Is Islam To Blame?

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by ajtr, Jul 6, 2012.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Is Islam To Blame?
    There’s an acute deficit in development and freedom in the Muslim world. But flirtation with authoritarianism could be linked more to millennia of Arab history and culture rather than with Islam
    RIAZ HASSAN

    The age-old debate about Islam’s role in the political backwardness of the Middle East has returned to the fore. Dramatic developments of the Arab Spring, followed by re-emergence of authoritarian tendencies, reignite the debate. While debates will continue, a tentative answer can be offered: Flirtation with authoritarianism could be linked more to millennia of Arab history and culture rather than with Islam.

    In his seminal work, Muslim Society, eminent British social anthropologist Ernest Gellner boldly asserted that, judged by various criteria, “of the three great Western monotheism, [Islam is] the one closest to modernity.” He goes on say that had the Arabs won at Poitiers and gone on to conquer and convert Europe, the modern rational spirit and its expression in business and bureaucracy could only have arisen from Islamic thought. A Muslim Europe would have saved Hegel from indulging in tortuous arguments to explain how an earlier faith, Christianity, is more final and absolute than a chronologically later one, namely Islam. And in 1770, Edward Gibbon had little difficulty imagining Islamic theology being taught in Oxford and across Britain.

    But there’s an acute deficit in development and freedom in the Muslim world, evident from the United Nations and World Bank Development reports, giving rise to contentious debate about the causes. Culprits include Islamic theology and culture, oil, Arab culture and institutions, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, dessert terrain and institutions, weak civil society and the subservient status of women.

    Perhaps the most contested debates centre on whether Islam is the main cause of these twin deficits of development and freedom. Evidence shows that, before the balance of power shifted after the European expansion in the 17th century, the Middle East was economically just as dynamic as Europe. Muslim merchants were just as successful in carrying their commerce and faith to far corners of the world as their European counterparts if not more.

    According to the late economic historian Angus Maddison, in the years 1000 AD the Middle East’s share of the world’s gross domestic product was larger than Europe’s – 10 percent compared with 9 percent. By 1700 the Middle East’s share had fallen to just 2 percent and Europe’s had risen to 22 percent. Standard explanations for this decline among Western scholars include Islam’s hostility to commerce and its ban on usury. But these reasons are unsatisfactory because Islamic scripture is more pro-business than Christian texts, and for usury Torah and Bible do the same. The Prophet Mohammed and his first wife, Khadija, were very successful merchants. Many Muslims blame their economic backwardness on Western imperialism. So why did a once-mighty civilization succumb to the West?

    Duke University economist Timur Kuran, in his book The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, persuasively discards these and related explanations. He marshals impressive empirical evidence to show that what slowed economic development in the Middle East was not colonialism or geography or incompatibility between Islam and capitalism, but laws covering business partnerships and inheritance practices. These institutions benefited the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, but starting around the 10th century they began to act as a drag on economic development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life – private capital accumulation, corporations, large-scale production and impersonal exchange.

    An Islamic partnership, the main organizational vehicle for businesses of Muslim merchant classes, could be ended by one party at will, and even successful ventures were terminated on the death of a partner. As a result most businesses remained small and short-lived. The most durable and successful business partnerships in the Muslim world were operated by local non-Muslims. Inheritance customs hindered business consolidation because when a Muslim merchant died, his estate was split among surviving family members which prevented capital accumulation and stymied long-lasting capital-intensive companies. The resulting organizational stagnation thus prevented the Muslim mercantile community from remaining competitive with its western counterparts.

    Likewise, research by Harvard economist Eric Chaney debunks theories that the root cause of the democracy deficit in the Middle East is Islam or Arab cultural patterns, oil, the Arab-Israeli conflict or desert ecology. The democratic deficit, as reflected in the prevalence of autocracies in the Muslim-Arab world, is real, Chaney notes, but it’s a product of the long-run influence of control structures developed in the centuries following the Arab conquests.

    Unlike Bernard Lewis, who argues that Muslim “rage” for having lost cultural primacy that was once theirs to the West is the root cause of their current conditions, Chaney has a more grounded historical explanation. In the ninth century, according to Chaney, rulers across this region began to use slave armies as opposed to their native population to staff armies. These slave armies allowed rulers to achieve independence from local military and civilian groups and helped remove constraints on the sovereign in pre-modern Islamic societies. In this autocratic environment, religious leaders emerged as the only check on the rulers’ power. Religious leaders cooperated with the army to design a system that proved hostile to alternative centers of power. This historical institutional configuration which divided the power between the sovereign backed by his slave army and religious elites was not conducive to producing democratic institutions. Instead, religious and military elites worked together to perpetuate what Chaney calls “classical” institutional equilibrium – which is often referred to as Islamic law – designed to promote and protect their interests.

    Regions incorporated into the Islamic world after they were conquered by non-Arab Muslim armies, such as India and the Balkans, and where Islam spread by conversion, for example, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sub-Saharan Africa, did not adopt the classical framework. Their institutions continued to be shaped by local elite which preserved political and cultural continuity. Consequently democratic deficit has remained an enduring legacy in the Arab world and in lands conquered by the Arab armies and remained under Islamic rule from 1100 AD onwards. But Islamic countries such as Turkey incorporated into the Islamic world by non-Arab Muslim armies or by conversions the democratic developments have followed a more progressive trajectory.

    For the Arab Spring, history does not have to be destiny. Some optimistic signs suggest that it may be possible for the Arab world to escape its autocratic past.

    The region has undergone structural changes such as increasing levels of education, urbanization and industrialization over the past 60 years which have made it more receptive to democratic change than any time in the past. The widespread uprisings of the Arab Spring since 2011, while an expression of this change, would not automatically lead to democracy. The events unfolding in Egypt and actions of the Supreme Council Armed Forces to grab power in the face of Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victories sharpen the possibility of further violent confrontation. Failure of the UN monitors to stop the Syrian state from murdering and suppressing its people will only accentuate sectarian violence and bloodshed. It will take time to dismantle authoritarian institutions and mindsets of their minders.

    But there is one clear sign that Muslim countries will follow different trajectories. Countries like Turkey, Albania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia are more likely to defy history than the Arab countries, but poverty and weak civil institutions remain obstacles to democratic change.

    Riaz Hassan is visiting research professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies National University of Singapore. His recent books include Inside Muslim Minds (Melbourne University Press) and Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings (Routledge). Rights:Copyright © 2012 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. YaleGlobal Online
     
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  3. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    Pakistan is not an Arab country. Why then it has despots, closeness, authoritarian tendencies, if not for Islam?
    Can you answer that ??
     
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  4. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Can anyone shed some more light on how the GDP of those ancient times are calculated or estimated?

    Excellent perspective.

    A very interesting sequitur of sequiturs that shows the natural effect of prolonged practices. It is obvious why political and intellectual stagnation was inevitable.

    Good article Mr. Riaz Hassan!
     
  5. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    I can answer that. Your question is based on a false premise.

    Despots and authoritarian regimes are not, and were not limited exclusively to Muslim countries. Not all Muslim countries are, or were despotic and authoritarian.

    Can I explain why Islam was the cause of all the troubles? Re-read the article. The author explain quite well, why it is not Islam, but Arab culture and traditions that are to blame.
     
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  6. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    Islam and Hinduism to some extent will come out of their backwardness if the problem areas are addressed instead of pushing them under the carpet and saying it is not Islam but some misguided elements or that it is not Islam but Arab culture that is to blame. If you ask Christians about the gory parts of the Bible they will say yes it is there but it is there but no longer followed. What was perfectly acceptable for 6th or 7th Arabia cannot apply to 21st century or what was acceptable in ancient India 2500 BC is not OK now.

    For Islam - some issues that need to be addressed : apostasy and second class status of women

    For Hinduism - among others, caste system that has gone terribly wrong

    The change will come if influential Muslim ulemas say ok all this is not for 21st century or Hindu gurus get together and say discrimination based on caste is wrong. No use blaming the average Muslim or Hindu or Arab or Indian culture.

    Christianity has undergone severe upheavals in the middle ages and has come out more humane and egalitarian. Islam and Hinduism need to do that too.

    I do believe at the core of Islam and all other religions there is the sprituality that the founder(s) experienced and that is felt by the followers. But the rules and regulations are man made and must change with the times.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  7. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    you better re - read the article and the question.
    The article blames Arab culture for all ills. I am saying Pakistan is not Arab then why so many ills ?
     
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  8. Tianshan

    Tianshan Regular Member

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    no, the problem is not any religion.

    we are less developed than many middle east countries too.
     
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  9. Mad Indian

    Mad Indian Proud Bigot Veteran Member Senior Member

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    Islam is a peaceful religion. Anyone thinking otherwise is simply deluded. There are so many un-islamic things done by Islamists-:truestory:
     
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  10. pankaj nema

    pankaj nema Senior Member Senior Member

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    Islam did not have a RENAISSANCE which helped Christianity

    Islam does not allow any questioning or modification or change of its holy books
    like for example Hindus can openly declare that they reject all of their holy books
    if they want

    If a Muslim does so he becomes WAJEB - E - QATAL ie fit to be killed

    Islam's treatment of their OWN women is another matter altogether

    Read this Why Do They Hate Us? - By Mona Eltahawy | Foreign Policy
     
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  11. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Never mind the article, first read what you wrote. Here it is: "Pakistan is not an Arab country. Why then it has despots, closeness, authoritarian tendencies, if not for Islam?"

    Just because Arab countries have despotic rulers, does not mean every country with a despotic ruler is an Arab country.

    In other words, you are making a silly argument like, since all cars have wheels, every vehicle that has wheels is a car.

    Re-read my response. I cannot make it any simpler.
     
  12. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    The Ulema will never say ok.

    Just like the way the Brahminical domination of Hindu society was shattered, the Mullah rule also has to be shattered.

    Bigots are the biggest bane to progress.
     
  13. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    Ulema's have played an important role in causing great harm throughtout islamic history. If the Ulema's okay anything, don't do it, seems to be the lesson.

    In any case from my understanding being a mullah used to be a term of derision in the Indian subcontinent.
     
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  14. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    you have pre - disposed ideas and hence prejudiced not able to understand either the article or the question.

    in one sentnce, article says dispotic tendencies are in Arab culture.
    I am asking, is China an Arab country?
    And secondly, why Pakistan is despostic, it not being an Arab country?

    you are taking the issue to Timbkatoo using your strange logic.

    Be fair if you have to comment or just live it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
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  15. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Answered in red.
     
  16. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    SIngh, pmaitra.

    Stop being apologetic for any faith. Ordinary Muslims or Hindus cannot be blamed for the flaws of their respective faiths - they will follow whatever their ulema or guru says. Christianity is one religion that has cleaned its system. Hinduism to some extent has changed but Islam being the youngest of the major faiths needs its Reformation.

    Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are more egalitarian IMHO.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  17. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    I am contesting the article and its contents. you are ditermined to contest me rather than the article.. That is the difference.
     
  18. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Because Pakistan strives very hard to be an Arab country! Duh!
     
  19. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Bhadra, why don't you look at the many African countries ruled by authoritarian despots? Look at Zimbabwe, for e.g., which is not an Arab country.

    Which part of the article are you contesting? Are you contesting the claim that Arab countries are ruled by despots? Is it not true that most Arab countries are ruled by despots? If you disagree, please show why.
     
  20. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    In all sincerity, I am opposed to RSS propaganda as much as the Mullah rule. Yes, you may accuse me being an extremist in that way.

    Moreover, I personally know Muslims from different parts of the world, and have seen how liberal they can be. I personally know vegetarian, as well as bacon loving Muslims. Many of the commentators have not seen much outside India, and some, sadly, live in the West, but still remain obstinately blind. If people are not willing to help themselves come out of the self imposed iron curtain on their thought process, no external advise is going to be useful.

    I am comfortable in the knowledge that I cannot get everyone to agree with me. It is impossible. Disagreement generates debate, and debate forces us to think from different perspectives.

    If I come across as an apologist, then I will afford you every right to accuse me so. At least, I am honoured by the fact that you are honest in your criticism of me. I'd rather be challenged, than summarily ignored.

    Keep up the debate. :)
     
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  21. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Well said mate. Fully agree with everything you've said and you're definitely not alone in your views. I have also expressed the same in the past, but knowing that some folks are adamant on clinging onto their own perceptions, I have grown to summarily ignore the "other side", so as to speak. I too have expended much energy on the topic!
     
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