Monday, 26 February 2018

Of heroes, Marx and my left wing youth!

Reading and writing about Marx is a nostalgic experience for me. As a young man communism held great appeal to me. Perhaps it was the naiveté of idealistic youth or maybe the desire to cut through the complexity of a harsh world by believing in a Marxian utopia brought about by Dialectical Materialism? Whatever the reason, Marxist thought is deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Karl in 1882 (source: Wikipedia)
My fascination with the left wing intellectual tradition was furthered during my college years in the 1980s. In the 1980s, it was considered fashionable for professors to adhere to left wing intellectual ideas. Many spoke of their ‘communist’ ideals as if they were a badge of honor ... and, yes it surely was!

Hence, when I was asked to write a paper on Enlightenment, Kant and Marx for a course titled, ‘The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)’ it brought back fond memories of philosophical intellectualizing as a student!

My paper is reproduced below.

Marx: an Outgrowth of Enlightenment Thought

Karl Marx (1818-83) was an Enlightenment figure. Marx reached radically different philosophical conclusions about society and the human condition from those put forward by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) almost a century earlier. Nonetheless, there is little doubt Marx used reason to develop his arguments; arguments which he put forward to encourage the betterment of the world.

Kant, a central figure of the Age of Enlightenment, in his work “What is Enlightenment?” said “Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity."[1] Stated another way and in line with the course syllabus Enlightenment is defined as a “project to make the world more of a home for human beings through the use of reason.”[2]

For Kant, always trying to walk a middle path between evolution and revolution, the use of reason had limits. For example, Kant made a conscious distinction between knowledge which may be gained by reasoning and experience, through the ‘scientific’ realm and knowledge which humans are unable to grasp through experiential / scientific terms (e.g. faith or religious beliefs). Kant referred to the former, i.e. scientific process, etc. as the phenomenal side while the latter, i.e. “a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the sensesas the noumenal world.[3]

For Kant, the noumenal world is where faith resides. In other words, faith in the religious scriptures and beliefs cannot be validated through the use of reason. However, that does not necessarily mean God does not exist because religious ideas and structures exist only in the noumenal world, not the phenomenal world. Therefore, the existence of God and / or other supernatural forces cannot be determined via scientific reasoning.

Statue of Marx and Engels in Shanghai, People's Republic of China (Source: Wikipedia)
To be sure, Marx had far less place for religion in his philosophy. Often famously quoted as saying “it [religion] is the opium of the people,” Marx also wrote passages suggesting religion is an illusion and acts as an obstacle to humans’ achieving their true state of happiness.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.[4]
For Marx improving human society and the human condition lay in economics. Using dialectical reasoning as the basis for his interpretation of contemporary (mainly English) economists, Marx’s economic determinism model postulated that economic forces determine, shape, and define all political, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological aspects of a civilization.[5]

Coupled with Marx’s belief in historical materialism which stated that history was a constant class struggle between those in power (who also owned / controlled the means of economic production) and the oppressed labor force responsible for production, Marx asserted all aspects of society, including religion, culture, law, etc. were determined by economic forces.

Consequently, for Marx (and his later writing partner Engels) to improve human society a revolution was required. A revolution would overthrow the existing order, especially ownership of the means of production, by which the bulk of oppressed humans suffered alienation and, hence, remained unhappy. The Communist Manifesto authored by the Marx-Engels duo in 1848 highlighted these beliefs with a call for revolutionary action across Europe.

Kant and Marx did not share many philosophical similarities. Unlike Kant, Marx did not believe in gradual change. Marx was a revolutionary while Kant called for gradual change. Through the notion of noumenon Kant made space for religion in his philosophy. On the other hand, Marx dismissed religion as one means through which a ruling class maintained society’s status quo.

Despite these differences Marx was undeniably a figure and a product of the Enlightenment. Why? Marx believed that the use of reason, a central notion in the definition of Enlightenment, will improve the world and better the human condition. However, unlike Kant and other philosophers Marx was inspired by English economics, German philosophy, and French radicalism to believe the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from history is that of inherent contradictions in the economic means of production which will ultimately only lead to one place: a communist revolution.

[1] Immanuel Kant on What is Enlightenment. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[2] Professor Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan University. The Modern and the Postmodern (I). Week One, Lecture One transcript.
[3] Noumenon, Merriam Webster online dictionary. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[4] Karl Marx,  Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right as quoted in Marxism and Religion. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[5] Professow Mark Bowles, Economic Determinism and Karl Marx: Definition & History. Chapter 3 , Lesson 32 transcript. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Keeping the peace in Singapore in a 'Post 9/11' world

The world is a complicated place, more so after the events of 9/11. Especially if one happens to be from the Muslim world. Especially, especially if one happens to be from Pakistan.

Singapore's unofficial national mosque, Sultan Mosque. The mosque is located in the city's Kampong Glam district and can accommodate almost 5,000 faithful. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In the post 9/11 era, making sense of Bush’s black and white ultimatum to the world – “either you’re with us or you’re against us” – is no easy task.

To help me unravel these mysteries I recently completed an online course, “Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened and How Terrorism Affects Our World Today” offered by Duke University.

The course provided me with some insights into the post 9/11 world we now live in. Undoubtedly, like any humanities course, there are biases in the material and its presentation. However, I soaked in the knowledge in order to make better personal judgments about the subject.

To complete the course I submitted submit two papers.

The first assignment – a maximum of 1,000 words – is about radical Islamic fundamentalism I titled ‘The Post 9/11 era and periods in history’ for my blog. Through the document I explained key elements of Al-Qaeeda's philosophy, its origins and the radicalization process to my local police chief.

The second assignment – also a maximum of 1,000 words – is proposing steps to counter possible radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist atrocities in Singapore. The steps “should NOT [emphasis added] include things like military action, foreign policy, or law enforcement actions designed to degrade the groups or pre-empt individuals plotting or planning a violent attack.”

The paper takes the form of a memo to Singapore’s (fictitious) National Security Adviser. Perhaps the ideas will help us maintain our peaceful Singapore. It is reproduced in its entirety below. 


To:             The National Security Adviser,

From:        Imran Ahmed,
                  Security Analyst.
Subject:    Preventing radicalization of Singapore's Muslim community
Date:         December 19, 2017
Singapore's significant Muslim population, comprising of almost twenty percent of the country's residents, has recently been affected by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired radical fundamentalist Islamic ideologies. Some Singaporean Muslims have started espousing violent ideas and even traveled overseas to pursue 'Jihad.' These activities raise the risk of domestic terrorism in Singapore. To minimize the attraction of radical Islamic terrorism, we must harness the influence of Singapore's religious leaders to propagate the historically tolerant and inclusive message of Islam. Additionally, we must inculcate Singapore's traditional tolerant values into our youth from an early age by running an awareness campaign targeted at young Singaporeans.


Singapore and Southeast Asia's Muslim community have lived peaceably with the region's non-Muslim communities for centuries. Though a climate of multi-religious harmony continues to prevail, isolated segments of the Muslim community have fallen prey to radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas of the sort espoused by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired fringe groups. Building on a global narrative of Islamic nations and Muslim lifestyles being persecuted by Western countries, radical Islamic fundamentalist groups have adapted the ideology to encompass regional Muslim communities in Singapore's immediate neighborhood of Indonesia and Malaysia. In particular, Southeast Asia's Al-Qaeeda offshoot of Jemaah Islamiyah has already mounted spectacular attacks in Muslim majority Indonesia, including in the tourist resort of Bali and Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta.

In Singapore we have avoided outright radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks to date. However, our law enforcement agencies have foiled several plots to attack targets within Singapore. Indeed, Singapore's close security relationships with the United States, Western nations and Israel make us a 'legitimate' target for radical Islamic fundamentalist groups. Additionally, Singapore's liberal (read un-Islamic in the eyes of extremist groups) environment with casinos and an active nightlife add more legitimacy to Singapore as a target in the eyes of Islamic extremists.

Thought Leadership in Singapore's Islamic Community

Singapore authorities should effectively use the existing framework for leadership within the Islamic community. The community's leadership must ensure the message delivered to Singaporean Muslims is compatible with the requirements of an open and diverse multi-religious society such as Singapore. The message is compatible with mainstream Islam. The message is also in line with existing religious practices of  the majority of Singaporean Muslims and will reinforce notions of citizens' freedom to practice Islam alongside other faith structures and religions found in Singapore.

As Singapore's Malay-Muslim Islamic community typically looks to religious community leaders for guidance on theological and spiritual issues the task is made easier for authorities. Indeed, the structural framework to dispense the message is also very much in place via the existing organization of Singapore's Islamic religious community. Through Singapore's government appointed existing apex Islamic body, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), as well as the formal control of Singapore's mosques and religious education by MUIS, the Singapore authorities may prevent extreme radical Islamic fundamentalist messages from entering mainstream debate.

Singapore must strengthen the mechanisms available to MUIS for controlling the quality and message of weekly Friday sermons delivered by individual mosque imams (or mosque prayer leader) at Friday prayers. Foremost among these tools must be ensuring the theological quality of religious leaders and religious education. Only persons properly qualified and licensed from accredited Islamic institutions should be allowed to dispense religious advice / education from within mosques and pulpits. Proper theological education will minimize the risk of worshipers receiving extremist opinions in the guise of religious knowledge.

Influencing the Grassroots Narrative in Singapore's Islamic Community

Education is key to ensuring a harmonious relationship between Singapore's main religious communities, i.e. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Firstly, the government may initiate an educational campaign about the legal parameters of Singapore's Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, 1990. Under the wide ranging Act no person is permitted to disrupt Singapore's religious harmony by inciting hatred, ill will or enmity between different religious groups through any medium. Consequently, as a result of greater awareness of Singapore's tough legal stance, individuals who may otherwise be tempted by radical Islamic fundamentalist thought may be deterred by the possible consequences of adopting a radical path. Also, greater awareness of the Act may result in individuals obtaining greater understanding of living in a mixed religious environment. Ultimately, these same individuals may even help authorities by reporting individuals preaching extremist Islamic thought.

Secondly, a targeted campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of religious harmony aimed at students enrolled in Singapore's many educational institutions. The campaign may be customized to cater to the varying levels of social maturity demonstrated by different age groups, e.g. a different message for university students and a more elementary message for primary school students.

All students should be communicated a clear educational message about living in a multi-religious society. Establishments such as the Home Ministry's existing Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum should be a key part of the educational message. The Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum showcases Singapore's existing model of integrating the country's various religious communities into one nation. The museum is an important tool in communicating to young Singaporeans the important consequences of maintaining social harmony. Singaporeans must be made aware that losing peace also has serious economic ramifications for a small country dependent on foreign trade and investment. If there is no peace then foreign investors and capital will shy away from Singapore.


Keeping Singapore's significant Muslim population away from ISIS and Al-Qaeeda radical Islamic fundamentalist ideologies should be a key aspect in Singapore's anti-terrorism policy. Two pillars underpinning Singapore's 'pre-emptive' anti-terrorism strategy must be formal control of Islamic religious education and preaching through an enforced licensing system for religious teachers. Through this mechanism deviant Islamic thought and preachers may be kept out of Singapore's mainstream Islamic community. Secondly, an educational campaign targeting schools, colleges and other educational institutions to raise awareness of Singapore's integration model and the importance of religious harmony. These two tools will play an important part in Singapore's anti-terrorism ecosystem by pre-empting the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas in the country.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran lived in Rashidabad, Pakistan as a volunteer teacher at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at