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Sunday, September 19, 2010




The Muslim World in 10 seconds

Hamed Abdel-Samad makes a rather good point in his two part essay about the impending collapse of the Muslim World. Personally I prefer some moderation against reaching such dramatic conclusions. Nevertheless, the essay is well written and certainly worth reading. Here are the links to both parts of the essay with my commentary below.

In the western world, an astounding number of people believe that Islam is overpowering and on the rise. Demographic trends, along with bloody attacks and shrill tones of Islamist fundamentalists, seem to confirm that notion.

In reality, however, it is the Islamic world which feels on the defensive and determined to protest vehemently against what it perceives as a western, aggressive style of power politics, including in the economic sphere.

. . .

Source: Globalization and the Pending Collapse of the Islamic World

Comparing the Muslim world of today with the Titanic just before its sinking, some powerful parallels come to mind — sadly so.

That ship was all alone in the ocean, was considered invincible by its proud makers and yet suddenly became irredeemably tarnished in its oversized ambitions. Within a few seconds, it moved in its self-perception from world dominator to sailing helplessly in the icy ocean of modernity, without any concept of where a rescue crew could come from.

The passengers in the third-class cabins remained asleep, effectively imprisoned, clueless about the looming catastrophe. The rich, meanwhile, managed to rescue themselves in the few lifeboats that were available, while the traveling clergy excelled with heartfelt but empty appeals to those caught in between not to give up fighting.

. . .

Source: The Muslim World and the Titanic

Now my two cents on the subject. First of all, South East Asia (Indonesia/Malaysia) and Turkey aside, it's obvious that most Muslim nations are facing massive challenges that include the aftermath of the demographic explosion, overpopulation and the climate change. In particular the bulk of the Arab World is affected simultaneously and gravely by all three, but other Muslim nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan may be doing only marginally better, if at all. The growing scarcity of resources against the backdrop of a rapid population increase is one issue. Another trend is a tremendous pressure on labor markets as a result of the same population increase exacerbated by droughts that turned thousands of farmers across the Middle East into climate refugees.

Now, it's no secret that fertility rates have been rapidly normalizing across the Middle East and North Africa with some nations having slipped below the replacement level. However, it's important to understand why this fact does not really matter right now. For one, the Middle East as a whole may be already overpopulated to the breaking point. Some nations may be no longer capable of sustaining even a moderate population growth. Never mind that we still have some countries around exploding demographically and exporting their demographics to the rest of the region. Two, the population growth remains high, though it's decelerating, because the population structure is dominated by age groups associated with child bearing. Three, the current decline in population growth provides little relief to the economy and in particular unemployment which are conditioned by demographic events that happened 20 years ago. For a more detailed explanation of this process, check this post.



The bottom line is that with or without a genuine democratic transformation and Islamic reformation, parts of the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim World may well collapse by the end of this decade for purely technical reasons. It's perfectly possible. This Titanic looks rather massive because it's loaded with the end product of several decades of uninterrupted demographic explosion in the Middle East and elsewhere. But it's precisely for this reason, that the ship is increasingly prone to suddenly sinking without early warning. What is perceived by some in the West as the Muslim World's greatest strength, namely its demographics, is in fact the Muslim World's Achilles' heel and, with a little help from the global warming, may easily become the cause of its untimely undoing.



And the last one. There exists a very common misconception in the West that the crux of the problem with the Muslim World lies in its lack of democracy. The Middle East in particular has spent the entire post WWII period in chains of authoritarian regimes set up by kings and dictators. Remove the chain, this school of thought reasons, and one hundred flowers will immediately bloom. Regardless of the root cause of the extreme persistence of this lunacy, it has very little to do with reality and is not supported by recent experiments in democracy in the Middle East and Pakistan that ended in astonishingly brutal civil wars.

While it's true that the kings and dictators have contributed tremendously to creating this problem, they are the only ones who can clear the mess. What the Middle East and Pakistan need is not democracy, but technocracy and modernization which can be provided only by reform minded autocratic regimes. It all boils down to this: Only the dictators themselves can reform their countries and take them into modernity. And if they don't want to do it, then it's not going to happen because nobody else can. There are several reasons for this situation, but the most immediate one is that too many countries in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim World feature impossible ethno-sectarian configurations that make creation of functional democratic systems impossible in principle.

One thing that indirectly follows from the Titanic part of the essay is that both the West, namely Europe, and the Muslim World are basically traveling on the same Titanic. Europe's inability to control migration inflows has made the continent hostage to the situation in the Middle East and sub Saharan Africa. This is a good enough reason for the West to start exercising caution with the idea of how the magic wand of democracy is going to cure the Middle East, Pakistan, or whatever Islamic nation for this matter, of their ills. Otherwise the West can easily find itself with no Musharrafs around to help it to keep the tsunami at bay. All advise and pleading on this issue from the intellectual circles of the Middle East and elsewhere should be dismissed and ignored, if only because in the past the very same intellectuals were all too often instrumental in bringing the regimes to power and spreading virulent anti Western propaganda among the population.

To put it short, breaking chains may look all fun at the first glance but engaging in this activity in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim World for any prolonged period of time is very likely to have a surprisingly unhappy ending for all parties involved and first of all the Muslim World itself. Muslim intellectuals should be the first to keep this point in mind. The West should be the second.

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