Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Islamic World as an Alien "Other" (Part 2)

Rohan Gunaratna seeks an ideological change in Islam, a change that will marginalize Islamism, but many of the ideas we would like to associate with Islamism are more deep seated. If Middle Eastern nations want to compete with the west, they must liberate their intellectuals. When intellectuals are allowed to think and do almost anything they like then good things can happen. Could Silicon Valley have come from the Middle East? Here in California we have lots of screwballs doing all sorts of things. Who cares if a bunch of them waste their time and money fooling around with electronics. We couldn’t have anticipated that we would care, but the world has been changed as a result of what they did. It is inconceivable that an autocratic state could have allowed an equivalent thing to happen. One of the elements in the victory of the West over the USSR in the Cold War was our technological superiority which came from just such free-thinking screwballs as those from Silicon Valley.

The Attaturk solution involves reducing the power and effect to the level that Christianity has in the West. I have read Muslims who are appalled at that idea. Such a thing would be tantamount to abandoning Islam. Their combining of Church and State, they believe, provides them with benefits the West lacks. Were they to enjoy those benefits in a quietistic fashion, we in the West would feel more inclined to leave them alone. Of course there is the oil, but after that ran out or we found an alternate fuel source we might be inclined to leave them alone utterly. Unfortunately they don’t want to leave us alone, at least their Fundamentalist element or the Radical Militant wing of the Fundamentalist element doesn’t want to leave us alone.

The self-hating elements in the West think we “did it to the Muslms”. We caused them to be as they are. That argument doesn’t bear scrutiny. Other people suffered through the same sort of confrontation with the West as the Muslims did – Japan for example. What advantage did Japan have that the Muslims didn’t? They had the advantage of not having Islam. They had no inhibition against accepting Western Technology and as much of Western Culture as they felt comfortable with. They do not feel that they have sacrificed their self-interest in the process. Hong Kong is another example. They were under Western control for a long period of time and did quite well. They may not be doing quite so well under the autocratic domination of China.

Consider South Korea. They were dominated by the Japanese and limped from that into a Civil War that the West got involved in. Certainly South Korea’s handicap was as bad as any in the Middle East and yet they are an economic power house today.

“If the peoples of the Middle East,” Bernard Lewis wrote at the end of his book, What Went Wrong, “continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner of later in yet another alien domination; perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways, perhaps from some new, expanding superpower in the East. If they can abandon grievance, and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, then they can once again make the Middle East, in Modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is their own.

Lawrence Helm

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