Corruption in my view is more than the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. I think one should look at it in the broader usage of word: as a deteriorative change in our mindsets, in our attitudes, in our values. To me corruption is the very manifestation of hypocrisy and internal dishonesty. Of giving up the ideas and values we feel are right, in exchange for ideas and values that seem more convenient. Corruption is not an action we undertake in one moment, it’s a change of ourselves.
In a South African newspaper I read of an influential religious leader, who condemned the pro-democracy protests in Algeria because it would be “un-Islamic” to protest against a political leader if this leader is a Muslim. My first thought was: He probably made this statement because he fears for his convenient position in the current system. These protests were directed against a corrupt elite living at the expense of the population since decades. I don’t know much about the Koran, but I know that it clearly judges stealing. And (material) corruption is the worst form of stealing: Stealing by the rich from the poor. Respectively, stealing by the powerful from the disempowered.
I don’t know if I was right with my guess on the motives of this religious leader. But in any case, it’s a clear case of corruption to me, if religious leader use their authority to defend corrupt politicians, thereby violating the very principles on which they base this defence.
This instance of corruption is of course outshined by other instances of religious corruption, like the indulgence trade industrialised by Catholic commissaries in the late Middle Ages, or the widespread practice of small evangelistic churches to demand financial contributions from their communities, in order to finance the church leader’s Mercedes Benz. It is the more outshined by secular instances of corruption, as for example communist regimes citing notions like “solidarity” and “equality” to justify systematic extortion from a whole country’s population through oppressive means, or free market promoters citing notions like “freedom” and “growth” in order to widen the outreach of their enrichment systems.
All this hypocrisy has in common that it uses values based on respect to justify respect-less action. And this proactive deterioration of values might be as harmful as the theft and economic inefficiencies that material corruption implies. Corruption alienates us from ourselves since it blocks us from looking at ourselves with honesty. The more corrupt we become, the more inconvenient it becomes to step back and honestly look into the internal mirror.
By undermining our honesty it undermines our capacity for meaningful relationships at personal level, and for constructive social fabrics at societal level. Together, the material and immaterial damages that it causes can produce and fuel destructive energies like organised crime and violence, and continuously deprive us of respectful and peaceful coexistence.
As Transparency International puts it: Corruption ruins lives – fight back!