Saturday, July 14, 2012

Progression or Regression in the Islamic World

Those who are young and naïve or old and addled look at events in the Middle East and see growing pains.

The believe, as an article of faith and hope, that the wave of history always leads toward liberal democracy.

Progress is inevitable, so therefore, whatever happens is part of a grand progression. They believe so fervently that they have blinded themselves to the possibility of regression.

In his column today Mark Steyn shows that, gauzy visions of progress notwithstanding, the Islamic world is regressing at a frightening pace.

In Steyn’s words:

The new democratic rulers embody all too well the dispositions of their people. In the years immediately after 9/11, many Western commentators argued that Islam needed a reformation. This overlooked the obvious fact that Islam had already reformed, thanks to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Iran's revolutionary mullahs, and Saudi Arabia's principal export – not oil, but globalized ideology. I've lost count of the times I've found myself sitting at dinner next to a Westernized Arab woman d'un certain age who was at college in the Fifties, Sixties or Seventies, and listened to her tell me that back then "covering" was for wizened old biddies in upcountry villages, the Islamic equivalent of gnarled Russian babushkas. The future belonged to modern, uncovered women like her and her classmates.

The assumptions of her generation were off by 180 degrees: The female graduating class of Cairo University in the Fifties looked little different from Vassar. Half-a-century later, every woman is hijabed to the hilt. Mohammad Qayoumi, now the president of San Jose State University, recently published some photographs from the Afghanistan he grew up in: The girls in high heels and pencil skirts in the Kabul record stores of the 1960s aren't quite up to Carnaby Street cool, but they'd fit in in any HMV store in provincial England. Half a century later, it was forbidden by law for women to feel sunlight on their face, or leave the home without male permission. Even more amazing to my female dining companions, today you see more covered women in London's East End or the Rosengård district of Malmö, Sweden, than you do in Tunis or Amman.

The mistake made by virtually the entire Western media during the Arab Spring was to assume that social progress is like technological progress – that, like the wheel or the internal combustion engine, women's rights and gay rights cannot be disinvented. 

For those who look to the younger generation as an instrument of progress, Steyn attempts to disabuse them of their misperception:

In the developed world, we're told that Westernization is "inevitable." "Just wait and see," say the blithely complacent inevitablists. "They haven't yet had time to Westernize." But Westernization is every bit as resistible in Brussels and Toronto as it's proved in Cairo and Jalalabad. In the first ever poll of Irish Muslims, 37 percent said they would like Ireland to be governed by Islamic law. When the same question was put to young Irish Muslims, it was 57 percent. In other words, the hope'n'change generation are less Westernized than their parents. 36 percent of young British Muslims think the penalty for apostasy – i.e., leaving Islam – should be death. Had you asked the same question of British Muslims in 1970, I doubt the enthusiasts would have cracked double figures.

Exposure to Western liberal democracy radicalizes young Muslims. When faced with the successes of the Judeo-Christian West they do not see hope and opportunity but see evidence of the Islam’s failure to provide for its people. They conclude that they can only restore their pride by destroying what Westerners have built.

Of course, destroying what others have built does not restore pride. It only offers the fool’s gold of false pride.

Steyn’s facts are unassailable. Nevertheless the keepers of the Hegelian dialectic will explain that the wave of history moves from thesis to antithesis to synthesis, and thus, that these reactionary tendencies are a necessary prelude to a new liberal Islamic world.

It’s nice to be able to use philosophy to blind you to reality.


Jim said...

I enjoy Mark Steyn's writing but his pessimism is unfounded. The march of history has been towards more liberal democracy, greater technology, longer lives, etc. The evidence is overwhelming and to ignore this evidence dishonor the success and sacrifice of those who fought in WWII, the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. Birthrates among many Muslim countries (Turkey, Iran and many Arab countries) are decreasing - not surprising the way they treat their women. The only reason the Muslim world has any power is because of oil exports. That economic advantage is disappearing with advances in fracking, shale oil, etc. At their best, they have only been able to inflict a few thousand casualties on Western soil and most of their success has been in killing other muslims. The only real threat is in Iran developing nuclear weapons - and there is a solution to that. Muslim theology is weak and easily responds to strength. This momentary enthusiasm will quickly disolve as we continue to neutralize their terrorist elements. Nothing is more convincing to a Muslim fence-sitter than when he sees the head of one if his chieftains explode from a Marine sniper's bullet. We need to stop fear mongering and keep up the good fight. This war is really quite winnable! As far as all the liberal naysayers, they should be scorned and reminded that if we give in to the islamic terrorists, they will be the first to be slaughtered. If I remember correctly, the liberals didn't stop us from winning the Cold War.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with most of what you say. I think that Steyn was trying to point out that progress was not a function of some grand historical movement of the World Spirit, but that it required hard work and good policies.

I tend also to agree with your point that we need to fight Islamists wherever we find them and never give in to Islamic terrorists.

Still, what do you make of the fact that the Islamic world is suffering a marked regression, away from more Westernized behavior and clothing, toward more traditional Muslim attire?

I see it as a reactionary movement, even affecting Muslims in England and Ireland... perhaps the reason has something to do with our professed tolerance for different cultures, or for the Obama administration's willingness to recognize the Islamic Brotherhood, but still the movement right now is clear in the direction of more fundamentalism in North Africa, and perhaps beyond.