stilted and satellite dishes were banned. As a writer for the al-Hawsa put it, “We are still under the rule of Saddam [Hussein] but with an American face.”

In essence, one totalitarian dictator has been replaced by another and no meaningful distinction can be drawn between the US and Saddam Hussein whether one looks to freedom of expression or the treatment of prisoners. Similarly, the freedom to worship in the West is only given lip service. This is not only palpable from the banning of the hijab in France, but also the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and now Abu Ghraib prison. In the latest disclosures, prisoners tell of how they were force-fed alcohol despite the fact they were Muslims. Some, like Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh, were tortured to denounce Islam. He was asked whether he prays to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) and when he replied in the affirmative, US soldiers broke his legs.


The West’s vision for Iraq is a package of political and economic freedoms based on Capitalism and free-market policies. The Heritage Foundation report entitled, ‘The Road to Economic Prosperity for post-Saddam Iraq,’ outlined the plan for Iraq stating that there will be ‘fundamental structural reform’ with ‘massive privatisation of various sectors of the economy.’ But even before the Iraqi people have chosen a government, key irreversible economic decisions to privatise its resources are being made by the US – so much for democracy and freedom. Iraq’s oil resources are now set to be sold to ExxonMobil and Shell. Indeed, US economic policy in Iraq has serious repercussions for the entire region. Naomi Klien in an article entitled, ‘Privatisation in Disguise,’ states that investors are predicting that once privatisation takes root in Iraq, other countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait will be forced to compete by privatising their oil.

However, the booty of the war is not simply oil. Multinationals are lunging for Iraq’s untapped market consisting of water, oil, roads, trains, phones, and drugs. The reconstruction alone is worth $100 billion dollars. Klien comments that ‘if this process is not halted, ‘free Iraq’ will be the most sold country on earth.’ When Iraq recovers from the trauma of war, starvation and economic sanctions its fate will have been already decided; it will have been raped and plundered of its resources. Therefore, this current economic policy of structural reform and ‘mass privatisation’ is not destined to liberate Iraq but rather enslave it permanently to the managerial trinity of global Capitalism, namely, the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation. This is the stark reality of an occupying force that is brazenly committing grand theft of cataclysmic proportions disguised as charity in the name of freedom.


Some modern day Muslim scholars and thinkers have been seduced by the concept of freedom due to the relentless barrage from the West to promote their values. Some have even written extensively in an attempt to reconcile Islam with the notion of freedom. There are many methods employed from such endeavours ranging from a rather crude view that Islam created freedom as an idea per se, and the rather more sophisticated, but equally false idea that somehow Islam can adapt to accept foreign ideas that are dominant. What then is the correct understanding of freedom in Islam? Is man free to act as he wishes? Can a Muslim subscribe to any of the freedoms mentioned and be a Muslim in the true sense?

The refutation is that a slave cannot serve two masters. In Islam, a believer’s declaration of faith (shahaada) requires him to submit unconditionally to the laws of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) in all aspects of his life. This coincides harmoniously with the purpose of his life:

مَا أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَا أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ
“I have not created Jinn and mankind but to worship me.” [TMQ 51:57]

Muslims cannot therefore be ‘free’ in any sense of the word if they have sincerely accepted the supremacy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) to legislate. A believer cannot indulge in intoxicants or be promiscuous because he is ‘abdallah,’ the slave of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) and not the slave of his desires. The Muslim is explicitly prohibited by Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) from doing so:

فَإِن لَّمْ يَسْتَجِيبُوا لَكَ فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّمَا يَتَّبِعُونَ أَهْوَاءهُمْ
وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّنِ اتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ بِغَيْرِ هُدًى مِّنَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ
لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
“And who is more astray than he who follows his own desires, without guidance from Allah?” [TMQ 28:50]

وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا
أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ
فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا
“It is not for any believing man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, to have any choice for themselves in their affairs. For whoever rebels against Allah and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error.” [TMQ 33:36]

Usuli scholars such as Imam Ghazali and Imam Shatibi, did not refer to any notion of ‘freedom’ but instead made reference to certain essential values and aims, which are derived from a large number of Islamic texts. These include safeguarding of the deen, human life, intellect, honour, lineage, individual property, security and state.

Further, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) orders man to follow His (subhanahu wa ta’aala) guidance and lays down an injunction for the believer against following the desires of others who say they know better.

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَى شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ
أَهْوَاء الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
“We have set you on a plain way of commandment (Shari‘ah) so follow it, and not the desires of those who have no knowledge.” [TMQ 45:18]

The Shari’ah of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) lays down detailed guidelines regarding every aspect of life; it is the barometer against which not only is one’s own desires checked, but one’s conduct and behaviour towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This includes the treatment of prisoners of war, captives or ‘combatants.’ The Shari’ah obliges Muslims to treat such detainees with kindness. Indeed, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) commends those of the righteous, who treat people with hospitality, saying:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا ،
إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاء وَلَا شُكُورًا
“Because they fulfil the vow and fear a day whose evil flies and wide. And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive.” [TMQ 76: 8-9]

Similarly, the Prophet  (salAllahu alaihi wasallam)  asked his companions (ra) to ‘treat the prisoners of war kindly.’ His  (salAllahu alaihi wasallam)  companions adhered to this rule and prisoners were fed and clothed and treated well. Thus, Imam Abu Yusuf narrates that one of the prisoners of the battle of Badr, Huzayr ibn Humayr, was noted as saying, “I was one of the Ansari families. After being taken captive, whenever the companions had lunch or dinner, they used to offer me bread while they ate only dates.”

In another example, Al-Hurmuzan, who was captured after a battle was so impressed with the justice and kindness of Muslims whilst in captivity that he embraced Islam. The modern day example would be Yvonne Ridley, a journalist, who was captured in Afghanistan. She was not humiliated or dishonoured by the Taliban; despite the West’s depiction of them they demonstrated humility and restraint and did not give in to their desires because they had submitted to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) and feared the consequences of such misconduct. Such was their treatment that she too embraced Islam like the thousands before her.

In addition to rules regulating man’s behaviour the Shari’ah also has explicit rules regarding governance, social, economic and foreign policy. In the context of the former, Islam encourages trade and entrepreneurship and even private ownership. However, this has to be balanced against the rights of the community to natural resources such as gas, electricity, and oil, all of which remain public property and cannot be sold to individuals or multinationals. It is reported that Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet  (salAllahu alaihi wasallam)  said:

المسلمون شركاء في ثلاث: الماء والكلأ ونار
“Muslims are partners (associates) in three things: in water, pastures and fire.” (Reported by Abu Dawood)

Therefore, it is ignorant if not arrogant of the West to suggest that their export of freedom be it economic or otherwise is universal and can be shared by all. The economic policy in Islam is geared around achieving the balance between individual and community rights whilst in Capitalism rules are designed to allow a few rich individuals and multinationals maintain wealth at the expense of the rest of society. The West’s vision of economic freedom is analogous to rape and exploitation; its freedom of expression and religion is a farce; its value of individual freedom produces misery, chaos, perversity and sexual depravity. Islam seeks to liberate humanity from the slavery of man, globalisation and individual freedom to the worship and obedience of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Javed Ansari