Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What Went Wrong?

A Jordanian journalist, writer, and political analyst named Jihad Al-Mansi wrote a piece in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad in which he places the blame for the tragic backwardness of Arab societies - a backwardness which places them at the bottom of global rankings in science, culture, human and women's rights, and the war on corruption - squarely on the shoulders of his fellow Arabs. He adds that the Arab world lags behind the rest of the quickly advancing world which "has overtaken us by centuries, perhaps millennia."

An interesting aspect of his essay is that Arab backwardness is often attributed to Western colonialism and imperialism by Western liberals and by Arabs to insidious Jewish plots, but Al-Mansi will have none of that. He calls on his fellow Arabs to wake up, take responsibility for their situation and stop blaming others for their problems. Moreover, he urges contemporary Arabs to invest their financial and human resources in advancing future generations, because it is no longer possible to do much to improve the situation of the current generation.

Memri provides some excerpts from Al-Mansi's article:
The world is developing, in the philosophical, scientific, social, creative, educational, and cultural sense; it is on the verge of breaking free of backward gender-driven thinking...

This is taking place in countries far from our Arab region. There, they are developing scientifically and culturally, competing for the top position in all human indices. At the same time, we, in this region of the world, remain at the bottom of these indices – and some of our countries are absent from them altogether.

The Nobel laureates in peace, medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, and literature include people from all [countries] – but we Arabs are rarely among them, and for the most part sit in the audience [during the awards ceremonies] or watch them on TV...

Our only way of consoling ourselves is to reminisce and to recall [great Muslims of the past]. We do so in disregard of the fact that most of these people, in whom we take pride for human and cultural reasons, were not Arab, and most of them were stoned [to death] or imprisoned, and some had their books burned or were accused of heresy...

Our problem does not end at [our failure to win] a Nobel Prize. It is manifested much more in the fact that we hold no respectable position on any index or metric concerning freedom of thought, human rights, media, gender, environment, water, or war on corruption; our countries often come last in every field.

When we participate in the Olympic Games, our countries promote the motto 'honor for [merely] participating.' When we want to try for an Olympic medal, our solution is to grant citizenship to [foreign] athletes to do so. We are not among those on the winner's podium – and if we are, our representation is miniscule. We celebrate every gold medal won by a Comoro Islander as if he had liberated Jerusalem. Kenya, Guinea, or Sierra Leone have medaled 10 times and aim for more – while we and our 22 countries rejoice at [winning] just one. This is despite the fact that the income of some of our countries, and maybe all of them, surpasses that of Kenya, Sierra Leone, and others. But [our] billions in income are squandered on purchasing [sporting] clubs, as we refrain from investing in [our own] human, ideological, and athletic resources.

We are regressing, instead of progressing, in all fields: We fail in sports; we have no presence in the arts; politically, we execute the agendas of the superpowers and major enterprises, like pawns that move when expected and remain silent when demanded to do so. Economically, we are not welfare states; ideologically, we are influenced, not influencers; with regard to humanity, we reject the other rather than accept him. We accuse anyone who disagrees with us of being an infidel, and think that we're always right and the world is conspiring against us, never asking ourselves the logical question: Why would the world do this, when we are of no consequence in global, cultural, and human enterprise? We avoid the real answer, and cannot acknowledge that it is we who conspire against ourselves, killing each other and shedding each other's blood on pretexts based on a legacy that is 1,500 years old, more or less, [pretexts] that are intended to sow ethnic and religious conflicts among the streams and sects...

Gentlemen, our car is in reverse, and is not moving forward – as the world has overtaken us by centuries, perhaps millennia. We have missed the boat for this generation, and it is beyond rectifying. Will we wake up and invest our financial and human resources to help the coming generations? Will we?
Jihad Al-Mansi
Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, wrote a book titled What Went Wrong in which he pondered the question how a culture that at one time gave every indication of incipient greatness nevertheless fell into backwardness and stagnation. Why is it, Lewis asked, that Arab countries have not produced any great cultural achievements since the Middle Ages? His answer is that power fell into the hands of Islamic clerics, and, as Al-Mansi indicates above, any thought that wandered beyond clearly prescribed theological boundaries was harshly punished.

In such a climate it's very hard to produce great art, science, literature, or technology and thus these offspring of human genius were killed in the crib, as it were, throughout the Islamic world, and creativity, independent thought, and innovation were stifled. Indeed, they still are throughout much of the Islamic world today.

The key to progress, or at least one crucial key, is religious freedom. As long as Islamic fundamentalists insist on establishing theocratic regimes which punish unorthodox ideas the Arab world will continue to produce nothing of value to humanity beyond what more technologically advanced nations can extract from the earth under their feet.

Ironically, there is a lesson in this for the West. We live in a time when ideological "clerics" seek to impose a strait-jacket of orthodoxy on all political and social thought, especially in our universities. Independence and creativity is smothered by strict, if unwritten, rules enforcing ideological conformity. Political correctness is imposed, "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces" where students won't have to suffer being challenged by uncomfortable ideas are demanded, and "microaggressions" and other "deviant" ideas or political behavior bring swift punishment upon offenders. Faculty who hold heterodox opinions on Darwinism, global climate change or gay marriage are treated like heretics and their careers are not infrequently burned at the stake by our contemporary ideological inquisitors.

Yet, it's still possible to dissent from the shibboleths and dogma of our Western academic version of the Islamic ayatollahs, but only because they have yet to consolidate their grip on the rest of our society. They're working assiduously, however, to rectify that.