Editor’s note: I think it important to tell you all that I have immense respect for Hans Jansen as a pioneering and visionary scholar of Islam. As such, I published this piece as it was sent to me. However, I do not agree with or endorse his statements about Hinduism and Buddhism. — Robert Spencer
UPDATE: Hans Jansen has sent me this statement: “As far as I understand the English translation of my Dutch text, the offensive lines are a description of how Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, at least in the Third World, feel about the rich. They are not about the religious contents of Islam, Buddhism of Hinduism. The English text, if I understand it correctly, wants to describe how people in the Third World, of whatever religion, view richness and the rich. Simply put, they assume that the rich are not OK. My words in no way describe the theology or the commands of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other religion. Moreover, I argue in the same article that many in the West hold identical views.”
Jealousy’s Final Solution
by Hans Jansen
Why is it that large parts of the so-called Third World appear to be lost beyond rescue? It is because most people over there cling to a familiar theory about the way of the world. It concerns the quite natural conviction that riches can be gathered by taking from your fellow men; and right they are. Taking from others can make you rich without too much trouble. The only thing in demand is a little touch, or threat, of violence.
In developing countries, it is commonly believed that besides taking, there are no other means towards a state of ownership. For those aspiring to get rich in the Third World, that is a basic fact of life. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are Third World religions. Those who are born and raised in these cultural spheres know what becoming rich entails. It means successfully taking the other’s share.
Some Westerners, on their part, also occasionally suffer from the feeling that the main road to prosperity is through taking. At the kindergarten playground, that was clearly the case. Whenever in need of a toy shovel, one had only to take it from a fellow shrimp. Braving the sandbox with your own self-made spade was not an option.
Though the basic attitude seems childish, some in the West have congregated into groups, united in their belief that this kind of taking is the only route to riches. Evidently, this is not the only option open to Westerners, yet many otherwise fair-minded individuals believe that anyone who possesses more than others must have arrived at that point by taking, that is, through some kind of robbery or theft. Consequently, the kindergarten board is heartily invited to redistribute the loot among the weak and oppressed, by force, if need be. This primary wisdom, acquired at kindergarten level, makes it hard to benefit from the time-honored advice of seasoned economists, that wealth is created when each and every one of us is left in the undisturbed possession and enjoyment of the fruits of one’s own labor.
Redistribution, however, features high on the priority-lists of policymakers in service of the state. It creates a rising tide of nannyism that sweeps the empowered masses from one bureaucratic institution to another. Social work, social housing, welfare offices, social justice, youth care, rehab and resettlement are all entangled in a noble competition, to help the “client”, for sure, but also to be the first to have redirected him to the institution, most suited to his rightful claim to state-sponsored assistance. The opinion that meddling by or on behalf of the state is not only inefficient but also not entirely proper, has become viewed as being more and more eccentric. The common sense of old, that the bulk of that support owes much, if not all, to denying others the fruits of their labor, has gained the crude freshness of a new insight.
State meddling has taken great leaps forward among all of the free Western nations. Some sectors of private enterprise not withstanding, all branches of society are managed through government, one way or the other. There are practically no areas left where the State does not have the final say. And for sure, there’s a lot of meddling to be done, preferably by interchangeable CEOs and politicians, hovering between interlinking branches of society, like birds of a feather. Professional nannies at every level, be they administrators, judges, bank managers, social workers, executives or journalists, are bound by a shared preference for parties and special interest groups that nurse the habit of meddling. Needless to say that the classes who are privileged to “empowerment” follow in their wake. There is little surprise in the dream team merger of ideologies, trumping a Third World Order and Western nanny state interventionism.
That there may be individuals and societies who have only themselves to thank for their wealth, managing to pull it off without taking from anyone for the creation of those riches, is beyond the belief of the professional First- and Third-World nannies. This option must remain far removed from their calculations, because the income generated by professional nannies stems from their noble support for the “disenfranchised”, cut off from sources of wealth that they consider to be illegitimate in the first place. Their bread and butter, and even their identity as professional saviours, could be jeopardized if affluence proved to be possible without harming anyone, by allowing, for instance, more freedom and a tad bit more modest yet proper administration.
Split societies like those on the island of Cyprus or between Malaysia and Singapore may provide some illustration. Ever since the split-up, one part does well while the other doesn’t. The primary difference is between the ideology and the social order in these newly formed states that where considered to be one before the separation. Nothing could be found in today’s Greek/Turkish Cyprus and Singapore/Malaysia that might serve to explain the vast difference in both the standard of living and well-being between these now separated political entities – other than the mentality of their respective inhabitants. In places that prosper, people usually haven’t suffered from too much confiscation. On the other hand, in the areas that don’t do well, taking has become a daily routine.
The belief that taking is the only source of wealth, is a common error of judgment and perception, reducing the rich and complex sphere of economic reality and human action to a zero-sum game. This misperception generates a long chain of political consequences and policy decisions, starting with all of these fashionable forms of redistribution. The relative difference, however, in standards of living and well-being between places where no other explanation presents itself besides cultural differences, shows one thing rather convincingly: that prosperity depends on the way a society runs itself and that, in turn, is determined by culture, religion and ideology.
And yet, in countries like the Netherlands, political movements based on envy, nannyism and resentment seem to be doing just fine. These political movements are often in collusion with like-minded foreign ideologies and religions. In Western countries, the existence and political power of a steadily growing constituency of voters who hate and despise the ostensibly wicked West cannot be ignored any longer.
But much to their chagrin, the facts of life prove to be uncooperative once again. It is no accident that the West became prosperous by opting for a society that enabled freedom, competition, technology, truly civil service (at least in theory, if not in practice), self-reliance, debate and a high standard of living. Ideologies that carry the most currency in third world countries teach otherwise, to wit: that the prosperity of the West is testimony to their unbecoming behavior towards Third World nations, and that therefore, the West needs to be fought. Reparations! Down with freedom! Away with all things Western! It would be surprising if these sentiments hadn’t received such a warm welcome among like-minded movements and organizations in the West.
The choice for a society based on envy, hate and jealousy, combined with a public ban on freedom and competition will create something like Pakistan, a nation getting poorer by the day. A choice based on a free market, free competition, on freedom of religion and other civil liberties, will create nations akin to Taiwan or South-Korea – nations where prosperity is steadily growing while sixty years ago they where in as much of a miserable state as Pakistan and Ghana are today.
Both in the West and the Third World, the Khmer watermelons, Red and Green, have happily joined hands with Third-Worlders, in an attempt to destroy the vestiges of freedom that still survive today. All of this follows from their desire to usher in a new society for a New Man — their ennobled Modern Savage. The biggest compliment one could pay these attempts at starving off jealousy, is to say that here’s a man who will definitely never be the envy of anyone, anymore.
Hans Jansen is a scholar of Islam and former Professor of Modern Islamic Thought at the University of Utrecht. He writes from the Netherlands.