Granted, Ahmadinejad's truculent gestures and his Holocaust-Denial and weird conspiratorial outbursts --- accompanied by off-and-on threats directed at this or that cabal of fiendish bogeymen, usually Jews and Israel and the US --- contribute mightily to his frantic popularity and instant celebrity-stardom all over Islam these days.
No surprise really.
Voiced by this or that Muslim statesman or terrorist-leader, such bellicose hot-air and expressions of head-tripping conspiratorial paranoia are always celebrated joyfully with eruptive, wild-eyed garishness --- guns bang-banging in the air, mobs running around crazily --- by the massed morons who comprise the Arab street and its equally volatile, dim-wit counterparts who flourish elsewhere in Islam. Without fail, they're occasions for fervent, far-out jubilation . . . until reality sets in. And in the poor, backward Islamic-ruled countries around the world --- full of demographic explosions, poverty, high unemployment, massive corruption, flagrantly incompetent client-patron networks, and little promise of much change in the future --- reality turns out to be anything but a source of daily joy and manic celebration. Not to mention anything but a source, either, of honor, pride, and certitude about Islam's destiny . . . sentiments that Muslims once felt with ardor and no longer do.
On, Then, To The Deeper Causes
So where are we? Right here, with this pivotal double-edged point:
1) Undoubtedly, Ahmadinejad's buffoonish swagger and his lunatic and incessant Jew-hatred and all those flipped-out fantasies about his hidden, peek-a-boo chum --- the Messianic Mahdi and the forthcoming Apocalyptic Showdown with the devilish infidels that the soon-to-be-seen Spook will kick off any day now --- have nurtured and spread Ahmadinejad's No. 1 status on the Islamic Hit-Parade of Muslim Strongmen-Saviors world-wide.
2) By themselves, though, these events aren't sufficient cause to account for Ahmadinejad's celebrity as Islam's latest and greatest Superman-Hero.
To explain his current Savior-Status fully, we have to dig deeper. The record of one year's making whoopee with the clamorous, fully fickle, and often violent street-mobs of the Islamic world is strictly a surface matter, nothing else. To dig below the surface, we need to examine Islam's long historical ups as a huge expanding civilization and, against this background, its brusque, fairly recent downs, all non-stop and likely to remain irreversible way, way into the future . . . or maybe forever.
When we do this, we will have uncovered the hefty, deeply anchored taproots in Islam of Ahmadinejad's bursting popularity.
How a Rabid, Widely Shared Psychic Syndrome Has Emerged in Islam:
a Far-Flung Mind-Set That
. . . tersely put, adds up to a volatile jumble of intellectual bewilderment and jolting, kinetically charged passions that include massive blame-shifting for Islamic backwardness and weakness, scapegoating the culprits, an almost non-stop crackle of resentment, and steamed-up urges for revenge. Its main ingredients, to put this more concretely, are easy to isolate and --- as you'll see later --- document with hard evidence.
Its Key Psychic Constituents
-- Rampant confusion about the reasons for Islam's weakness and backward conditions;
-- A pervasive sense of slow-burn shame and of fast-burn humiliation, both aggravated by a dogmatic conviction that Muslims everywhere are under assault and losing;
-- Rippling resentments about all this: Islam's weakness and backwardness, its failures to cope effectively with its high-coiled, never-ending challenges . . . whether military, economic, technological, or diplomatic, what have you --- with all the setbacks and failures, one after another, continually fueling the intolerable, self-gnawing passions of frustration, shame, and humiliation;
--And not least, in direct consequence, a sizzle of blistering urges for violent revenge against the culprits.
Enter the Scapegoated Culprits
Seen always in lurid conspiratorial terms --- the wilder the fantasized lunatic-conspiracy, the more readily and rife it's latched onto by Muslims who are illiterate, semi-literate, or supposedly educated --- these evil enemies who have undermined Islamic power, pride, and influence and keep Islamic societies backward reduce, always, no exceptions, to a swarm of hobgoblin villains and tormentors . . . all of whom are connected, in insidious, behind-the-scenes ways, to a cabal of viciously miscreant Jewish Master-Minds. These fathomlessly powerful Master-Minds run the American government, they dominate and stage-manage disruptive globalizing forces, they poison the morality of Muslim youth and women with their filthy films, TV, music, and other demonic image-soaked allurements, they manipulate global financial markets at will, and they use Israel as a diseased bacillus in the heart of Islam that continually infests, divides, and humiliates Muslim leaders and populations everywhere . . . even half-way around the world.
More contagious and virulent in some Muslim countries than in others, this rabid psychic syndrome of unhinged mental bewilderment, conspiratorial fantasies, and harsh rankling passions that burn away --- at any rate, until they erupt openly --- is widely diffused even in half-western countries like Turkey, Tunisia, and the tiny Persian Gulf states. There are no exceptions.
Everywhere you look in Islam, this uncaged ding-a-ling mentality has generated an endemic of raw and painful identity-crises
that has been festering and eating away at Muslim life without respite for decades now.
Uh oh! Did We Just Say "For Decades?"
No, that's not fully accurate. As you'll see in a few moments, this rabid, half-loony psychological syndrome has been "centuries-in-the-making" . . . even if it's only in the last few decades it's become raw and rippling virtually everywhere in the Muslim world.
To clarify quickly: the causes of this fast, headlong spread in Islam of mental derangement and fury from the 1960s on turn out to be all of a piece . . . a relentlessly disruptive swarm of economic, cultural, and media-infested globalizing forces that have jolted, jarred, and cumulatively dislocated traditional Islamic societies everywhere with turbulent, non-stop intensity for over four decades now.
The more that these high-jolting forces have gained momentum since the early 1960s --- think here of the implacable expansion of market capitalism, tourism, American movies, TV, music, fashions, advertising, sports, and the Internet --- the further they've penetrated into every nook-and-cranny of formerly traditional Muslim societies. Even the most insulated of these societies is fully exposed these days to the allurements and revulsions that this ferment of jarring alien intrusions carries with it . . . both for individual Muslims and their collectivities, whether family-clan, tribal-clan, Islamic sect, or corrupt patron-client networks.
Nor Is That All
An even greater mass of dislocating jolts for true-believing Muslims has been the tumult of radical social and cultural changes
that first emerged in the US and West Europe during the 1960s, such as feminist movements, the so-called sexual revolution, environmental movements, gay liberation, a moneyed, anti-traditional youth-culture, and omnipresent challenges to traditional authority of almost every sort.
Their jarring, image-transmitted shocks on traditional Islamic societies can't be exaggerated. Over and again, thanks to 24-hour Satellite TV, CNN news, the Internet, and other image-blasted influences, these disruptive, thoroughly alien forces have penetrated into every nook-and-cranny of slow-changing, maladaptive Muslim countries and eaten away at age-old Islamic beliefs, moral strictures, and local customs.
One clear sign of the upheaval: the Sexual Revolution might be jammed up in Islamic societies --- but Muslims are the world's champion users of Internet pornography.
No area of traditional Muslim life, to clarify, has been more challenged and disrupted than sexual and family matters . . . including the jolting shocks to the age-old subjugation of women. Day-in, day-out, the certitudes of Islam in these very personal matters --- shot through with rigid rules and customs everywhere despite some variations across countries --- are assaulted by the encroaching media of the Western world . . . above all, American in origin. In films, on satellite TV, and on the Internet, Muslim youth are immersed willingly --- by gung-ho choice --- in American and European imagery and music full of pre-marital sex, pornography, growing feminist influences and challenges to male chauvinism, and the related dream-laden images of a loose, freewheeling way of life that has no counterpart in the Islamic countries except in certain cosmopolitan cities like Cairo or Beirut.
What Follows in Direct Consequence?
Well, you hardly have to be well-grounded in psycho-dynamic theory to understand how this high-energy repression of normal human urges --- above all, sexual --- eats away at the emotional lives of young people and makes the men particularly prone to raw, fantasy-laden outlets: aggressive, and full of resentment towards women, the unattainable object of desire who constantly tempt them and who must be fought off. Sexual activity for the unmarried, remember, isn't just sinful in Islamic countries. As others have noted, it's a criminal offense even if the degree of punishment will vary across those countries. Little wonder, in sexually repressed societies that prevail in Islam, that 6 of the 10 countries whose populations lead the world in accessing Internet porno
sites are Islamic, with a 7th --- India --- having the third largest Muslim population world-wide, topped only by Indonesia and Pakistan
Enter the wider outcome for the young in Muslim societies, especially for men --- keeping in mind that a good half of the world's total Muslim population is now under the age of 16!
Yes, believe it or not, more than 50% of Muslims are younger than 16. The outcome that ensues should be self-evident. Take perennially high unemployment levels among teeming multitudes of young men with no future, add in massive sexual repression and a inflamed sense of humiliation and anger, and you have a volatile, half-crazy mixture of crackling mental disorder marked by rage, resentment, and disruptive confusion that seeks out enemies to make sense of a turbulent, hard-to-understand world among the rapidly swelling populations of Muslims around the world. Not surprisingly, large numbers of them hunger desperately for new meaning, order, and purpose in life, filled with pride. And find it in radical Islamist movements of a jihadi sort.
The Tumultuous Upheavals of Modernizing Forces in a Relentlessly Globalizing Age Felt Everywhere
Muslim societies, note quickly, haven't been the only ones jolted with one dynamic, shock after another. Whether traditional or modern, all societies around the world have been faced with these kinetically charged challenges to inherited mentalities, customs, and expectations in all areas of individual and collective life. That's true even of West Europe and the English-speaking countries as well as Japan.
Forget these flexible, adaptable advance countries though. They're not a good point of comparison. Focus instead on traditional developing countries. When you do, you find it's no secret that the most inflexible and maladaptive are those in the Muslim world.
Consider the concret record. Formerly insulated Communist countries like Russia and China have opened up to globalizing forces, material and otherwise, with alacrity despite all the disruptions such openness entails. So have Catholic Latin America, Hindu India, and virtually all of Christian Tropical Africa. Not so Muslim populations. With some variations, all their societies remain maladaptive and, worse yet, have turned out to be cleaved culturally and religiously --- and yes, collectively and individually as well --- by the driving, non-stop thrusts of these ungluing challenges posed by modernity and globalization . . . the latter, note quickly, only the latest stage of revolutionary changes at work in the world since the end of the Middle Ages.
Oh, One Other Thing --- Military in Nature --- Has Also Battered Away at Inherited Muslim Beliefs, Pride, and Certitudes with Rankling Impact
As disruptive and mentally disorienting as the tumult of these outwardly generated changes in Muslim societies has been, nothing has driven home to Muslims world-wide just how weak and backward their countries have become than constant military defeat since 1918 . . . first for the once mighty Ottoman empire, than three times after 1949 for Pakistan at Indian hands, twice for Saddamite Iraq, and above all --- the most rankling and bewildering of all, and the most resented --- in several wars with tiny Israel for almost 60 years now.
Islam, remember here, was always linked from the outset of its birth in the 7th century to a series of powerful, aggressive, and conquering states: the Arabs, the Ottomans, the Tatars in Russia, and the Moguls in India and elsewhere, resulting in wave after wave of imperial expansion. All that has drastically changed in the modern world, and the lost wars with Israel --- a tiny country of 5 million Jews, and only 1.2 million back in 1948 when 7 Arab countries invaded the new state and were quickly and shockingly defeated --- have forced Muslims, with dismay and disbelief, to recognize for decades now just how militarily weak, technologically backward, and lacking in diplomatic clout and prestige the Muslim countries of the world happen to be . . . irrespective of vast oil-riches and the lavish rentier incomes they provide to the corrupt, high-living dictators in several Islamic countries.
The Rife Shame, Humiliation, and Wild Conspiratorial Lunacies in Islam
Illustrated with Some Striking Evidence
Malaysia's Mahathir at the Islamic Summit Conference of 2003
For all the stubborn institutional and mental resistances they've encountered in Muslim societies, the combined effects of these endlessly jolting changes, challenges, and maladaptive failures have managed nonetheless to batter, crack, and erode with high-pounding force both Islamic and local cultural traditions. In the wake, there have been constant blows to Muslim self-confidence, pride, and a touchy, volatile sense of honor . . . Muslims almost everywhere, don't forget, still living in shame-and-honor societies. In their place, the psychic swirl of high-pounding confusion, uncertainty, shame, and angry urges for revenge that we described a few moments ago now prevails.
As some striking hard evidence here, note what happened at the Islamic Summit Conference held in Malaysia back in late 2003. In his host role, a manipulative gentleman to the last, Mahathir Mohamad --- the semi-dictator of Malaysia itself --- said this about the rabid, high-charged sense of humiliation that infests the Islamic world these days:
"I will not enumerate the instances of our humiliation," Mr. Mahathir said. "We are all Muslims. We are all oppressed. We are all being humiliated. . . . Today we, the whole Muslim [community], are treated with contempt and dishonor. . . . There is a feeling of hopelessness among the Muslim countries and their people. They feel that they can do nothing right . . .
"Our only reaction is to become more and more angry. Angry people cannot think properly."
Two and a half years later, so Mahathir noted ruefully, nothing in the Islamic world had changed. Muslim countries were, if anything, more backward and humiliated than ever:
It is,therefore, not surprising that today the world associates Islam with backwardness. This angers us Muslims. But the fact is that we are backward. We are almost totally dependent upon others for almost all our needs in life. Even in the extraction of the wealth and resources that Allah has blessed us with, we depend on others. The whole Muslim Ummah of 1.5 billion is one huge consumer society, procuring all our needs from outside our community, including our defense and security requirements.
We produce practically nothing on our own, we can do almost nothing for ourselves, we cannot even manage our wealth. We hire other people to do everything for us. When doing this we seem not to have faith in Muslim ability or qualifications.
Which Groups in Islam Are Most Prone to the Rampant Identity-Crises That Have Followed from Muslim Failures to Cope Effectively with the Hard-Pounding Impact of Modernity and Globalizing Thrusts?
Four groups in Islam's huge global population --- about 1.3 billion (vs. about 2.2 billion Christians, 1 billion Hindus, and 1.5 billion Confucian-influenced people in China, South Korea, and Vietnam) --- have been particularly vulnerable to this psychic disarray.
One is the majority of poor, largely illiterate (or semi-literate) Muslim masses. A second has been the Muslim clergy, increasingly shocked and left in dismay and disgust with all the disruptive changes in their flocks that they see everywhere. The third involves swarms of journalists, writers, educators, students, and media-types living, with mixed prospects at best --- and in any case, always with a sizzle of shame and humiliation --- in their backward dictator-run countries.
The Remaining Group
As for the fourth vulnerable group, it's been the most surprising of all --- at any rate to the fellow citizens of their Muslim countrymen.
Enter center-stage the increasingly young 2nd and 3rd generations of Islamic immigrants living in West Europe and Canada, torn between the traditional customs and beliefs of their parents and the secular enticements of their surrounding societies . . . even as few of them are anchored firmly in those societies by normal means: educational success, promising jobs, the creation of small start-up firms, shared military life, and participation in a wide range of voluntary, non-Muslim groups. Simultaneously, for all the multicultural pap that passes for brain-storm stuff in the EU and Canadian pc-dominated media and political chit-chat, they're aware that they are regarded with suspicion and prejudice by their European and Canadian neighbors.
Small wonder that they feel alienated --- lacking a firm sense of meaning and purpose in life, at any rate in the secular, increasingly post-modern cultures and social life of West Europe and Canada. And, consequently, see new meaning and purpose in the thrills of street-crime, extremist Islam, and support for jihadi terrorist activities.
A Key Matter Intrudes
You follow? You're with prof bug up to this point in the argument? Good, let's assume so anyway.
Shift your mind now to ponder a crux issue that, so far, has hovered in the argument's shadows and has to be brought out now into the glare of analytical illumination. Once it's lit up and clarified fully, it goes a long way to account for the current mental and emotional disarray sizzling in the Islamic world. That issue? Simply this: Why have Muslim societies had so much trouble in adapting, mentally and otherwise, to the modern world?
MUSLIM FAILURES IN MODERNIZING, PAST AND PRESENT
In an interview, Mohamad ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discusses military escalation in Lebanon, waiting on Iran, India's gift and North Korea's persistent defiance:
SPIEGEL: Mr. ElBaradei, as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, how can you contribute to ending the conflicts in the Middle East?
ElBaradei: I can't remember the last time I felt that the situation in the region was so ominous. The people in the Middle East believe that their lives aren't worth much to the rest of the world, that it sees civilian victims as collateral damage. The security system in the region has collapsed. Governments have no control over the militias that are committing acts of violence upon their territory. Everywhere I look I see anger, frustration and humiliation.
To Explain Muslim Failures in Modernizing, Start with a General Observation
All societies in the world, however traditional or advanced economically and technologically they might be, have been battered and challenged by these recent, dislocating forces of up-to-date modernity and globalization . . . the US itself no exception. What matters is their adaptability. The more flexible their cultures and institutional structures, the more readily they've been able to assimilate the disruptive challenges and changes and turn them to advantage.
With some local variations, Islamic countries are at the opposite end of the spectrum of such flexibility.
One and all, their mentalities, customs, shared expectations, and institutional structures --- including family life, sexual-relations, traditionally unquestioned male dominance, and not least, emotional, self-confident pride and certitude regarding Islam's truths, destiny, and inevitable triumph world-wide --- have proved to be largely rigid and unable to cope effectively with the harsh, disorderly challenges of modernity and globalization. In blunt terms, they are largely failed societies . . . and what's more, not just during the last four decades, but for centuries now..
Neither modernity nor globalization is a new, powerful force of disruptive and bewildering change in the world, far from it. We said that before, and it needs to be repeated. The powerful, always disorderly changes that they entail have been centuries in the making--- and what we call globalization today, remember, is really only a fairly new term for an age-old phenomenon . . . the latest phase of such epochal, world-historical upheaval that goes back to the 16th century or so, but has accelerated with explosive speed since the 1960s because of a mass of revolutionary changes in the technologies of communication, information, and transportation. .
No matter. Stay fixed on our central concern.
The key point to note here is that no Islamic society has yet to modernize effectively . . . and not, mind you, just compared to Europe or Japan or the English-speaking democracies, but compared to Hindu India, Thailand, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Chile, Israel, Mexico, Uruguay, the Philippines, Costa Rica, or the enter southern half of Brazil.
True enough, the pervasive failures of Islamic societies vary in degree. There's been some industrial and technological progress --- along with some indispensable mental adjustments --- made in secular Turkey, tiny Tunisia, fairly tiny Malaysia (with its large Chinese minority), and tiny and half-Christian Lebanon; but that's it . . . no more than 7% % of the total 1.3 billion Muslims scattered over more than 60 countries around the world. Not one of these four countries, in any case, is fully industrialized, technologically innovative, or wealthy in per capita income terms. Turkey, for instance --- despite a modernizing revolution that dates back to the 1920s --- is about 25% poorer than Mexico, itself undergoing a similar, much bloodier revolution roughly in the same period.
What Really Underlies These Psychic Reactions?
Prime Minister Mahathir Again
In the upshot of these strung-out failures in the Muslim world, that sense of gnawing dismay, shame, and humiliation that we analyzed earlier --- full of resentment and conspiratorial blame-shifting and scapegoated villains --- exists almost everywhere in the Islamic world these days: witness the cuckoo conspiratorial image invoked by the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at the 2003 Islamic Summit Conference of 2003. We quoted his jubilantly received harangue earlier, remember. Recall in particular how, so he claimed, the humiliated and oppressed Muslim peoples were victimized by the world's Jews, those thinking, calculating manipulators of Islam's fate. Oh, wait! Come to think of it, prof bug didn't trot out that part of his speech yet. He was saving it for later, you see; and since later has arrived, time now to run it before you:
Start by noting how the earlier parts of Mahathir's speech went:
"I will not enumerate the instances of our humiliation. We are all Muslims. We are all oppressed. We are all being humiliated. . . . Today we, the whole Muslim [community], are treated with contempt and dishonor. . . . There is a feeling of hopelessness among the Muslim countries and their people. They feel that they can do nothing right . . .
"Our only reaction is to become more and more angry. Angry people cannot think properly."
Enter now, in Mahathir's view, the causes of this blazing sense of shame and enraged humiliation over the oppression and sense of hopelessness rampant in Islam. According to him, the poor Muslims --- all 1.3 billion of them world-wide, living in 57 Muslim-majority countries (many oil rich) --- couldn't compete with Islam's alleged chief adversary, 15 million Jews, their arrogant all-powerful enemy and apparent tormentors. "We are," he said,
"Up against a people who think. They survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.
"We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also."
Back to the question posed in the section-heading here. Leave aside the bughouse conspiratorial fantasies, even if they do say something profound and revealing about the all-pervasive blame-shifting and tendencies toward crude scapegoating in the Islamic world. Instead, ask again . . .
What Really Ails the Muslim Peoples of the World?
Well, the shame and humiliation at Islamic weakness, backward conditions, and repeated military loss are real enough --- harshly painful too. So are the blame-shifting, conspiratorial fantasies, on-boil resentments, and frazzling urges for revenge. But these, note carefully, are the observed, vocally expressed psychic reactions to Islamic failures . . . not the actual causes of the mental malaise pervasive in Islam. In the terminology of public-opinion specialists, we're tapping emotionally charged attitudes and not necessarily core beliefs and other deep-laid psychic phenomena.
The mainspring of that mental malaise lies deeper still. Tersely put, what really ails the Muslim populations of the world --- no longer insulated from their countries' backwardness, something impossible in the age of Satellite TV and the Internet --- isn't just a sense of failure and humiliation, harshly painful as that forced recognition happens to be, but something more basic and far more painful still: gnawing identity-crises . . . both individual and collective, the two hard to separate in traditional Muslim societies for 90% of their history.
For well over a millennium, to clarify rapidly, Islam's power, its imperial expansion, its global prestige, and most of all its related religious truths and customs were well-anchored in Muslim pride and Muslim mentalities. In the process, they produced an inherited and unquestioned sense of meaning and purpose in life, both here on earth and after death. Simultaneously, they entailed minute customs and rules of daily life that further anchored a secure sense of both individual and collective identity
And yet, no longer; and not for decades and generations now. The gut-level outcome?
Just This: Islamic Beliefs, Traditions, and Expectations Have Been Jolted and Enfeebled, But No New and Satisfying Institutional Structures and Modern Ways of Life Have Emerged
As the failures of traditional Muslim societies to grapple effectively with the powerful, irreversible forces of modernity have piled up alongside the erosion of more and more Muslim traditions and local customs, their identity-crises have multiplied and grown more acute.
Small wonder. Ponder here the long list of mental and institution disarray that the forces of modernity and fast-paced globalization have left on the landscape of Muslim societies. The relations between the sexes have been jarred and jolted, just as traditional male dominance in the family has. The pervasive, unquestioned certitude in the credos and legal customs of Islam has itself been shaken --- and especially the related expectations about Islam's triumphant global destiny. Traditional social, economic, and political hierarchies have been shown to be largely ineffectual in doing anything but maintaining themselves in power and enriching their top-dog leaders. Religious education has proved inept in dealing with modern life; few Muslim societies can even boast of a sound basic educational system, let alone universities like those in Hindu India. Simultaneously --- the key point here --- even as all these inherited, hand-me-down social, cultural, and political traditions and institutions have been battered and eroded and found to be largely dysfunctional and rigidly inflexible, few modern, widely accepted institutions, customs, and modes of life have emerged to re-anchor the psychically dislocated Muslim populations and engender new intellectual and emotionally satisfying sources of hope and optimism for the average Muslim .
The Pivotal Outcome
Rampant, ever sharper identity-crises infest almost all the Islamic world . . . a psychic complex of mental bewilderment, emotional distress, and a constant if never-ending search for new and firm anchoring, purpose, and meaning in life, both individual and collective.
True, identity-crises and the related distress and fears that the world no longer makes sense aren't unique to Islam, far from it. They have afflicted most traditional societies battered by the combined forces of modernity and globalization, starting in Europe itself from the late Middle Ages on. These days, however, the intellectual and emotional upheavals are far more rife in Islam than elsewhere --- that constant source of confusion, shame, humiliation, and angry resentment, along with the blame-shifting that they entail. To acknowledge that the blame lies in themselves --- or more accurately in Islamic beliefs, customs, and other inherited rules-of-behavior --- would be far too painful and unhinging. There is little in Islamic traditions to encourage such candid introspection.
Whatever, these outwardly expressed sentiments and paranoid fantasies reflect a steady decline that has been centuries in the making and, more recently, failure after failure in coping with the jolting turbulent ferment of modernizing change.
As a Starting Point of Our Analysis, Return to the Chronology of These Identity-Crises Currently Rife in Islam
By now, it should be clear to everyone: the rife, failed confrontations in Islam with the ever more powerful forces of modernity didn't start in 1970, and neither did the psychic dislocations that we've been analyzing for several minutes now.
The Lengthy Ups and Sharp Downs of Islamic Power and Awe Briefly Traced
Over its first 1000 years, Islam was an aggressive, globally expanding power that spread over several waves of imperial conquest: first by the Arabs in the formerly Christian Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and parts of Italy, not to forget their quick conquest of the Persian Empire early on too. Then, as Arab power waned from the 12th century on, by the conquests of newer Muslim powers --- specifically, by the military triumphs over
-- Christian Russia by the Tatars (Turkish-Mongolian peoples converted to Islam) in the 12th century;
-- the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century by the Ottoman Turks, followed by their swift conquest of the Balkans, Hungary, and parts of Russia;
-- and Hindu India by the Moguls in the 16th century . . . followed by a larger eastward spread of Islam across Southeast Asia carried out by Islamic soldiers, sailors, missionaries, and traders
By roughly 1700, when the Turks were finally defeated once and for all at their siege of Vienna and Ottoman power began to shrink without let-up in Europe thereafter, almost all the world had been conquered by Islam except for Northern Europe, the Americas, China, and the southern areas of Africa.
The mental consequences here?
Intellectually and emotionally, thanks to Islamic military triumphs, conquests, and imperial rule, the prevalent mind-set in the Islamic world down to roughly 1700 was marked by pride, certitude, and unshakeable faith that Islam will triumph globally and vindicate the true-believers' hopes and credos that it is the one true religion. None of that is on display in Islam any longer, just the opposite. What prevails is a volatile mental complex of slow-burn bafflement at Islamic backwardness, fast-burn shame and humiliation that Muslim countries are so weak and lack prestige, and in consequence crackling, wall-to-wall resentments and rage. Worse of all, the certitudes and comfort that Islam once provided the faithful have themselves been badly shaken.
Islamic Decline: The World Suddenly Makes No Sense
As it happens, 1700 is a good point to mark the abrupt, unhinging changes that then quickly overran the Islamic world: a sharp, unremitting plunge in wealth, knowledge, power, and prestige . . . with, over time, equally dislocating mental changes of dismay and distress. Enter the chief cause of this non-stop relative decline. We mentioned it, recall, a few moments ago: an equally sharp and unremitting failure everywhere in Islam --- even if more blatant in some Muslim societies than elsewhere --- to develop modern, industrial societies.
For a good three centuries now, recall, there's been little impressive military power anywhere in Islam, no noticeable wealth other than oil resources in a few countries, no technological creativity, no scientific innovation, no prestige, little diplomatic influence, and no prestige or awe whatsoever. Even a tiny country of 5 million Jews --- a formerly despised dhimmi people who were tolerated in Islamic societies only if they were carefully differential and paid their special taxes as subject and inferior people --- has been able, again and again, to defeat far greater Arab countries and terrorist movements for 60 years now. The current Israeli war with Hezbollah, championed by Syria and of course Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran --- Ahmadinejad the latest Muslim-Supermen who will reverse Islam's weakness, backwardness, and decline, or so it's hoped --- will very likely not turn out differently, just the opposite. In the upshot, the mental habits of Muslims world-wide have been constantly jarred and dislocated.
As a further upshot, there's little or no pride that Muslims can muster about Islam or their countries . . . never mind any unshakeable belief, once underpinned by concrete successes, that Islam has been blessed by Allah to rule the world.
And that jarring realization, together with the further recognition --- rammed home daily, around-the-clock --- that Islamic failures continue to pile up with relentless intensity, and in all domains.
Why Such Pervasive Islamic Failures to Deal Effectively with the Unrelenting and Disruptive Forces of Modernity and Globalization?
This, needless to say, is a crux matter of interest. And even though it's also a vast and complex matter, the main outlines of an answer are fairly easy to sketch in quickly.
The Mental and Institutional Changes Needed for Effective Modernization
To emerge successfully amid all the challenges and dislocations of turbulent modernization, rich, dynamic societies require constant cultural, social, and mental changes and adaptations. The same is no less true of their key institutions --- economic, financial, political, administrative, legal, educational, and professional. In particular,
1. Their populations have to adjust old customs, beliefs, social hierarchies, and political rule to the tumultuous, non-stop forces of industrialization, market capitalism, revolutionary technologies, urbanization, drastic changes in work-habits, and a mushrooming scientific understanding of the world. They require flexible, mobile individuals; disciplined approaches to learning and work --- itself a matter of continual learning-on-the-job; modern, secular education and openness to new ideas; a rule of law; and new hierarchies based on professional performance and promise, not traditional patron-client networks and rewards and promotion on the basis of mutual back-scratching. They also require lots of ongoing business start-ups . . . small and large, though even giants like Toyota and Microsoft and Intel and WalMart and MacDonald's started out small and snowballed into giants only after time and early success.
2. They also require something else. In particular --- to judge by the failure of any non-democratic society anywhere to ever become fully innovative, rich, and powerful, or to survive major wars with democratic great-powers --- fully successful modern societies require solid democratic institutions: political rule that is responsive to popular will, transparent, and accountable.
3. In turn, for a solid, transparent, and accountable democracy to prevail, the indispensable pre-condition is a flourishing civil society --- market economies, independent business enterprises, a free media, independent, self-governing professional associations, independent courts, effective mass-parties, independent universities, free trade unions, and an array of voluntary associations of cause- and interest groups. What holds them all together, even in a huge diverse country like the USA, is a strong sense of shared citizenship and patriotism as well as a firm sense of individual identification with its national destiny.
4. No substitute for capitalist markets exists --- whether dominantly statist of a fascist, communist, Arab-socialist, Latin American populist, or what have you. Each and every one is doomed sooner or later to stifle innovation, creativity, and sustained efficient business performance, while generating bloated elephantine bureaucracies, red-tape, corruption, and an endless piling up of market inefficiencies. There can, it's true, be different varieties of successful market capitalism: the relatively free-markets of the US and the English-speaking countries; the more state-guided, high-tax, regulated economies of the EU; and the Japanese variant of the latter that kept taxes low, but encouraged industrial targeting and cartel-like giant corporations.
For what it's worth, though, we now know conclusively that the Anglo-American pattern is far more creative and able to sustain dynamic innovation in all directions than the EU or Japanese equivalent. For what it's worth, come to that, the buggy prof has devoted about a dozen articles over the last two years to this topic.
5. Educational institutions are never perfect. No one advanced country has a monopoly of the most successful. All the same, what all the more creative countries do enjoy here --- in science, technology, finance, politics, and the whole array of artistic and cultural life --- are schools and universities that encourage hard work, the ability to think on your own (within reason), and flexible personalities to the extent that education can influence them at all. And, contrary to the assumptions that seem to prevail even in parts of West Europe and Japan these days, learning is a life-time matter and requires not just constant learning-on-the-job but very often --- even in the military --- periodic returns to higher education of various sorts.
6. In all collective areas of national life, promotion up a professional ladder must be based on performance and achievement --- not family connections and by means of patron-client networks based on mutual back-scratching. The more promotion meets this standard, the more talented people will be in positions of authority, respect, and decision-making. Again, this is at the extreme a perfectionist ideal, but also again the more successful countries approximate it.
7. Similarly and finally, risk-taking of all sorts --- in the business world, in scientific research, in technological R&D, and at times in foreign and security policies --- has to be encouraged, not (as it still is largely in way too much of West Europe and Japan, despite some recent and promising changes) unduly punished. People need to dream. They need to be encouraged to act on those dreams. And set-backs and failures are inevitable for most of us.
Oppositely, successful risk-taking needs to be generously rewarded as part of an efficient incentive-system.
8. Rich industrial countries are that way because they enjoy all these institutional and mental benefits, and more specifically because:
- they have invested massive sums of money in material and human capital, and have done so efficiently, for generations or more.
- they have instituted relatively effective governmental policies that foster change, innovation, technological progress, start-up businesses, and a competitive atmosphere that offsets tendencies toward inefficient or complacent behavior. International competition is one of the most potent ways to encourage efficient business performance, whether in the industrial, agricultural, or service sectors of the economy.
- they have enjoyed fairly flexible labor and product markets. The latter means that no successful giant business corporation can be assured of staying in business, let alone go on making endless profits, in the face of easy entrance into their markets and over time suffer either sharp decline or bankruptcy. Thus 75% of the giant firms in the Fortune 500 top corporations by the late 1990s in the US didn't even exist 25 years earlier.
- And their institutions --- legal and administrative as well as corporate and financial --- have, despite all the incentives to the contrary, been able to sustain laws and norms against corruption and other forms of predatory behavior with decent success.
Islam's Near-Universal Failures on These Scores
- With these conditions met, what will drive any national economy toward ever greater wealth is technological creativity and innovation, plus risk-taking by entrepreneurs who come out of nowhere and act on their dreams of success, riches, and fame.
Nowhere in Islam has any country been able to make this transition, whether to an industrial society or the creation of a vigorous civil society, let alone create a rule-of-law and solid and accountable democratic rule. Not yet; and maybe for a long long time into the future.
The chief reasons actually aren't hard to isolate.
1. In the advanced industrial countries, individuals have to be flexible and assume a variety of different identities, some of them discordant, depending on the situation and the persons you're interacting with: spouses and parents in families; friends; professionals or workers to earn-a-living; members of local communities, citizens of a nation; religious devotees or secularists; active members of professional associations, trade unions, and cause-groups; active political partisans; active sports enthusiasts, and what-have-you. These different roles not only are often discordant, they all require agility and compromise. The same is true of the decline and almost total absence of notions of shame and honor attached to clans, tribal-clans, religious groups, or wider communities . . . all signs of backward, custom-bound societies, and nowhere more prevalent still than in the Arab world and most of Islam elsewhere. What, in the end, links 300 million Americans is an intensely shared sense of citizenship and patriotism as an overarching common identity . . . that, and the use of the English-language and pride in American life.
Most Muslims, by contrast, don't understand such flexibility and the inevitable nature of multiple identities that require the constant compromise of basic principles and codes of behavior according to specific situations and the various people you interact with. A certain fatalism --- as Allah wishes, Allah will protect us
--- seems built into Islam to degrees not found in Protestant Christianity (or these days, Catholicism in Europe and North America), Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or whatever religious character you might assign to Japan.
2. Nor do Muslims share an intense and common national citizenship as a unifying identity, as opposed to their fragmentation in each of the dozens of Muslim-majority countries they live in into clan, tribal-clan, and sectarian differences . . . a matter brought out strikingly in the Pew Global Attitudes Study for 2006:
PART THREE :
TIME NOW FOR THE DISLOCATING, EMOTIONALLY CHARGED MENTAL DISARRAY RIFE IN ISLAM TO BE CLARIFIED WITH CONCRETE EVIDENCE
Four Component Parts
Against this historical background --- Islam's long global expansion from the 7th through the 17th century and its increasing decline in relative power and prestige since 1700 --- we need to sift out and examine the trio of mental, emotionally charged responses
that prevail these days among the Muslim masses world-wide. Together, these gnawing half-crazed passions and the garbled and fatuous understanding of the world form a widely shared intellectual mind-set --- shot through with conspiratorial mumbo-jumbo and jarring urges for revenge --- that passes for commonplaces in the Arab street and its ignorant and volatile counterparts elsewhere in Islam.
Strip away the psychological ornament of this volatile mind-set, and you get essentially a quartet of core components:
A rankling sense of shame, humiliation, and angry resentments over Islamic backward conditions, military and diplomatic weakness, and lack of prestige pervades virtually all of Islam. For decades now, thanks to the ever greater intrusions into Islamic societies of relentless globalizing forces --- especially 24-hour TV and other media forms --- these unhinging circumstances have been rammed into Muslim outlooks with a non-stop crackle of pained bewilderment and emotionally dislocating imagery.
In shame-honor societies of the sort that mark all Muslim countries, it's virtually impossible to acknowledge that the problems for Islamic weakness and failures derive directly from rigid Islamic traditions and local customs, both of which combine with equally rigid, largely closed patron-client networks to produce societies that are shot through with dysfunctional institutions and cultural inflexibility.
To own up to these responsibilities, you see, is to acknowledge a sense of worthless personal shame and dishonor and call directly into question a crux Islamic credo --- inherent in Muslim history and its long triumphant military conquests and rule over others until 1700 or so --- that Islam is destined by Allah to triumph everywhere, no exceptions. Not only would it be intolerable for Muslims in vast numbers to accept such an oppressive burden of shame and dishonor, it would also be equivalent in their minds to renouncing Islamic certitudes . . . a self-critical outlook virtually impossible to find in Islamic countries (with some variation), except in two circles: (i.) radical Islamist movements that trace back the teeming multitudes of problems in their societies to insufficient religious orthodoxy, rigor, and devotion; and (ii.) a few western-oriented intellectuals and journalists who are self-critical but have been largely intimidated, shut-up, killed-off, or forced into exile by Muslim fanatics or the dictators-in-control and their secret-police.
Overwhelmingly, blame-shifting and scapegoating.
In particular, the vast majority of Muslims world-wide blame others for Islam's blatant economic, technological, and military backwardness . . . especially the evil infidels in America, Europe, Russia, and India, all of whom, somehow, are controlled by Jews. . . always depicted in lurid, conspiratorial ways indistinguishable from Nazi propaganda, and against whom vengeance must be wreaked if Islam's puny status and economy backwardness are to be overcome. Jewish control is seen as both direct and indirect . . . the latter through dominance of the US and its vassal allies in Europe and the Muslim world.
Most Muslims look to some Islamic Strongman-Hero to arise somewhere --- anywhere
! --- who promises, like Saladin a millennium earlier, to carry out this vengeance: to slay the infidels, destroy the Jews, and restore instantly, as if by magic, Islamic power, wealth, and prestige in the world. Ahmadinejad is only the latest in a long list of such bogus, plaster-of-Paris Islamic-Supermen, though Sheik Hassan Nasrallah may, temporarily anyway, have replaced him as the No. 1 on the Hit-Parade of Swaggering Militarist Saviors in the Islamic world.
With the failure of these earlier Strongmen-Saviors --- all of whom brought only catastrophes to their countries --- Muslims since 9/11 have in large number shifted their idolizing views to the Kabooming Superstar-Jihadists in al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, not to forget their spin-offs and imitators world-wide. Despite what apologists claim, Islamic traditions endorse such violent jihad.
Right now, Ahmadinejad is these terrorist groups' only rival, and he hopes, of course, to herd them together and become their Big Brother-Shepherd . . . the best way he knows, it seems, of hastening the Hidden-Imam Spook to come rocketing out of his bottom-of-the-well hideout near Qum and --- while gyrating with ghostly skill in mid-air --- still manage to mastermind the Armageddon Struggle-to-the-Death with evil infidels and sinful Muslims, with the former killed off and the latter forced to repent.
There is, though, one encouraging trend on this fourth count. Though Muslims world-wide seem overwhelming indifferent to Muslim slaughter on a vast scale of infidels as in the Sudan or by means of terrorist attacks --- indifferent, too, to home-grown massacres such as those inflicted for decades on their fellow-citizens by cruel, arrogant dictators like Saddam Hussein or Hafiz Assad in Syria or the Taliban in Afghanistan --- they do seem to draw the line at radical Islamist terrorists kabooming large numbers of Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
Starting in 2005, as a result, public opinion surveys started to find a growing decline in support for bin Laden and others of his ilk and even fear of Islamist radicalism in Muslim countries.
Enter the Concrete Evidence for Each of These Three Component Strands That Comprise the Psychic Pathologies That Mark the Widely Shared Mind-Set in the Islamic World
THE REST OF THE ANALYSIS WILL BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT BUGGY ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES ON IRAN, ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAMS, AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF SUBJECTING A TERROR STATE LIKE IRAN TO SUCCESSFUL DETERRENCE (Santa Barbara, July 31st, 2006)