A fundamental lack of historical and cultural awareness infuses the current debate re: Muslim mobs and Western diplomats– and other debates that inhabit the neighborhood in which civilizations clash. This lack drives policies that cause more problems than they fix, policies based on not understanding the basics of the problem.
There is a real, fundamental difference between the West and the Muslim non-West, and the reference is not to ways of worship, chosen deity, etc.
No – the issue is the level of advancement of the civilizations. The clash is between pre-modern and modern. Until we understand this and come to grips with it from a poilicy standpoint, it is very diffictul, if not impossible, to see this clash do anything other than enlarge.
Allow me an example from the American experience. Here in America we have a large cohort constantly yammering about our destruction of the Indians. They pretend that to be in a primitive state with nature is somehow noble, and see our displacement of primitive hunter-gather Indians as an abhorrent, genocidal crime. What this cohort lacks is the understanding that in any clash between modern and pre-modern, modern not only will win, but must win.
If, in America, we still had Kiowa camping in teepees outside Denver, and a Kiowa woman were dying in childbirth, one either can accept her pain and death as somehow noble – and as though she is an exhibit in a museum and not a woman and mother due all the care she can be given by a modern Denver hospital – or one can bring modernity to bear, saving her life and that of her child. But one cannot have both. If one celebrates the pre-modern culture, one must accept pre-modern, preventable catastrophe. If one does not accept pre-modern, preventable catastrophe, instead desiring to save the life of the woman with the use of modern technology, one does not accept the side-by-side existence of modern and pre-modern, regardless of what one says or pretends to believe.
Islam is a pre-modern culture. The rest of the world – is not. Political Islam – Islamism – is keeping hundreds of millions in pre-modern conditions.
(Weirdly, in the Islamic calendar it is the 1430s. In the 1430s, pre-modern Christians still were burning heretics at the stake. Maybe time – and calendars – have more power than we understand… Have to chat with Stephen Hawking about that.)
A culture that once led in art and math – Islam – but whose progress was slowed by its clerisy (“What Went Wrong” B. Lewis), found itself suddenly thrust into the Industrial Age following the end of the first industrialized war (in which it sided with the losers). Rather than looking around and capitalizing on the lessons learned and implemented by the winners (wider freedoms for their citizens resulting in more productive industrialization), they turned inward, reversing a slow (and slowing) creeping toward modernity. This reversal further was exacerbated by the adoption – and failure – throughout the 20th Century of successive attempts to catch-up to the West while not only retaining, but ever-more-strongly enforcing a pre-modern ideology that itself required a lack of liberal freedoms, driving a lack of productivity in industry, farming, literacy, learning, etc. (About one book per year is translated into Arabic.) These attempts all were force-fed by rulers played as pawns by Great Powers due to oil wealth, before and during the Cold War, and they never worked: Communism, (Western-academic-driven-) Socialism, etc., none of which helped Muslim nations and cultures to catch-up to a West accelerating its departure from the pre-modern. In fact, they retarded Islam’s progress still further.
The problem in that part of the Muslim world causing problems to the modern world is this: literacy rates below 50%, in some countries below 25%, massive unemployment for people, especially illiterate young men who cannot find work in an illiterate, pre-modern country or culture, all the while watching on their Western-made televisions as the rest of the world passes them by at an accelerating rate.
The national catastrophes resulting from the various refusals to adopt modernity are seen in the literacy rates across muslim nations. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, half of the men and more of the women are illiterate. In Saudi Arabia the statistics are worse. Egyptian college graduates are basically unemployable. Some of these nations have become quite wealthy via petrodollars. But this wealth is spent on private luxuries for the rulers as their subjects live in physical and mental squalor. THAT is the problem.
Now the civilized world finds itself with an angry, left-behind, pre-modern culture of hundreds of millions of people under the twin burdens of illiteracy and a powerful political religious-based fundamentalism that only retains power over uneducated people. And they – and we – find this illiterate, pre-modern cohort in possession of modern weaponry and communications, and driven by a fundamentalist clerisy to attack modernism itself.
These people of these nations are lashing-out at the civilized world in their frustration, and being used as pawns – again – by Great Powers (Russia in Syria, China in Iran) and a Western Left that demands not only that they can, but that they must (it would be paternalistic and colonial to demand otherwise) be allowed to remain pre-modern in their culture and theology, regardless of the harm to their people – and the world economy, and to freedoms taken for granted across the industrialized world.
Nothing about Islam requires it to be pre-modern – other than its fundamentalist clerisy and illiteracy. Neither the West nor Muslims living in the civilized (modern) world can create Western liberal democracies in nations overflowing with tens of millions of illiterate, unemployable citizens/subjects whose culture refuses literacy and rejects modernity.
This isn’t about islam v. the West. This is about modernity – and the need to modernize appallingly primitive nations living at the periphery of modernity.
Absent what will be a wrenching yank into modernity – voluntarily or involuntarily – of the peoples in the nations of South Asia and North Africa, not only WILL there be no end to the self-perpetuating problem of illiteracy-unemployability-religious fundamentalism-riots, there CAN be no end to it.
Tens-to-hundreds of millions of young men and women see the modern world on a daily basis in and on various media. They are unable to participate in it – and they know this. They’re angry. I would be, too.
As the modern world accelerates away from the pre-modern world as the Information Age advances, this gap between the modern and the pre-modern only will widen, and these problems become worse. Theycannot be solved with appeasement – one cannot appease the pre-modern to become modern. It cannot be solved with tanks. It cannot be solved with aid spent on military hardware or royal comforts. It only can be solved by literacy and pushing their clerisy into the background. Outsiders can help, by providing literacy-directed aid, but outsiders cannot fix the corruption causing that aid to wind-up in Swiss bank accounts, or themselves push-aside a clerisy that knows it cannot survive modernity, yet has a huge hold on the illiterate, unemployable man in the street.
This clash only can be solved internally. We can help, but we can’t do it by ourselves. This will have to come from the top of the ruling classes within these nations, ruling classes often kept in-power by continuing the pre-modernism of their subjects. And it is difficult to see any advantage for these ruling classes to modernize their peoples. Modernity – Enlightenment – moves power from the rulers to the People; tyrants, despots and autocrats – the most charitable descriptions of the rulers of these countries – have no interest in moving power from themselves to their people, their people are not ready for it, it is a generational task, and no one in the ruling food chain of clerisy-government-military is willing to start.
This clash is hugely expensive to the modern world in both blood and treasure, and the West must soon decide whether the costs continue to be worth bearing. Either these nations must be brought – perhaps forcefully – into the modern world, their rulers must be convinced (or replaced until convincable ones are found) that modernity must be accepted, or their capacity to inflict damage TO the modern world must be eliminated.
Programs that brought education and awareness TO these cultures, along with modern theories of Western Liberal democratic governance (NOT what passes for the study of same in leftist Western academia today – they already tried that and it failed them), can bring these peoples forward. But this will require an Enlightenment, a splitting of State from Mosque, and these societies may not be able to make that adaptation. Recent history suggests they will not do so without siginificant levels of violence.
The pre-modern cannot be allowed to win this clash. They can do so only if the lack of awareness by our elites of these differences keeps saving the woman, yet celebrating the teepee. And the longer it lasts, the more violent will be the ultimate upheaval when modernity triumphs – which it certainly will.