Global Capitalism and Ireland

A Muslim’s Perspective

In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful

Abdassamad is ainm dom, O’Cleirigh is mo ainm slinne; os Carraig an Fergus me.

In what we are about to embark on I would ask for your patience, your utmost concentration, and your forgiveness for a procession of English and European figures, many of whom were inflicted on me in history classes in my childhood but whose significance I have only recently come to terms with. I would suggest that no matter where one comes from today, Africa, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Ireland, one’s destiny has been affected by the obscure doings of English kings and Italian bankers which I will now relate.

A Northern Irishman is brought up to smell the clash of dialectics. As such I am intensely aware of the potential for discord in my title. Those of a left-leaning persuasion would perhaps see in it the threat of greedy capitalism devouring the earth and in the process devastating the last traces of any authentic indigenous culture remaining in Ireland. The right, who would not talk about capitalism but the free-market or liberal democracy, trumpet the advances of free-market capitalism and the prosperity it brings, as well as its levelling meritocracy. Sometimes it depends what part of the cycle one experiences. At present, fewer people in the Celtic Tiger phase are likely to succumb to the blandishments of the left. When one of those cyclical downturns come, fewer will incline to praise capitalism.

The second term in our title, Ireland, is in itself of relatively recent origin as a nationalist idea, having before had simply geographic significance. It is safe to say that, since the case is the same for other national entities such as England, Germany, France and Italy. They are relatively recent as national entities. Our world experiences a great deal of angst at this present moment because Winston Churchill found his way out of a certain predicament by creating a nation he called Iraq out of three remnants of the Ottoman dawlah, the wilayet of Mosul, Bagdad and Basra, three governorates corresponding to the Kurds, the so-called “Sunnis” and the Shi’ah, all of whom had a certain degree of autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty.

Now in these two aspects there is a common thread, for we too often think of capitalism simply as the activities of the famous corporations, which are the bêtes noires of the left. However, if we can see the state, the nation-state itself, as the outcome and product of capitalism we are clearer to a unified approach which might conceivably open the way forward in a liberating way.

Beginnings of Capitalism: the Romans

From when can we date the beginnings of capitalism? Well its roots go back almost as far as human history, but certainly a marker on the way might be the consul of the Roman Republic who, during Rome’s interminable conflicts with the Celts in the Iberian peninsula, turned what had been an army of citizens, who after battle returned to their estates and their lives, into a professional standing army. We mark this point as significant because we say with certitude that there has to have been a banker behind this operation. And the Roman state with its mercenary armies forged the world reality that we experience today, whether we come from Malaysia or the USA. After all they were the first of those who were “just doing their job”.

The Empire as Business

Another point is a man like Crassus, the banker for Julius Caesar, for the Roman Republic and then the Empire were rife with banking. In fact, if you were to be asked what single fact you need to know about the Roman Empire, it would be this banking character. It is Empire as business. And very ruthless business. The legions marched for salaries, intent on the booty, and sometimes wars were waged against peaceful allied nations merely for booty, as was the case with the hapless Dacians, and come to think of it the Parthians, Gauls and everybody else. Now it came as something of a revelation to me personally that Terry Jones in his documentary on the Barbarians, with the help of eminent historians and archaeologists demonstrated clearly that the so-called barbarians were in most cases much more civilised and decent peoples than the Romans, who were genuinely barbaric.

The Empire today

If you were to be asked what single fact you need to know about our situation today, it would be in my view that we still live in a Roman ethos. The Romans’ plundering of and genocide of the Dacians resonates all too eerily with current escapades in Iraq. The Romans’ labelling the ‘other’ as barbarians, and their insistence on bringing them the ‘benefits’ of Roman citizenship sounds all too much like Bush and Blair spreading democracy while stealing the oil. That resemblance is not accidental. The line of transmission is continuous. Thus if you merely think that Bush is a bad man, or the Republican party has been corrupted you are missing the point.

The Renaissance

However, for our purposes there is a mid-point in the story, which will serve as another kind of beginning, and that is also in Italy, in the middle ages around the 13th and 14th centuries. At that point a number of banking houses grew up, living off and financing trade, particularly of the great ports such as Venice and Genoa. At this point, what we would call banking was a mix of different – what people now like to call – ‘financial instruments’, some of them indifferent but others of a usurious nature. At the time its most famous banker lived, Cosimo de Medici, the world lived on a knife edge: the great Islamic civilisation in Andalus was almost over in the west, the Mongols had erputed and in 1258 absolutely destroyed Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasids, the Eastern Caliphate, and in the East, Byzantium was about to go down before the Ottomans.

Moreover, when in 1492 Vasco da Gama set sail around the Cape of Good Hope, the financiers in Venice realised that their city’s role as the endpoint of the Silk Route were over. The camel caravan could not compete with the great naval vessels.

These centuries of banking’s beginnings were pivotal in many ways.

Cosimo

This man Cosimo, who was an alert and sensitive man, a thoughtful man, was all too aware that his very livelihood was a mortal sin, even if he was also banker to the Pope. In this predicament, he began cultivating an interest in the works of Plato newly emerging from the collapse of Byzantium. And this was just another strand in what we call the Renaissance: one mortal man fearful for his soul, seeking something from the old Greek philosophers.

This man was fantastically wealthy. Heads of state as well as the head of the church bowed before him. In Germany at the same time there was another family: the Fuggers. By the time the most eminent of them died, Jakob Fugger, in 1525, he was one of the richest people who had ever lived, far outshining the monarchs of his day, and of course funding them in their hours of need.

Now since banking is a growth industry, we can say without fear of denial that bankers have not grown poorer or less influential in the centuries since.

Through Bankers’ Eyes

Let us see our reality from behind the desks of this species, and through their eyes, for this is a perspective that is all too often ignored. The key to understanding this new force that is emerging is to know that these people are not merely wealthy people or even capitalists as we like to think of them but that they manage others’ funds. On the back of those funds they themselves become wealthy. But their wealth, although astronomical, is insignificant compared to the funds they manage. These funds, however, create a crisis for them, a permanent enduring crisis: they must always put them to work, and must always find new clients. The wealthier they arein terms of his funds, the more anxious they are, since they must put those funds to more use, they must yield ever more. The thing to note about the banker is that he is driven, and has no choice, none at all after he has made the choice to be a banker.

Kings: the first clients

Initially, the bankers found their clients in kings (the pope included as such), who needed access to funds simply to maintain the standing armies which are the first sign of the presence of the financier. The king sits on a throne which ever since the Romans has been guarded in the main by mercenaries, by professional soldiers, and the throne is also serviced by functionaries, bureaucrats, and then finally by a compliant priesthood. I am not necessarily getting at Christianity here, for one recognises the form among the Babylonians and the Egyptians etc. Once life is set up on the basis of salaries, i.e. paying people for the hours, days, weeks, months and years that they work, then since existence doesn’t work like that, and since ordinarily everything has seasons of planting, growth, harvesting and harvest failure, plenty and dearth, there is a crack which the banker can take advantage of, and the king is historically the first person who avails of his services.

But please notice that something is already out of sync here, out of harmony with the way things are. There is an attempt to reduce to mechanical regularity matters that are organic. This attempt predates the drive to make machines. Machine-like behaviour comes before technology.

Funds grow and cause bankers' crises

Now, given the nature of banking - charging time-based interest on loans - debts grow. For the king, this puts a new stress on him, for it means that the kingdom must grow or else the taxation on his subjects will grow beyonds their abilities to pay it, and he will have a revolution on his hands. Thus, the kingdom must grow, and it does that by means of those armies. The kingdom grows in order to acquire the funds that previously belonged to others, and to acquire citizens who are tax-payers. The first is short-term and the second long-term. In this first simple phase money is gold and silver, and the loan must be repaid with its interest in more gold and silver. The king is the state, and the debt is his.

At this period, one king Edward I is an ambitious and warlike man, and must borrow a great deal from Italian bankers.

“Customs officials were appointed at every port in the land [Ireland] and were effectively supervised by Italian merchant bankers, to whom the taxes were going in repayment of the king’s debts. Taxation and customs duties, such as the extra £2 a sack imposed on wool exports in 1294, were the only way that Edward I could pay back the enormous sums he borrowed for his military campaigns.” (Merchants and Mariners in Medieval Ireland, Timothy O’Neill)

Nevertheless, every growth has a limit, and even the growth of kingdoms has its limits. The king’s ability to sustain repayments has its limits. Sometimes debts have to be written off. Sometimes the banker is killed to escape the debt. And yet the banker must still put his funds to work, and the richer he gets the more stressful the pressure is, because he now has greatly increased funds which have to be put to work. He can fund other kings, and can fund both sides in a conflict, etc. But finally, he must find within the kingdom others who can take on the burden of debt, of new debt.

Aristocrats

The first are the ambitious aristocracy and royalty. In English history this begins to happen seriously during the reign of Henry VIII who establishes his court in London, gathering royalty and aristocracy around him, thus forcing them to maintain dual households and lavish lifestyles. Henry himself is plumbing new depths in the need for finance for this newly centralised state/monarchy. All you need to know about him is this desperate need for funds, and of course, an heir.

Calvin

Contemporary with him there is Calvin (b. 1509). Historians of usury wrongly think of Calvin as introducing usury into Christendom. However, Calvin was deeply opposed to it, and when asked to formulate a constitution for Geneva as a godly city, he wanted to outlaw usury. For although a mortal sin, the going rate in Geneva was around 250%. Therefore, Calvin was persuaded that he ought to be realistic, since the usurers already ignored the threat of eternal damnation, and he permitted 4% interest under very tight strictures. (A History of the Businessman, Miriam Beard) From this edict dates modern Christian banking with a capital C. Henry VIII, who was never a Protestant, is quick to capitalise on this. But back to his aristocrats.

Foreclosure

Naturally there comes a time when they are in more debt than they can maintain, and so having given land as collateral for loans from merchants, the said merchants foreclose on the loans and take the land. The aristocrats are still feudal lords, and the measure of their greatness is the number of people they retain. What supports that is land. The merchants now take the land. They have no use for people. They need money. Sheep give money because weaving and fabrics are now a growth industry, and indeed one of the formative powers in capitalism. The people leave the land. Where do they go? As with the liberation of slaves at all times, they hit the road. (See The History of the Blues, by Paul Oliver, for more details of the modern so-called 'abolition' of slavery)

Further down the road, the bankers will turn to the 'liberated' slaves as new debtors. But for the present, the king has now reached the maximum level of indebtedness as have his aristocracy.

Ireland

But where is Ireland in all this? I link to it by one quote from Father Jeremiah O’Callaghan writing about the Irish people:

“Usury I put down, as the great pivot of all their disasters – the main and primary spring that sets on motion the whole machinery of Ireland’s calamities.” (Usury: Proof that it is Repugnant to Divine and Ecclesiastical Law and Destructive to Civil Society, Fr Jeremiah O’Callaghan)

Gaelic

Let us question, what is this thing Irishness? Our first answer to it must somehow be the language: Gaelic. Language, as Heidegger said, is the house of being. What is there in Gaelic? Languages are each different worlds. The person who is a Gaelic speaker experiences a different world. I will only give one example, but I know there are many more. The Gaelic man says, “Ta ban agom – there is a woman at me”, i.e. he does not say “I have a wife”. He says the same about a child. Wife and child are “at” the man, they do not belong to him. These differences are fundamental. In what was to come in the new Roman form, the woman who married a man literally came to belong to him, she was “his wife”. She and her property were his. Moreover, she and her family had to give him a dowry. They had to pay the husband for the privilege of marrying him.

Brehon law

These people had a law, about which Vincent Salafia, who heads a movement for study and revival of this called the Brehon Law Project , is passionate. Rather than a law imposed by the state, in which crimes against people are crimes against the state, punishable by the state, Brehon law largely saw crimes as being against people. That meant that the Brehon was a man who sat between contending parties and sought a mutually satisfactory solution. Manslaughter and injuries were largely compensated. That is very similar to Islamic law in which if the parties forego retaliation, they are compensated. It is not the state’s affair, although the ruler might appoint judges.

This Brehon law is very ancient, and interestingly when the early Christians came to Ireland, they did not do away with it, but purified it of some unacceptable elements and retained its major features. Even figures as late as the Normans protected Brehon law. It was to survive up until Elizabethan times in Ireland and in Scotland until Culloden in 1746.

A careful reading of Irish history would show that invasions such as those of the Vikings and the Normans were not essentially destructive of the Gaelic way of life, for in the main these peoples largely adopted that way. With Father O’Callaghan I would date the real nightmare of Irish history, based on the fact of usury, from the Tudors, who are the founders of a modern state driven by usury.

The Tudors and O’Rahilly

The destruction of the great Gaelic clan-leaders under Elizabeth resulted in a total collapse of the traditional Gaelic order of poetry and scholarship which had endured from ancient times, resulting in an aristocratic poetic tradition that could look on the Greeks with a sense of equality. A student could devote twenty years to learning the extraordinarily sophisticated metres and committing the classic works to memory. One such figure, O’Rahilly, was impoverished in the new dispensation and forced to earn his living by means he would have considered demeaning. In one verse of a poem, he acknowledges a fact that is worth more than most of the historical writings on Irish history. He said, in effect, "We had a mode of justice, and we abandoned it, and so the Saxons were inflicted on us." (Hidden Ireland, Daniel Corkery)

William and the Bank of England

So we had reached this point of the bankers’ clients spilling out beyond the monarch into the aristrocracy. These years of the Tudors and their going back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism mask a deeper truth, which was the rise and fall of the permitted interest rates, and the possibility of an outlawing of usury again if a Catholic returned to the throne. This was still present in the Stuarts and particularly in the last of them, James II whose Catholicism was a genuine threat. Finally, the merchants (i.e. Parliament) called in his son-in-law, William of Orange. This Dutchman was no accident. Holland had long been banking’s centre of gravity after Italy, much of it do with Dutch bankers’ pocketing Spanish South American gold. Cromwell developed relations with them, and then the merchants called in the man I once named Bill, Bill the banker’s king. Bill is really a counter signifying the Bank of England.

“The Bank of England was incorporated by act of Parliament in 1694 with the immediate purpose of raising funds to allow the English government to wage war against France in the Low Countries.” (Britannica)
England headed by a Dutchman was waging war on France in the Low Countries, and as it turned out, in Ireland. This is one of the crosscurrents here. The rising French monarchy was both Catholic and detested by the Pope, whereas William was Protestant and loved by the Pope. James was feared on every side for his possible alignment with France. But remember from our perspective behind the banker’s desk, every war is just an opportunity for finance. War is business, big business.

Battle of the Boyne

Thus at the Battle of the Boyne, Dutch, Danish, German and English had met French and Irish in a battle in which the fate of Europe was to be decided, and when William won, the Vatican was lit in celebration.

The Bank of England

William had a problem, and his solution is one of the pivots on which subsequent world history revolves, and yet in an ordinary history of him and his reign you might find no mention of the foundation of the Bank of England, or any of the matters we are now going to address.

The English people were deeply disturbed at the thought of dislodging what they regarded as the legitimate king. The idea of the Divine Right of Kings was still fresh in people’s memories (an idea very far from Gaelic consciousness). If William waged a war borrowing money from the bankers and then repaying the loan, his loan, with taxes, as everyone has done since Roman times, he was very likely to prove doubly unpopular, and may not have lasted on his throne. So he made one of the most fateful deals in all history. He negotiated with a group of banker-merchants to grant them the right to found the Bank of England in return for a loan of £1,200,000 (around 1,680,000 euros in 2006 values). Remember that at this point when we say money we still mean gold and silver. This loan was no longer the King’s debt, but the National Debt, and as far as I know the first in history. The interest rate was 6%. The debt was not expected to be repaid, but serviced. Thus William escaped from the need to impose horrendous taxes. I do not know if this debt was ever repaid or whether or not British people and indeed Irish people are paying interest on it to this day. But many of us have heard of the astronomical sum that the National Debt, whether Irish or English, has reached today.

But the other clauses of this agreement are worth reflecting on. The Bank of England, remember that it was a private company for most of its history, was also allowed to issue a paper currency to the amount of £1,200,000 and lend it to customers, also at 6% interest. This has been a basis for the issuance of currency ever since.

The modern nation-state

This now symbolic monarchy marks the creation of a modern banking-led state. Now, really to understand any subsequent history, you have to get behind that banker’s desk and see it as he sees it. Naturally, this is not the history taught in our schools. Parliament represents the merchant banking class. That it divides into two or three parties is just for show. But really the political parties are one entity whose members only disagree among themselves about short-term strategy and tactics. All the major central banks in the world are either independent private banks as the Bank of England was until the second world war, or they are so much in control of things that their being state bodies only means that they are the state. The state is entirely a matter of banking. The citizens hapless greenfly to be milked.

Michael Collins

No one who has not understood this can succeed in any way. The in many ways sympathetic figure of Michael Collins is a case in point.

P. S. O’Hegarty quoted Michael Collins as saying:

“I stand for an Irish civilisation based on the people and embodying and maintaining the things – their habits, ways of thought, customs – that make them different – the sort of life I was brought up in… Once, years ago, a crowd of us were going along the Shepherd’s Bush Road when out of a lane came a chap with a donkey – just the sort of donkey and just the sort of cart that they have at home. He came out quite suddenly and abruptly and we all cheered him. Nobody who has not been an exile will understand me, but I stand for that.” (The Big Fellow, Frank O’Connor)

You see that here, Collins was already so late historically speaking that he has only the vaguest most romantic notion of what he was fighting for, but nevertheless he is sympathetic to us, because he did believe in something other than money and power, poor doomed fellow that he was. He recounted that at one point in the negotiations with Churchill and Lloyd George in London, to which he and Arthur Griffith were sent by de Valera as fall guys, during a lull, Lloyd George came upon him while he was gazing at a map of the world that had the British Empire marked out. Lloyd George said to him words to the effect, “The British Empire could find a job for a talented man like you.” Collins gazed on him in mute astonishment, because the man had not understood that he was fighting for something he believed in deeply, even though he already knew that he was a doomed man. Collins did not want “a job”.

Shari'ah

You might ask about the Muslim perspective in all this. That has to be because in the shari’ah of Islam not only is usury of any sort and any amount great or small prohibited, but the shari’ah contains a very sophisticated and interesting set of laws on trade and commerce. That was the backbone of Islamic civilisation, which was a great trading culture. It means that the Muslim historian has to look and see what modes of money and trade a society has. Our analysis has also to bring us beyond the simple anathematisation of interest to the point of saying but the real issue is the nature of the money. The power handed to a small coterie of private National banks to print money and create it out of nothing is simply mind-boggling.

If you do not understand, for example, that the US Federal Reserve Bank, another private bank, has been printing dollars like crazy since money was uncoupled from gold by Richard Nixon, and with those dollars it has been buying and buying, and if you think that the banks will not foreclose on the peoples of the US for what is the most astronomical national debt in history and force them into abject subjugation, then you are not working with the real motor forces of history.

Inflation

As all of this has been going on, prices have been rising at what is now an unsustainable exponential rate. An Act of Parliament enacted in Henry VIII’s reign says, that

“no person shall take for beef or pork above a half-penny, and for mutton or veal above three-farthings a pound, avoirdupois weight, and less in those places where they be now sold for less.” This preamble to the Act continues, in its reference to the four meats: “These being the food of the poorer sort.” (A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, William Cobbett. Although Cobbett was a loose cannon, in some things he was absolutely spot on, and was almost entirely alone in his time in understanding this issue of money and banks)

We do not really need that statistic since any person whose life is longer than a couple of decades has personal experience of the incredible change in the value of money.

Urwah and Gold

In all of this, one character still retains an as yet unexpressed power capable of exerting real influence and making real change: gold.

"From Urwah it is narrated that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, gave him a dinar with which to buy a sheep for him, so he bought two sheep with it and sold one of them for a dinar and then brought the sheep and the dinar. So he [the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace] made a supplication for blessing for him in his trade. He became someone whom even if he had bought dust he would have made a profit on it." (Al-Bukhari)

We have this hadith because Dr Yasin Dutton, author of the very key work "The Origins of Islamic Law", pointed it out to us. He very methodically verified that in essence this is still the price of a sheep in widely different societies in the world today.

Thus, we are saying that gold is outside of the entire cycle of inflation and has been demonstrably so for more than 1,400 years. Even the massive gold finds in South America that so infatuated the Spanish only caused the most minor inflation.

Thus, by the adoption of gold, silver, and indeed any commodity we wish for the purposes of money, i.e. a means of exchange, we will simply step outside of capitalism and its crises.

Belief

However, this matter will not be done in the first instance by people with an intellectual idea or theory of economics, and will not be done by anyone who merely wants a job or sees a quick opening to make a profit. It will certainly not be done by Islamic bankers, whose picture of the matter is entirely mistaken.

It will be done by people who believe. That necessary element exists most in the Muslim people in this time. What will bring it about is the discovery that only with gold and silver can zakat be paid, the charitable tax on held wealth, which is to be given to the poor and needy and to other such categories. Realising that fact and that zakat is not social welfare, although it has considerable beneficial effects socially, but an act of worship, will mean that the ordinary Muslim, of whom there are as you know between one and two billions, will resort to gold and silver once each year. When that happens, in essence, gold and silver will become money again.

When that happens, and indeed before it, the Muslims will also have to learn the laws governing commerce so as not to fall into the trap again. This matter is already far advanced. There are mints in Dubai and Malaysia which mint gold coins. They are in use in quite a major way now. There are innovative techniques such as the e-dinar by which one can make purchases over the Internet and in other ways using gold coins in safe-keeping with an institution. There are projected institutions to bring profit-and-loss sharing transactions to the fore, a key factor in the dynamism of Islamic trade. Remember that trade is creed and denomination blind. It does not really matter what religion you have in trade, but whether your transactions are just. So, in all of this beware of the misnamed Islamic banking, which is in reality the extension of ordinary banking into Muslim business life, disguised merely with a turban. The great majority of so-called Islamic Banking is in fact represented by the major banks of the day such as the HSBC, armed with flawed fatwas from scholars such as Mufti Taqi Uthmani and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, advancing into the new market of the Muslim community, one which was traditionally sceptical of them.

This resurgence of Islamic interest in gold may be what drives the monetarist system to the wall. However, do not think of that as a kind of threat. Capitalism has intrinsically been a dramatic crisis-driven system. Its demise will not be the collapse of civilisation as we know it. It will open up a world in which everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims, can trade freely in markets without usury and inflation, and without the taxation that leaches the economic life of society. And we will see that the current order's claim to be civilisation as opposed to the barbarians who lurk outside it is spurious on both counts.


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