Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Requiem For Arab Civilization - & Distorted Beliefs

Arabs, perhaps the most imperealist race in history after they came under Islam, at one time produced great societies that led the world in culture and science. That era ended over a millenia ago, followed thereafter by an unbroken decline. The facts of this decline today include:

- "[A]ll [360 million] Arabs combined [have] a smaller manufacturing capacity than Finland with its five million people."

- "a vast Arabic-speaking world translated into Arabic a fifth of the foreign books that Greece with its 11 million people translates."

- "With all the oil in the region, tens of millions of Arabs [are] living below the poverty line."

- "Oil is no panacea for these lands. The unemployment rates for the Arab world as a whole are the highest in the world, and no prophecy could foresee these societies providing the 51 million jobs the UNDP report says are needed by 2020 to “absorb young entrants to the labor force who would otherwise face an empty future.”"

And what of the cause of this backwardness, this decay and decline. To an objective observer, the answers begin and end with the Arabs themselves, but to today's Arab intellectual - why its the United States of course. This from Johns Hopkins Prof. Fouad Ajami, writing in the WSJ:

We are now in the midst of one of those periodic autopsies of the Arab condition. The trigger is the publication last month of the Arab Human Development Report 2009, the fifth of a series of reports by the by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on the state of the contemporary Arab world.

The first of these reports, published in 2002, was treated with deference. A group of Arab truth-tellers, it was believed, had broken with the evasions and the apologetics to tell of the sordid condition of Arab society—the autocratic political culture, the economic stagnation, the cultural decay. . . .

The simple truth is that the Arab world has terrible rulers and worse oppositionists. There are autocrats on one side and theocrats on the other. A timid and fragile middle class is caught in the middle between regimes it abhors and Islamists it fears.

Indeed, the technocrats and intellectuals associated with these development reports are themselves no angels. On the whole, they are unreconstructed Arab nationalists. The patrons of these reports are the likes of the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and the Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, intellectuals and public figures whose stock-in-trade is presumed Western (read American) guilt for the ills that afflict the Arabs. Anti-Americanism suffuses this report, as it did the earlier ones.

There is cruelty and plunder aplenty in the Arab world, but these writers are particularly exercised about Iraq. “This intervention polarized the country,” they say of Iraq. This is a myth of the Arabs who are yet to grant the Iraqis the right to their own history: There had been a secular culture under the Baath, they insist, but the American war begot the sectarianism. To go by this report, Iraq is a place of mayhem and plunder, a land where militias rule uncontested.

For decades, it was the standard argument of the Arabs that America had cast its power in the region on the side of the autocrats. In Iraq in 2003, and then in Lebanon, an American president bet on the freedom of the Arabs. George W. Bush’s freedom agenda broke with a long history and insisted that the Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA. A despotism in Baghdad was toppled, a Syrian regime that had all but erased its border with Lebanon was pushed out of its smaller neighbor, bringing an end to three decades of brutal occupation. The “Cedar Revolution” that erupted in the streets of Beirut was but a child of Bush’s diplomacy of freedom.

Arabs know this history even as they say otherwise, even as they tell the pollsters the obligatory things about America the pollsters expect them to say. True, Mr. Bush’s wager on elections in the Palestinian territories rebounded to the benefit of Hamas. But the ballot is not infallible, and the verdict of that election was a statement on the malignancies of Palestinian politics. It was no fault of American diplomacy that the Palestinians, who needed to break with a history of maximalist demands, gave in yet again to radical temptations.

Now the Arabs are face to face with their own history. Instead of George W. Bush there is Barack Hussein Obama, an American leader pledged to a foreign policy of “realism.” The Arabs express fondness for the new American president. In his fashion (and in the fashion of their world and their leaders, it has to be said) President Obama gave the Arabs a speech in Cairo two months ago. It was a moment of theater and therapy. The speech delivered, the foreign visitor was gone. He had put another marker on the globe, another place to which he had taken his astounding belief in his biography and his conviction that another foreign population had been wooed by his oratory and weaned away from anti-Americanism.

The crowd could tell itself that the new standard-bearer of the Pax Americana was a man who understood its concerns, but the embattled modernists and the critics of autocracy knew better. There is no mistaking the animating drive of the new American policy in that Greater Middle East: realism and benign neglect, the safety of the status quo rather than the risks of liberty. (If in doubt, the Arabs could check with their Iranian neighbors. The Persians would tell them of the new mood in Washington.)

One day an Arab chronicle could yet be written, and like all Arab chronicles, it would tell of woes and missed opportunities. It would acknowledge that brief interlude when American power gave Arab autocracies a scare, and when a despotism in Baghdad and a brutal “brotherly” occupation in Beirut were laid to waste. The chroniclers would have to be an honest lot. They would speak the language of daily life, and the truths that Arabs have seen and endured in recent years. On that day, the “human development reports” would be discarded, their writers seen for the purveyors of double-speak and half-truths they were.

Read the entire article. Arab culture of today is, for me at least, summed up in the picture at the top of this post. It is a culture consumed by Wahhabi and Khomeinist radicalism, that has at its core not the advancement of their own society, but the conquering of Israel and the West. It is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It is a culture that is largely undisturbed by the autocrats whose sole concern is maintaining their own wealth and plunder. Perhaphs the one hope for Arabs in the Middle East is Iraq if it is able to devolp a stable, secular democracy. But that is what both the despots and the Islamists fear, and thus Iraq will only, if ever, achieve such a state at tremendous cost and against constant, mortal opposition.


Anonymous said...


I have been reading Mr. Ajami's books and columns for more than a handful of years now. In my opinion, he write beautifully, almost poetically, in both forms. His "The Foreigner's Gift" is a wonderful exposition of the situation in Iraq a couple of years back.

The thing I think many Westerners miss about the Arabs is that theirs is basically a "tribal" culture. They had not progressed to a nation-state when old Mohammed showed up with his Islam. And one of the things that Islam does is to perpetuate and globalize the tribal culture of Mohammed's time with its Believers versus non-believers construct.

A while back, I read an interesting little book entitled "Culture and Conflict in the Middle East" by Philip Carl Salzman. In his discussions of how tribes and other small social groups deal with their local conflicts, I got a real insight into how the "Arab mind" functions. Unfortunately, the book gave me no reason to expect any behavioral change on their part in the near future. The Arab/Islamic culture is a trap.

OBloodyHell said...

You may also find this article by Dr. Sanity of interest in understanding how the Arab (and often the Islamic) mind functions: