Think only of the two most important components of economic success: hard work, and innovation. As to hard work, in Islam there is what can be called inshallah-fatalism. Everything is decided by, everything comes from, Allah. You may work and work, and in a minute, Allah take it all away, on a whim. You may not work at all, but Allah may reward you.
With that kind of inshallah-fatalism, constantly reinforced by every aspect of Islam, why work hard? If it will all be determined by Allah, what’s the point? And then, as to innovation, Islam is dead set against it, has a prohibition on bid’a, or innovation. “Innovation” was, rightly, held to be worrisome, for it implied a willingness to keep one’s mind and heart open to new things, to perhaps come to believe that not everything necessary was contained in the Qur’an.
That is why Muslim societies bear a resemblance to the Cargo Cultists of the South Seas. They want, as V. S. Naipaul pointed out in Among the Believers, all the technological gadgets and goods and services that the advanced West has created and readily provides, but what they do not want, and in fact are incapable of doing, is to create societies where they themselves might be able to create such things. They are happy as long as they have the vast sums that come pouring in, to buy such things, or to have the ability to inveigle Westerners to supply them for free, as aid — aid that is received without any gratitude, and as their due, as a kind of Jizyah, by Muslims. They show no interest in how the West did it, in what developments in Western schooling, Western openness, might explain all the things that they simply want, without understanding what went into their creation.
There is, however, one exception to this, one area where Muslims are deeply interested in exactly how things are done: that is in the area of advanced weaponry. It was Mahathir Mohamed, as the retiring head of the O.I.C., who gave a speech worth remembering, about half-a-dozen years ago. In it he singled out the need for the world’s Muslims to learn modern ways, not in order to investigate the structure of DNA, or how the brain works, or how the universe might have begun, but only, his speech shows, in order to be able to produce their own weapons to rival the arsenals of the Infidels.
Imagine if, day after day after day, all over the world, programs were beamed, on satellite television, on YouTube, on radio stations, in which the texts and tenets and attitudes and atmospherics of Islam were directly connected to and offered convincingly as explanations for the political despotism, the economic backwardness, the social injustice, the intellectual paralysis, the moral collapse, of Islamic societies. That moral collapse is demonstrated most vividly in the widespread Muslim support for terrorism, by hundreds of millions who may not participate directly, and who are offended by Muslim terrorism against Muslims, but not at all by Muslim terrorism against Infidels.
This is what the American government, directly or through others, ought to be doing. It ought to be acting, in concert with its allies in the advanced West – the members of NATO (without Turkey), Israel, Australia, and possibly India and several countries in East Asia (they, too, though far more sturdily impervious to Islam, have a stake in the rest of the world not becoming dominated by Islam).
Imagine if, all over the world, in three dozen of the major languages, very cheap or free editions of such books as Wafa Sultan’s A God that Hates and Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not A Muslim and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Anwar Sheikh’s Islam: The Arab National Religiion and many others were made available, in good translations , with the translations and the publication and the disseminating of such material all paid for, if not directly by the American government, then by others who would be doing the work, with a nudge and a wink, that the government still felt constrained about doing itself. This is what happened during the Cold War, when the C.I.A. very intelligently published all kinds of things, including works of fiction by Russian Ã©migrÃ©s, which works were made available to Soviet tourists, or otherwise smuggled into Russia. What worked then could work now.
Hundreds of millions of Muslims are hermetically sealed, for now, behind a Muslim Iron Curtain. They cannot get, cannot listen to, cannot watch, programs that might begin to make them reconsider many aspects of Islam, make them wonder about their own lives, the political and economic and social and intellectual and moral failures of their own societies and how so much of those failures are explained by Islam. If nothing is done, then we will have the same wasteful mixture as before – the mixture, of which Barack Obama, who is apparently stuck with his Cairo speech and, at this point, is intellectually helpless, handed us out another large and expensive dollop recently. He could have avoided it, he did it to himself. Now, at this grim point, so early on in his administration, he finds that he can do no other.