Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Arab's Bad Mood

By Alan Caruba

From the West’s point of view, the Middle East’s long history of authoritarian governments, its failed wars against Israel, its drift toward terrorism from Bali to London and, of course, to New York and Washington, D.C., one would feel justified to take a dim view of Arabs for their failure to express any tolerance towards the West and each other.

In a recent edition of The Economist, an interesting article examines the mood of the Arab street. “Many Arabs still see Mr. Bush’s 'war on terrorism' as a crusade against Islam. But many also note that al-Qaeda-style jihadism has killed more Muslims, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia to the squalid Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, than ‘infidels.’”

It may seem glib to say that the Arab’s many problems can be traced to one factor, Islam, but any student of history knows that Islam has accounted for why this region of the world has so consistently failed to advance at a pace comparable to Europe, the New World, and even Asia.

“Huge differences persist among 300-million Arabic speakers and 22 countries of the Arab League…Yet to travel through the Arab world right now is to experience a peculiar sameness of spirit. Particularly among people under 30, who make up the vast majority of Arabs, the mood is one of disgruntlement and doubt.”

Islam traps the mind with its absolutism, its assumption of moral superiority to all other religions, and its lack of tolerance. Even seeing the obvious superiority of other nation’s forms of government, quality of education, military and economic power, Arabs appear unable to accept or understand that Islam has stunted their ability to compete, trapping them in nations where a handful of hereditary monarchs or dictators keep the majority of their populations in relative poverty and weakness.

The short, ugly history of the Palestinians is an affront to Arabs who wonder, “If the Palestinians cannot unite in their own cause, why should other Arabs help them?” That said, the refusal to acknowledge the Jews’ historical claim to Israel, going back three millennia, also has made it impossible to achieve any Arab accommodation with the Jewish state.

The social traditions of Arabs, so fixed on family and tribe, have further ensured that Arabs encounter difficulties in terms of upward mobility within their societies. The corruption endemic to their societies further damages the advance of commerce. Arab educational institutions with their emphasis on rote learning rather than innovative thinking has left Arabs unable to compete in the larger world. And of what value is the Koran in a world of high technology and global communications and trade?

How can any modern society function when its population is expected to stop everything, face Mecca, and pray five times daily? How does a society function when its women are denied opportunities to contribute economically and politically?

The failure of Arab nations to adopt secular forms of government, believing as they do that all laws must come from Allah, further holds them captive to a faith that is more a cult than a true religion. It discourages democracy; the need to compromise and cooperate. As a result, governments in Arab (and Persian Iran) are merely the outward form of democracy without the substance of it.

Mostly, though, is the intellectual vacuum that exists in Arab nations. “More literature is translated into Spanish in a single year than the entire corpus of what has been translated into Arabic in 1,000 years.”

Religious texts that preach the superiority of Islam and not just the right, but the necessity of imposing it on the entire world, are bestsellers in Arab nations. This puts Arabs in constant conflict with other nations and, where they represent a large population, in conflict with host nations such as England and throughout Europe. The fanatics among them even pose a danger in moderate and modern Muslim nations.

After a short, early history of conquest that took Islam across northern Africa, up into Spain, and eastward into India, Islam has fallen on sad, bad times. Colonized by European nations after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the last century, invaded in this one by the United States, acting on its own and its allies’ behalf to destroy Islamism and seeking to transform its outlook on the wider world, Arabs are in a bad mood about their prospects.

It is unlikely Arabs and other Muslims will ever see Islam as their real problem, but its rigidity is the template that keeps them emotionally and intellectually trapped in the seventh century A.D.

It is far easier to blame the Jews or the “crusaders”, i.e. Christians, for their problems, but these “infidels” or unbelievers have left them in the dust. Now the West is engaged in an effort to drag them into the twenty-first century and the Arabs, resistant to change as always, must decide whether they prefer the past to the future.

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