We know from the Holy Qur’an that God rebukes hypocrites in the strongest terms. In Surah Baqarah, God says, “And of mankind are some who say: We believe in God and the Last Day, when they believe not. They desire to deceive God and those who believe, and they deceive only themselves and they do not perceive.” (2:8-9)Earlier this March, America witnessed the political career of one of its brightest and most promising politicians crumble in a matter of days. In a story replete with moralistic themes that seemed like it could have come from the plot of a great Shakespearean play, New York’s former Governor Eliot Spitzer, long seen by many as a crusader against powerful, nefarious corporate interests, was caught soliciting prostitutes through a federal wiretap of a prostitution ring. In Spitzer’s ascent to power and subsequent rapid decline are many lessons for the followers of the Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them).
Eliot Spitzer was by all accounts an incredibly intelligent and accomplished individual. As a high school student, he scored a 1590 out of 1600 on his SAT, which earned him an acceptance to Princeton University. At Princeton, Spitzer studied at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and scored a perfect 180 on the LSAT, the standardized examination taken by all students who are applying to law schools. His achievements at Princeton led him to Harvard Law School, where his top performance in his class led him to join the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a law journal edited and maintained by the top students at the school. Throughout his legal career working for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, various law firms, serving as New York State Attorney General, and later as New York State Governor, Spitzer earned a reputation for aggressive tactics and for trumping the ethics card against his opponents, seeking to portray those who disagreed with him or opposed him as immoral or ethically bankrupt. As Attorney General, Spitzer was known for prosecuting Wall Street executives as well as prostitution rings. The realization, then, that Spitzer himself was a client of a prostitution ring made his downfall even swifter.
One immediate lesson that the Spitzer scandal taught this writer was that the vast majority of people, despite differences in race and creed, despise hypocrisy. We know from the Holy Qur’an that God rebukes hypocrites in the strongest terms. In Surah Baqarah, God says, “And of mankind are some who say: We believe in God and the Last Day, when they believe not. They desire to deceive God and those who believe, and they deceive only themselves and they do not perceive.” (2:8-9) Similarly, in my own conversations with non-Muslim coworkers, it seemed that more than anything else, people had difficulty sympathizing with Spitzer because of his hypocrisy. He prosecuted prostitution rings as New York State Attorney General, wreaking havoc on the lives of those who partook in such condemnable activities, but then participated in them himself. Such hypocrisy is reprehensible not only in the eyes of God but according to moral codes of everyday people.
Another lesson that the Spitzer scandal taught this writer was that people hold those in power to higher standards than others. There is a reason that political leaders take oaths, often using religious texts such as the Bible, as they are sworn into office. It’s because these people are entrusted to use their respective offices as a means to the public good, to uphold the ideals of the Constitution, and not to abuse their authority and the trust that the public has placed in them. The lesson in this for us is that those of us aspiring to political prominence or leadership within our own communities must seek to purify ourselves of our own evils before seeking to correct those of others. Failing to do so only leaves open the door to hypocrisy. God asks in the Holy Qur’an, “Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (to practise it) yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture? Will ye not understand?” (2:44)
A final lesson that comes to mind when reflecting on Spitzer’s rapid descent from the height of political power is the need for us to guard ourselves against arrogance and self-admiration as we obtain worldly-success. Naturally, we have a tendency to compare ourselves and to beautify our achievements in our own eyes. Such arrogance and self-admiration is a trap that Satan lays for us to cause our despair and misery in this life – as Spitzer’s downfall illustrates – as well as the next. In contrast to arrogant politicians such as Spitzer, we have the examples of our Maraja (supreme religious authorities) and scholars who, despite all the tireless work that they do for the sake of the well-being of Muslims across the world, never become arrogant or self-righteous and instead attribute all the good that comes from them as emanating from God. We should seek to emulate our Maraja set in this regard. Another thing we can and should do, as has been mentioned in prayer books, is to recite verse 27 of Surah Aal Imran of the Qur’an after every daily prayer, as it has been recommended to recite this verse regularly to avoid becoming arrogant after achieving worldly success.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) teaches us that we should be wise enough to take lessons from the examples of others, and that only the stubborn and unwise need to experience something in order to take a lesson from it. The Eliot Spitzer scandal, as one of a handful of scandals that have rocked the American political scene in the past decade, teaches us many lessons, including the significance of avoiding hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and arrogance. In his brief resignation speech, Spitzer seemed solemn, humbled, and humiliated. Surprisingly, he even referenced a Biblical verse to frame his outlook on the future, perhaps indicating that he had learned an even greater lesson: that each human being, despite his or her worldly accomplishments, is ultimately dependent on the mercy and blessings of God.