The perennial question: Why does the Muslim world “lag behind”?
The perennial answer: Because of Islam!
We expect this kind of analysis from the likes of Orientalists, neoconservatives, and Barack Obama. But unfortunately, some Muslims also share such sentiments. From the beginning of the colonial period, self-hating Muslims have agreed with their colonial masters that Islam is the problem and the only way forward is to shed Islam.
Of course, the self-hating Muslims don’t come out and say, “Islam is the problem,” literally. They will, instead, say things like, “Islam needs to reform,” or, “We need to revisit classical fiqh and apply new ijtihad as needed,” or, “Classical scholarship had misogynistic elements.”
This is the not-so-subtle approach of Muslim modernists, who oftentimes will be classically trained themselves and will wear all the trappings of traditional scholars. Not all modernists wear suits and ties, like Adnan Ibrahim.
Some wear more traditional garb…
By wielding religious authority and using religious language, these modernists are better able to influence the average Muslim, who generally has a deep respect for ulama and sacred knowledge. The colonial powers, of course, recognized this and took advantage by deputizing some of these scholars to advocate for European interests. This dynamic is still used in full force to this day.
Now let’s think more deeply about this question of “lagging behind.”
Who stands to benefit when Muslims view their bad economic position in the world as a function of their own religious tradition?
Well, if that question is too difficult, let’s look at other regions of the world that are lagging behind.
In the news recently is Venezuela.
Why do countries like Venezuela lag behind? According to Western liberal commentators, like the NYTimes and, recently, Donald Trump, the answer is simple:
That Mr. Maduro [President of Venezuela] must go has been obvious for some time. Since he succeeded the leftist strongman Hugo Chávez in 2013, his mismanagement, cronyism and corruption, exacerbated by the drop in the price of oil, Venezuela’s dominant source of revenue, have brought the country to ruin. Hyperinflation has rendered wages virtually worthless, people are dying of starvation and lack of medical care, and millions have fled to neighboring countries.
See? Western powers only have the best interests of Venezuela’s people at heart. These poor Venezuelans are starving to death! They have no medicine! They’re experiencing hyperinflation! WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING! We have to support “regime change”! Perhaps, we need to invade! That is the only humanitarian option at this point!
Of course, no mention of the fact that the starvation, the lack of medicine, the hyperinflation, etc., are the direct result of years of sanctions on Venezuela. Gee, isn’t it amazing how when you put severe economic sanctions on a country, that country will suffer economically? Then, conveniently, you can blame whatever political faction you want to get rid of for the economic hardship in order to justify supporting a military coup or even a ground invasion. This is the circular reasoning the NYTimes and other Western media outlets trot out without a shred of self-awareness.
Poor Venezuela is not the only victim of this tactic. Many other Latin American countries have been brought to their knees by way of American “humanitarianism.” America, the savior of the world, has to save these backwards countries from their own incompetence. It’s the only way.
A survey of The New York Times archives shows the Times editorial board has supported 10 out of 12 American-backed coups in Latin America, with two editorials—those involving the 1983 Grenada invasion and the 2009 Honduras coup—ranging from ambiguous to reluctant opposition.
The reason the CIA and U.S. military and its corporate partisans historically target governments in Latin America is because those governments are hostile to U.S. capital and strategic interests, not because they are undemocratic. So while the points the Times makes about illiberalism may sometimes be true, they’re mostly a non sequitur when analyzing the reality of what’s unfolding.
So, in short, this is how America does things. First priority is American economic interests. Who is going to play ball? Who is going to let America and American corporations have their way and enjoy the world’s economic resources for pennies on the dollar? Most countries will quickly open their doors because who doesn’t love America?
But of course, there will always be the troublemakers who just can’t get with the program. So what does America do? Impose crippling sanctions. Brutal sanctions that end up starving the population to death. Who can forget Madeleine Albright saying 500,000 Iraqi children starving to death was “worth it”?
Then, the American media dutifully reports on the human misery and says, “See! These poor people are dying! We have to do something for those poor starving children!”
Of course, the human misery that is suffered due to the tyranny of American-friendly dictators is not commented upon or seen as a reason for action.
So, the Muslim world is not unique in its “backwardness.” Not at all. Many regions outside of North America and Western Europe are economically stunted in the same way. So why does Islam get all the blame? Why does the Islamic tradition and traditional Islamic scholarship get the blame? Why does Muslim male authority get the blame? This makes no sense.
We have to recognize what is really happening. A hostage situation. All these countries have the gun to their heads. After a while, Stockholm Syndrome sets in (i.e., a psychological phenomenon where the hostage starts to feel affection and affinity for the kidnapper).
Whenever someone starts running his mouth about the Muslim world lagging behind and how that is a function of Islam, just point him to all these other non-Muslim countries. What explains their plight? Is it just that a handful of countries in the West figured out the magic formula for not starving to death and wallowing in squalor and the other 90% of the world’s population is utterly clueless? Is that what the NYTimes and Donald Trump want us to believe?
Or is there something else at play?