‘Let them eat cake’
The most contentious point in history is garlanded with, perhaps the most famous words uttered ever, in modern history. In around 1789, when being told that her French subjects had no bread, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France’s King Louis XVI) supposedly sniffed, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake.” With that callous remark, the queen became a hated symbol of the decadent monarchy and fuelled the revolution that would cause her to (literally) lose her head several years later (Ref: History). And whether this was indeed fealty or not, the outcome as history recorded, was a a bloody end to the rule of the KIng. Of course, this is a controversial topic for it is as well recorded in history that Marie-Antoinette was a very sensitive and helpful persn and generally cared a lot about the poor and their plight.
Right, so how does this play out in modern-day lives, one may wonder. Here’s how. Society is divided into classes. Not just by wealth, which is the predominant barometer anyway, but also by other social, economic, occupational, educational and cultural variations. We know for a fact how skin tone has been associated with the stratification of society. Indeed, the preface to the ruthless acts of colonisation the world over, were prepard first by the imposition of these class differences, if at all, to validate the actions that were supposed to then follow by the perpetrators. In recent wars between nations, or more likely, one-sided assaults, similar psychological preparation is made through the use of media, to make heinous actions, not just tolerable and acceptable, but desirable.
In our own societies, where the current form of superior currency is wealth, and to some extent, knowledge as a runner up on the bucket list of do’s and dont’s, we regularly observe how it is easy for the rich to be religious, not just because their wealth enables them to follow commandments, but that also in doing so, they inevitably become the hallmark of what is right and what is not. I think it can be agreed, for example, that if a Khoja Shia Ithnasheri has to perform hajj, employ his or her bethren in good faith, visit the holy shrines, donate generously towards projects and routine activities, and sustain a royal lifestyle, he or she must unconditionally be rich and of a big heart, or if not, must really want headline attention swayed their way to be noticed as important. Also, because of the pressuring demands of the task of leadership, it is only fit that a well settled person take the reigns. Now, here is where the problem starts. In as much as realities of our time dictate thus, a leader must not necessarilly be of the haves, and nor the wealth of a person should be treated with anything but a test of the Almighty, a test that has to be generated outwards with the the same intensity as it flows inwards. When a person with immense wealth, and hence qualifying for leadership on that note, is also one who is outwardly religious because it is a role they have to play to demonstrate and justify their ongoing aspirations, then such a community can be in deep waters.
The amounts of money written about in reports of our federations and Jamaats, would make hardworking and ordinary people wonder why, inspite of being repeatedly mocked at as a ‘brother/sister-in-faith’, this wealth is not being used to relieve them. Again, there are higher political considerations, you are told that surround these decisions. But one can see pomposity and grandeur in Allah’s simple place of worship and in leaders whose tests (blessings?) in wealth are profound. And like Marie-Antoinette, they would be eating cake while others may not have their bread, populating a picturesque society of injustice. As leaders, they will have enormous advise for you. I mean we all know that between two ageing wise people, the one who is taken more seriously is that one who has made a lot of money and secured his family’s future as well, although the other person may also have a lot of sense to talk about, through his own experiences of dealing with sufferings, for instance. But the true value of a man, when measured in cake, a hollow sweetened luxury of the rich, against the originally-nutritious daily necessity of bread, there is no scope for equity to prevail. Wisdom equals economic success, or so we are reminded.
Disputed or not, let us not forget Marie-Antoinette’s fate when talking about this imbalance from here on.