Monday, July 7, 2014

The Decline and Fall of Islam

David Goldman, aka Spengler has previously made the point. I have reported his views on the blog.

Looking at the Middle East, Spengler sees evidence of the decline and fall of Islamic civilization. At the least, it’s tragic. The remaining question is: whose tragedy will it be?

The Economist picks up the theme this week:

A THOUSAND years ago, the great cities of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo took turns to race ahead of the Western world. Islam and innovation were twins. The various Arab caliphates were dynamic superpowers—beacons of learning, tolerance and trade. Yet today the Arabs are in a wretched state. Even as Asia, Latin America and Africa advance, the Middle East is held back by despotism and convulsed by war.

As you know, Bernard Lewis famously suggested that Islam went wrong because it failed to separate mosque and state. It did not have the concept: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto God that which is God’s.

The Economist asks:

Why Arab countries have so miserably failed to create democracy, happiness or (aside from the windfall of oil) wealth for their 350m people is one of the great questions of our time. What makes Arab society susceptible to vile regimes and fanatics bent on destroying them (and their perceived allies in the West)? No one suggests that the Arabs as a people lack talent or suffer from some pathological antipathy to democracy. But for the Arabs to wake from their nightmare, and for the world to feel safe, a great deal needs to change.

Some, like Philip Zelikow, have suggested imposing a quarantine on the Middle East. Perhaps, there is nothing the rest of the world can do to stop the decline, but one doubts that the contagion can so easily be contained. Terrorism is easily exportable and Muslims in Europe have shown a propensity to bring the war to their new countries.

The Economist follows Lewis in asking what went wrong:

Why Arab countries have so miserably failed to create democracy, happiness or (aside from the windfall of oil) wealth for their 350m people is one of the great questions of our time. What makes Arab society susceptible to vile regimes and fanatics bent on destroying them (and their perceived allies in the West)? No one suggests that the Arabs as a people lack talent or suffer from some pathological antipathy to democracy. But for the Arabs to wake from their nightmare, and for the world to feel safe, a great deal needs to change….

One problem is that the Arab countries’ troubles run so wide. Indeed, Syria and Iraq can nowadays barely be called countries at all. This week a brutal band of jihadists declared their boundaries void, heralding instead a new Islamic caliphate to embrace Iraq and Greater Syria (including Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and bits of Turkey) and—in due course—the whole world. Its leaders seek to kill non-Muslims not just in the Middle East but also in the streets of New York, London and Paris. Egypt is back under military rule. Libya, following the violent demise of Muammar Qaddafi, is at the mercy of unruly militias. Yemen is beset by insurrection, infighting and al-Qaeda. Palestine is still far from true statehood and peace: the murders of three young Israelis and ensuing reprisals threaten to set off yet another cycle of violence (see article). Even countries such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria, whose regimes are cushioned by wealth from oil and gas and propped up by an iron-fisted apparatus of state security, are more fragile than they look. Only Tunisia, which opened the Arabs’ bid for freedom three years ago, has the makings of a real democracy.

The magazine echoes Lewis’s idea:

Islam, or at least modern reinterpretations of it, is at the core of some of the Arabs’ deep troubles. The faith’s claim, promoted by many of its leading lights, to combine spiritual and earthly authority, with no separation of mosque and state, has stunted the development of independent political institutions. A militant minority of Muslims are caught up in a search for legitimacy through ever more fanatical interpretations of the Koran. Other Muslims, threatened by militia violence and civil war, have sought refuge in their sect. In Iraq and Syria plenty of Shias and Sunnis used to marry each other; too often today they resort to maiming each other. And this violent perversion of Islam has spread to places as distant as northern Nigeria and northern England.

More significant, I suspect, is the absence of free enterprise:

The absence of a liberal state has been matched by the absence of a liberal economy. After independence, the prevailing orthodoxy was central planning, often Soviet-inspired. Anti-market, anti-trade, pro-subsidy and pro-regulation, Arab governments strangled their economies. The state pulled the levers of economic power—especially where oil was involved. Where the constraints of post-colonial socialism were lifted, capitalism of the crony, rent-seeking kind took hold, as it did in the later years of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Privatisation was for pals of the government. Virtually no markets were free, barely any world-class companies developed, and clever Arabs who wanted to excel in business or scholarship had to go to America or Europe to do so.

As for solutions, The Economist believes that Arabs will have to sort it out themselves. Perhaps Western intervention will always be tainted by memories of colonialism. Perhaps, Arabs will not be able to take responsibility for their civilization’s failure as long as they can blame someone else:

But only the Arabs can reverse their civilisational decline, and right now there is little hope of that happening. The extremists offer none. The mantra of the monarchs and the military men is “stability”. In a time of chaos, its appeal is understandable, but repression and stagnation are not the solution. They did not work before; indeed they were at the root of the problem. 

The legacy of Iraq is that no one wants to get involved in the Middle East again. Call it benign neglect, if you like. And yet, for the state of Israel, quarantining Arab cultural pathologies is not an option. And as long as Israel remains a permanent reproach, a shining example that contrasts with the failure of Islamic cultures, it will be in danger.

On the other hand, civilizational decline can be managed effectively or can be mismanaged. Whatever the wisdom of the Iraq War, the aftermath was initially mismanaged by the Bush administration. Perhaps, the Bush “surge” helped to set Iraq on a better course, but, by now, the question is moot. Iraq has been mismanaged into non-existence. Clearly, the Arab Spring was mismanaged, in particular by the Obama-Clinton foreign policy team.

If quarantine were really possible, we would happily join The Economist and Philip Zelikow in saying that we should just wash our Western hands of the whole thing. And yet, one suspects that the contagion will keep spreading and that Islamic civilization will go out with a bang, not a whimper.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If quarantine were really possible, we would happily join The Economist and Philip Zelikow in saying that we should just wash our Western hands of the whole thing. And yet, one suspects that the contagion will keep spreading and that Islamic civilization will go out with a bang, not a whimper."

Yes, that's the risk -- the bang. The Big Bang: nuclear catastrophe. Sure, washing our hands of the Middle East would be most welcome. We could exit and watch the inter-religious bloodbath as being sanitarily exclusive of us, save one thing: a nuclear Iran. Pakistan's nukes are pointed at India, and India's nukes are pointed at Pakistan. Let's put that aside. Iran's nukes will be pointed at everyone, just as their terrorist proxies operate in every Mideast Sunni state and there are Iranian terrorist agents in every Western state that opposes them. A nuclear Iran means a nuclear Saudi Arabia will be quick to follow.

It'd be nice to exit the Middle East and let them sort it out for themselves, but we can't. There's too much at stake, with too many global implications. I don't like war... war is cruel, and ruins lives. But I think we're being naive (and have been naive for 35 years) to think we can avoid a war with Iran. Iran is behind every problem we've had in that region since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They export their terror, and all this instability threatens our energy supplies. We can't build enough wind and solar or conserve our way to making up for light sweet crude. Saying "No war for oil!" is as silly as not fighting for water, corn or any other critical economic commodity. Wars are fought for national security, which includes protecting the homeland and protecting access to critical economic resources. A war with Iran would include both of these priorities.

I'm not a saber-rattler, and I'm not an "On to Richmond!" or "We'll be in Berlin by Christmas" kind of guy. I thought we were hasty on Iraq and unfocused in Afghanistan. Vietnam was a containment policy run amok. But Iran is different, and always has been different. We need to keep all options on the table to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. If we bomb their nuclear facilities and they launch a massive asymmetrical retaliation, I say we give them the war they've always wanted with the "Great Satan." There's no bargaining with them. The Islamic Revolution must be conquered the old fashioned way: unconditional surrender, old-style occupation and de-Islamification (the anti-fascist variety, not targeting the Muslim religion). This will take a long time... longer than the war-weary American public will tolerate. But we are running out of choices when we consider the devastating long-term consequences of a nuclear Iran. We can't run from this much longer. It's a sad reality, but it's reality nevertheless. We deny the implications of a nuclear Iran at our peril with each passing day.

Tip

Sam L. said...

Without the science-fictional force-field to wall them off, I'm with Tip.

Puleeeeeeze! said...
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Anonymous said...
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Jocker said...

Muslim civilisation didn't have a civil law, as roman civilisation had. When roman emperor decided, that christianity is an official roman religion, there was a roman law, and nobody was able to destroy it. That's why a country, and church could be divided. In muslim civilisation law come from quran, and that's why they couldn't make progress.

Anonymous said...

The West has a 1400 year relationship w/Islam. War & conquest (by both sides) punctuated w/intervals of "truces".

Islam has kept its conquests except for Spain. It allied itself w/Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It knows v well who its true "enemy" is - WCiv.

From the Crusaders thru Iraq, Western efforts in ME have ended in failure, blood, and tears. Iran, heaven help us, will too, if we are so reckless as to attack it.

It is a distinct Civ/with 1.3M adherents. The West cannot "manage" it or mitigate its world view.

I disrelish Rumsfeld, but agree w/his statement: "If a problem has no solution, it's not a problem. It's a Condition."

The West must protect itself to the utmost. Iran isn't the only nuke threat. Pakistan is already nuclear, and even Saudi has mentioned getting it.

Other WMD threats abound. We should deal w/the Condition by any means possible save "conventional" war. Not invade another Islamic country.

I'm usually open to Corrections. But of this I am absolutely confident. -- Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

Rich:

I hear you, and your confidence. I don't want to get in another land war in the Middle East. That said, Iran is the chief exporter of chaos, and must be treated differently. If Iran is now a "condition," I have a very difficult time accepting that because we've allowed it to become a condition through decades of bad policy. WMD is not a new thing for the Iranian regime, and we've tolerated it with them again and again. If conventional war isn't an option in your mind, I'd love to hear about the "any means possible" as an alternative. If you want to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran and save the ground war, I'm all for it. But we've sat idly by, impotent, for so many years, and things don't get better. Perhaps you're right, that Iran is a condition. But you manage a condition. We're not. We should've thrown every bit of support into that 2009 Green Revolution. Instead, we did nothing. And this failure is not just about Obama... Obama just thought he could sit down and chat with the mullahs. That's dangerously naive.

Tip