Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World

(Gatestone Institute) Harold Rhode - Many parts of the world, such as Korea, China, and India - basically medieval kingdoms sixty years ago - are now among the pacesetters of the modern world. The Muslim world, however, often better off than these countries just half a century ago, has remained as it was, or has even, in many instances, deteriorated. This inertia in the Islamic world seems to stem not from any genetic limitations, or even religious ones, but purely from Islamic culture. Western culture is predicated on questioning: inquiring of authorities how they came to the conclusions they reached. Although in the Shiite world questioning occurs among religious authorities and the educated elite, in the Sunni world, for centuries, asking questions of those more learned or in positions of authority has been unacceptable. In much of the Muslim world, people are often seen not as individuals but as members of particular families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, or religions. A problem between two people can become a problem between two families. What an individual might think personally becomes irrelevant, fostering a mindset that obstructs the analytic thinking that defines the modern world. The Arabic word ijtihad means using one's intellectual and reasoning capabilities to determine answers. Today's Islamic culture seems not to encourage this ability. For about a thousand years, Muslims have been asked to accept what they learn from their authority figures. The word "Islam," itself, means "submission." People are educated to memorize, not criticize. In Western culture, making a peace boils down to putting the past behind one, letting bygones be bygones, and moving on from there. But in the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian cultures, such a concept does not exist. If bygones can never be bygones, conflicts can never be resolved. In these Muslim lands, when one side is stronger, it attempts to subdue its ancient enemies. The culture does not permit Muslims to put the past behind them: the Internet, for example, is filled with discussions among Muslims about how they must and will reconquer Spain, which they lost to the West 520 years ago. The writer joined the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense in 1982 as an advisor on Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. From 1994 until 2010 he served in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.

2012-06-08 00:00:00

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