By Mark Silverberg

According to recent UN Arab Human Development reports, written by an independent group of leading Arab scholars and intellectuals, oil has become a curse rather than a blessing for the Arab world. Unlike Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Singapore and many other countries who recognized early on that their scarce resources required them to turn their lack of material resources into technological strengths in order to become competitive in the world economy, the Arabs relied exclusively on the great sea of oil beneath their deserts as a substitute for intellect, creativity and entrepreneurship. It has now cost them their future and saddled the world with a parasitic and pathologically suicidal movement that has proven its capacity to destroy and its incapacity to create anything of substance for human civilization.

While it can be argued that the borders of the Arab Middle East are man-made deformities that must be redrawn to take into account the tribal nature of Arab society, rather than the strategic interests of the French and the British who created them in the early 20th century, border corrections alone cannot account for, nor will they resolve the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world. While a redefinition of borders would separate Shiites from Sunnis and Kurds from Baluchis, the problems plaguing Arab society in the 21st century cannot be so easily resolved.

That is because Arab societies, for the most part, have immersed themselves in a culture of denial. They emphasize struggle, quash competition and reject alternate approaches or ways of thinking. With few exceptions, Arab governments live in a state of internal fear that avoids investigating their failures or acquainting themselves with, or opening their societies to, the cultures of others. As a result, their societies cannot hand down positive achievements to future generations unless they overcome their secretiveness, their isolation, and especially their compulsive need to blame others for their own failings. Consequently, from Egypt to Damascus, opponents are neither answered nor rebutted. They are discredited, imprisoned, exiled or murdered; and with each disaster, defeat or tragedy, it is always the Zionists, colonialists, American imperialist conspiracies, multinationals, missionaries, communists, liberals, religious or ethnic minorities, middle classes or even poor Orientalists that are to blame.

For all the oil revenues that have flowed into the wealthier Arab countries, the overall state of the Arab world is appalling. It does not produce one single manufactured product of sufficient quality to sell on world markets. Arab productivity is the lowest in the world. There is not a single Arab university of world-class standing. The once-great tradition of Arab scientific achievement that flowed from Andalusian Spain has degenerated into a few research programs in the fields of chemical and biological warfare. There is not one country in the Arab world that can truly call itself a democracy. No Arab state genuinely respects human rights. No Arab state hosts a responsible media. No Arab society fully respects the rights of women or minorities, and no Arab government has ever accepted public responsibility for its own shortcomings.

To the best of my recollection, the Arab League has never once convened an Arab summit to discuss the backward state of education in the Arab world. As a result, these societies have yet to create one single monument to human achievement.

The Arab Muslim world prefers instead to blame others, to sleepwalk through history as it were, and to cheer when tyrants and terrorists avenge them. They knew Saddam Hussein was a monster who had killed more Arabs than Israel ever could. They knew he was the worst thing to happen to the Arab world since the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258. But they are so discouraged that they needed to inflate even “the Butcher of Baghdad” into hero status. During the war, the Palestinians cheered him on and celebrated his defiance of the American war machine, but in the end he failed them as well.

While most Arabs understand America’s current dilemma in Iraq and fear the expansion of Iranian Shiism and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s religious imperialist ambitions, they are not eager to assist in stabilizing that country. They prefer to see America leave humiliated even if it is at the expense of the Iraqi people and the stability of the entire region. Above all, they do not want to see America, a non-Muslim superpower, as the cause for Iraq’s good fortune, especially when the Arab countries did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. And because Arab societies require a target for their anger and frustration, they are increasingly drawn to radical Islam.

Since external conflict is the lifeblood of Arab dictatorships (be they secular or theocratic), conflict in the Arab world is not seen as a problem that necessarily requires a solution. The enemy of the Middle East is not the West so much as it is modernism and the humiliation that accrues when millions are nursed by fantasies, hypocrisies and conspiracies to explain away their own failures. Quite simply, any society whose allegiance is to the tribe rather than to the nation, that does not believe in democracy enough to institute it, that shuns female intellectual contributions, allows polygamy, insists on patriarchy, institutionalizes religious persecution, ignores family planning, expects endemic corruption, tolerates honor killings, sees no need to vote, and defines knowledge as mastery of the Koran, is deeply pathological.

Instead of responding to demands for democracy, human rights, higher living standards, less corruption and incompetence, reducing illiteracy or improving education and educational standards, Arab rulers blame America for their societies’ ills and refocus popular anger against it. That enables them to demand national unity and silence reformers in the face of the supposed American “threat.” By seizing on anti-Americanism as the excuse for Arab failure, they ensure that their opponents cannot blame them.

“The painful truth,” writes columnist Suleiman al-Hatlan in the daily Al-Watan in Saudi Arabia, “is that the acts of violence and barbarism occurring at present are nothing but the natural consequence of generations of Muslims having been misled and force-fed speeches [filled with] hostility and hatred for others over the course of decades, which deepened the backwardness and the ignorance in the Islamic world.”

The sad truth is that the fantasies portrayed in Arabian Nights have long since become an Arabian nightmare in large measure because (as Victor Davis Hanson writes): “The Arab world has no real consensual governments; statism and tribalism hamper market economics and ensure stagnation. Islamic fundamentalism, the absence of an independent judiciary, and a censored press all do their part to ensure endemic poverty, rampant corruption and rising resentment among an exploding population.”

For the Arab world, the status quo is no longer sustainable and time is not on its side. The Salafist jihadists are gaining strength in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, and they warn that an apocalyptic Armageddon between the Muslim world and the West is approaching. Whether moderate Muslim intellectuals and Western-educated Muslim technocrats will be able to bring on an Islamic Renaissance before rising radical Islam draws us all into a nuclear confrontation remains to be seen. Their success in doing so is by no means assured.

2 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Arabia

  • This is the sad truth that so few in the western world will admit. Why political correctness on the part of government officials keeps them blind to the truth is beyond me. Truly we must trust in the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob during these troubling times.

  • Dr. Sobhi Basheer of Israel specializes enzyme work. He is the director of the Galilee Society’s research and development center – a biotechnology incubator funded by the Ministry of Science – and has three startup companies to his credit. With his latest project, SB Biotechnologies, Basheer is working to transform waste animal and vegetable oil into diesel fuel, using genetically engineered enzymes that produce diesel in an environmentally friendly manner. He is an arab Israeli Muslim. The world needs to hear more of success stories like these.

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