Sunday, September 21, 2003

Economist survey of Islam... And the salvation is women and children

“THE next war, they say.” That was the headline printed at the top of this page the last time The Economist published a survey of Islam, in August 1994. We concluded that conflict between Islam and the West was by no means impossible. But the writer of our survey was not convinced that it was inevitable. Another possibility was that the anger and disillusionment that seemed to be sweeping through the world of Islam in the 1990s might turn in a more benign direction. Was it not similar to the disillusionment that began to sweep through Christendom in the 16th century, which led via the Reformation to the development of modern democracy?

This is an Economist review of Islam, two years post 911. It's excellent even by the very high standards of their usual reviews, and I think it's available to non-subscribers.

There are no great surprises in this review. The key question is whether the potentially civilization ending "clash of civilizations" between Islam and "the west" (meaning some odd mix of Christian doctrine and technocentric secular humanism) is inevitable. The writers conclude that it is not inevitable, but quite possible. The invasion of Iraq has raised the stakes, and at this time seems to make a catastrophic clash more, not less, likely. The Economist is a bit too craven to lay accusations of incompetence at the foot of the Bush administration, but they are slowly growing a spine.

In my opinion, which no-one has requested, the primary focus of the West should be to align the prospects of Islamic children with the prosperity and health of the West. I say this based on a personal hypothesis, which goes like this:

1. Women always have great power and influence, even in cultural settings (Fundamentalist Mormonism, Fundamentalist Islam, Fundamentalist Christianity) where they seem powerless.

2. Men have allegiance to power and to cultural conditions that give them access to more mates and more personal power. Women have primary allegiance to their offspring and to cultural conditions that support them and their families. Women will sacrifice cultural doctrine to further the success of their children.

3. Women will support actions that improve the lifespan of their children.

Lastly, I point out that envy and hatred by both men and women comes about as much from relative distinctions (opportunity, health) as absolute distinctions.

The implications are obvious. If we want our western culture to survive, and if we secular humanists want to survive in that western shell, we need to make an unspoken "deal" with the women of the Islamic world. The deal goes like this:

1. You bias your culture, within the boundaries of the Koran (which are reasonably flexible), towards tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion.

2. We will give your children opportunities to grow up, to learn, and to have families of their own. We will give you prosperity.

The same discussion, by the way, applies within the United States. But that's an exercise for my non-existent readership! :-)

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