Adam Ash

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Adam's blogbox: Medieval Islam caught flat-footed in the modern world

There is a massive medieval tribe of 1.3 billion humans living among the rest of us on our planet.

I am speaking of those folks who follow the religion of Islam.

More particularly, I am speaking of a smaller section of Muslims, the Arabs, who number 280 million -- 5% of the human race.

While the rest of the planet follows a politics of modernity, they live in a pre-Enlightenment world.

How medieval are they?

Some stats: only 0.6% of Arabs use the Internet. Only 1.2% have personal computers.

Scientific expenditure is less than 0.5% of Arab GDP, compared to 1.9% for poor Cuba, and 2.9% for Japan. Investment in R & D is less than a seventh of the world average.

The productivity of Arab industrial labor in 1960 was 32% of the US. In 1990, it had gone down to 19%.

There is no true equality of women among Arabs. One in two Arab women can neither read nor write. Compare that with 100% literacy in the West.

There is little democracy, freedom of speech or free press among Arabs. Arab countries have the lowest “freedom score.” Measured by civil liberties, political rights and media independence, the region has the lowest value in the world for “voice” and “accountability.”

There is no appreciation of other cultures. Fewer books in English have ever been translated into Arabic than into Portuguese in one year.

Instead of any modernity, the Arabs have an adherence to one religion, Islam. This is a religion that decrees outright intolerance in its holy book, the Koran, as follows: "Proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject Faith." And: "Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them.”

Sure, the same vile things can be found in Christianity -- but our societies are secular. We don’t live by religious laws, or under a Christian version of Sharia.

One must ask why the Arab region of the world lags so far behind all other regions, even Africa. Here are some reasons:

1) Arabs are oppressed by their elites, who are without a doubt the most selfish bastards on earth. They even beat our CEOs in America, and that’s saying something.

2) Arabs are oppressed by their religion, which, together with the Hindu religion, is the most intolerant on earth. Christianity can be intolerant, too, but Christians don’t riot to express their feelings of intolerance.

3) Arabs are oppressed by their lack of knowledge or reason. They never experienced an Enlightenment.

4) Arabs are oppressed by their dependence on oil, which relieves them of the urgency to use any initiative to compete with the rest of the world in other industries.

For these and other reasons, we can expect the Arabs to be a drag on the rest of the planet for the foreseeable future. They haven’t had an Age of Reason. No Voltaire. No French Revolution. If they want to catch up (and it’s questionable whether they want this), they will have to make a sharp move from the 12th century to the 21st -- an impossibility in the near term.

There was a time when Turkey was known as the sick man of Europe. Yet today Turkey is a Muslim state that has lifted itself out of its sick status. It has joined the modern world. It’s getting ready to hook up with the EU.

So a great Muslim leap forward is achievable. But how was it brought about in Turkey? By one man. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He forced secularism on his Muslim country. It was not something that bubbled up from the masses. It was a top-down decree by a benevolent dictator.

In 1924 Ataturk abolished the Caliphate -- the position of nominal head of the Islamic faith, held by the Ottoman Sultans. The theological schools madrassas were closed, and the Sharia law of Islam was replaced by a law code based on that of Switzerland. The Italian Penal Code and the German Commerce Code were also adopted.

The emancipation of women was encouraged by Ataturk’s marriage in 1923 to a Western-educated woman, Latife Hanim (they were divorced in 1925), and was promoted by many laws. In December 1934, women were given the vote and the right to hold seats in parliament.

Ataturk viewed the fez as a symbol of feudalism and banned it. He wore a European-style suit and hat, and insisted that all Turks do the same. The veil was banned for women. They were encouraged to wear western dress, and to enter the work force. In 1928 the government decreed that the Arabic script be replaced by a modified Latin alphabet -- easier to learn and teach. It also made publishing much easier. All citizens from six to 40 years of age had to attend school and learn the new alphabet.

I don’t see any dictators of this degree of revolutionary benevolence and foresight among current Arab dictators. If the king of Jordan thinks he’s benevolent, let him install a democracy in his country, like they have in Turkey.

Poor Arabs. They’re doomed to remain in failure. The greatest obstacle to their development is their religion -- or rather, what they’ve turned their faith into: an instrument of oppression that keeps their women down, something that would never have met with the approval of the prophet Muhammad.

It does not look like any Arab country is going to go wholly secular anytime soon. There used to be a secular Arab country – Iraq -- but the US is helping to change it into a theocracy.

The current Muslim protest over a few silly cartoons is more than an instance of puerile outrage from failing societies. It’s proof of how vulnerable their religion makes Muslims. Here’s a religion that brings out the beast in its followers: a dysfunctional religion. A faith that propels its followers into violence.

What arrogance of Muslims to think they have the right to tell other people how to act in other countries! I for one find this beyond offensive. Let us not forget that this medieval reaction to modernity emanates from countries that publish government-backed anti-Semitic propaganda as base – and as out-dated – as that ancient forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Christopher Hitchens, a man whose views I seldom agree with, but whose right to express his views I’ll defend unto death, says it nicely:

“I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs, and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings.”

Well said, Christopher. As for myself, the most I can muster for these backward fools is pity. The modern world will just have to learn to live with our medieval Arabs – a constant and potent reminder of how, once upon a time, the entire human race was intolerant, illiterate, isolated and intellectually barren.


At 2/09/2006 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

umm, i hope this is a bit of satire...100% literacy in the west. yeah , right. man, there so backwords they can't even afford to get dem no calculatin machines -- dey on da welfare!


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