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Thursday, March 30, 2006

The problem with Islam

(Cross-posted from Burkean Canuck).
Freedom House's Paul Marshall, a political theorist, human rights expert, and author of Radical Islam's Rules:  The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law, suggests here the problem with Islam may not be Islam itself, but something else:

The Muslim world has a democratic deficit in that there are comparatively fewer free societies and democracies in that part of the world than elsewhere. However, if you look more closely, the major problem is in the Arab world, which comprises less than a quarter of the world’s Muslims. If you put the Arab part to one side, the rest of the Muslim world is close to the rest of the world. The world’s largest Muslim country [Indonesia] is a democracy, as is what may be the second largest Muslim country, Bangladesh. One could give other examples. In the modern age, Islam is certainly functionally compatible with representative government.

But is it an ethno-cultural problem? After all, Iran's Shia Muslims are mostly Persian, Nigeria's Muslim north is black African, the Afghans are mostly Pashtun, and there's the Bosnian and Chechen Muslims who each constitutes a distinct ethnicity.

So . . . ethnic?

Posted by Russ Kuykendall on March 30, 2006 in International Affairs | Permalink


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Might be ethnic, but I can't help but think that the laundry they insist on wearing on their heads (in the heat of the Middle East) somehow is overheating their brains making them crazy.

Just kidding ... I think they are crazy with or without the overheated skulls.

How could you be sane when your mother starts telling when you are about five years old that you are going to blow up and take a few with you.

Posted by: Duke | 2006-03-30 10:00:07 AM

It's superficial to say that it's 'ethnic'. Ethnicity is a cultural construct; i.e., it's a set of normative behaviour which is created by people, who live in a certain geographic and econmic niche. Therefore, it is primarily a social adaptation to an economic reality.

The other Muslim states, which have moved into democracy, are in richer biomes. The ME Muslim states are in poor biomes that have operated in a TRIBAL social mode, because their economy has been a peasant style subsistence agriculture and animal herding. They haven't moved into a surplus and growth economy.

So, their social and political norms were relevant to that economic mode - based around small kin-owned farms, small, kin group holdings of animals, and economic and social loyalty to that kin group. Then, suddenly, oil appears. But, all it does, is enrich ONE tribe, the hereditary leading tribe. The population, however, moves into urban centres, explodes in growth..but..the political and economic wealth doesn't move to the population. It remains with that one leading tribe. That's the problem.

The leading tribes want to retain power and prevent the dev't of a middle class. So- they use Wahhabi extremism to enslave their people, turn them against wanting 'capitalism' and middle class power.

It's all about a dysfunctional tribalism. The West has to reject this extremist Islam. This rejection will also help moderate Muslims to speak out.

Posted by: ET | 2006-03-30 10:14:57 AM

"The world’s largest Muslim country [Indonesia] is a democracy, as is what may be the second largest Muslim country, Bangladesh. One could give other examples. In the modern age, Islam is certainly functionally compatible with representative government." Paul Marshal

If Indonesia is a democracy, then being a democracy doesn't mean spit. They let the Bali Bomber go, he admitted he did it and said he would do it again.

As for Islam being compatible with representative government, sure it is, if the majority of people are Muslims who want to live under Sharia, then they will elect Imams and Ayatollahs.

Is that supposed to be a good thing?

Posted by: Speller | 2006-03-30 10:17:20 AM


Surprisingly valid and informed points, for once. But it is *not* all about dysfunctional tribalism. That helps to explain only some behaviours. You can still have stultifying Islamic dictatorship without the socio-economic displacements arising from the influx of petro-dollars.

Posted by: Paul Canniff | 2006-03-30 10:25:02 AM

Paul Canniff - there is no need to insult me by saying that my comments are 'surprisingly valid and informed..for once'. I am saying EXACTLY what I've been saying all along.

I've been talking about tribalism - which is a mode of socioeconomic organization in a no-growth peasant economy, which organizes itself around kin/group loyalties - in all my posts. This is also, ideologically, well discussed by Popper in his book 'The Open Society and Its Enemies' - wherein he defines closed societies as 'tribal'.

That means, that you can have Islamic dictatorships without the oil revenue used to maintain them via a rigid military dictatorship. BUT, it's far easier for the population to overthrow such Islamic totalitarianism, and for western economic and social infrastructures to move in with their influence - than it is in those oil-funded military dictatorships.

Posted by: ET | 2006-03-30 10:39:14 AM


You hit it. When a backward country (Saudi Arabia) run by people who were literally living in tents and riding camels 70 years ago hit the petro-jackpot, they instantly have the means to influence things well beyond their campfires.

Add absolute monarchy with the most extreme and intolerant form of an already violent religion and you have a problem. Especially when the monarchy uses that wealth to export that extremism instead of improving the lives of it's citizens.

The petro-dollars came first, the exporting of Saudi's extremism can next closely followed by violence and terror - even in countries that were never extreme previously.

The axis of evil starts in Riyadh and has since 1979 been joined by Iran's Mad Mullahs. [by joined, I mean a common threat, not that they're working together. Any cooperation between the two would be of convenience only as their two sects are not friendly.]

Posted by: Warwick | 2006-03-30 10:41:10 AM

What you have been saing all along, indeed.

How many days in a row now has there been a Shotgun post on the theme of "The trouble with Islam"?

Posted by: ted | 2006-03-30 10:42:14 AM

As Lynn & Vanhannen showed in IQ & the Wealth of Nations, economic well being closely correlates with IQ. Indonesia has a mean IQ of 89 versus 83, 81, and 67 for Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Nigeria respectively. Reforming these nations by removing absolute monarchy (Europe advanced greatly under absolute monarchy) will not ensure a burgeoning middle class.

Secondly, Islam in Indonesia is syncretic. Preceded by nearly a millennium and a half of Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam evolved there as a mix of core Islamic beliefs and older Animist-Hindu-Buddhist customs that bore little resemblance to the faith of Yemenis, Saudis, or Moroccans. As the faith hardens, it will impose enormous challenges.

The other issue that freedom house says correlates strongly with successful democracy is demographic homogeneity. Indonesia is a mixed bag. Javanese 45%, Sundanese 14%, Madurese 7.5%, coastal Malays 7.5%, other 26%. Heterogeneous societies constant trend to the illiberal.

Speller is correct. If Indonesia is democratic, the roots of that democracy are as shallow as spit on a rock.

Ethnicity...yes, a huge factor.

Posted by: DJ | 2006-03-30 11:30:40 AM

"BUT, it's far easier for the population to overthrow such Islamic totalitarianism, and for western economic and social infrastructures to move in with their influence - than it is in those oil-funded military dictatorships."

I shall endeavour to dispatch this vital news to the people of Sudan. They stand egregiously misinformed.

Posted by: Paul Canniff | 2006-03-30 11:39:52 AM

actually, Sudanese government is both Islamic and funded by oil.

Posted by: Warwick | 2006-03-30 11:43:53 AM


Some days an onosecond passes faster than usual .

Posted by: Paul Canniff | 2006-03-30 12:07:47 PM

Actually, the axis of evil does not start in Riyadh. It starts in the Qur'an, and you can find it on the top shelf at your local Borders bookstore.

Posted by: Rich | 2006-03-30 12:58:36 PM

The problem with Islam is that it exists!

Posted by: Duke | 2006-03-30 3:47:57 PM

slightly off topic but it stll remains a problem

Omar Khadr was supposed to have appeared in Court today, Mar 30, to have a date set for his extradition hearing.

Has anyone heard what happened - there doesn't seem to be any mention of this that I can find.

Posted by: calgary clipper | 2006-03-30 5:02:42 PM


The press has got its panties so in a knot that Stephen won't talk to them, you can bet relevant news won't see the light of day.

Posted by: deepblue | 2006-03-30 5:10:24 PM

The problem with Islam is that it's supported by the West. If the West became more selfish, and stopped supporting lunacy, Islam would topple overnight. What are the chances of the West becoming more selfish?

Posted by: Richard | 2006-03-30 5:28:29 PM

No, it's way deeper than that. See Winds of Change.NET's "Every Way to Paradise" for a glimpse into how much deeper:


Posted by: Joe Katzman | 2006-03-31 9:46:12 AM

Islam is horrible and cruel religion no tolerance what so ever. bent on converting the world to Islam . Its a major threat to peaceful religions such as Hinduism, Chirstianity, Buddhism Judaism and Sikhism

Posted by: Rajeev Singh | 2006-03-31 2:42:45 PM

Islam itself is the problem. It's bent on converting the world or fighting and killing those who don't submit to it.
It's all exposed in the Koran:

Posted by: fw | 2006-03-31 11:37:27 PM

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