Friday, June 18, 2004
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What sustains the barriers to globalization in the Middle East?
Marcus Noland and Howard Pack have written a must-read policy brief for the Institute for International Economics on why the Middle East appears to be suffering from relative economic stagnation. They lay out the challenge in stark terms:
The authors dismiss the simple argument that Islam retards receptivity to capitalism. Rather, Noland and Pack's key finding is that "public attitudes toward foreigners and globalization" more generally is the greatest barrier to foreign investment. Their operationalization of this kind of attitude is most intriguing:
From this finding, the authors return somewhat gloomily to the role of Islam and conclude:
Read the whole brief.posted by Dan on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM
Glad to see you're having as much fun on a Friday night as me.posted by: Jim on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
“The authors dismiss the simple argument that Islam retards receptivity to capitalism.”
Where’s my shovel? It’s getting really deep. Oh boy, I’m afraid that I must remain “simple.” I downloaded and read the whole eight page report. These guys are nothing more than well meaning fools. Political correctness blinds them to reality. One should get very suspicious when noting a reference to a study put together by James Zogby. They even went out of their way to emphasize that allegedly “Islam is Not the Issue.” On the contrary, I’m convinced that the Christian world was royally screwed until the Protestant Reformation got rid of the usury laws. The Catholics were essentially hostile to wealth creation. The same holds true for the Muslim world.
Around 400-500 years ago the followers of Islam embraced reactionary, anti-intellectual “stop the world, I want to get off” luddite views. I strongly recommend Bernard Lewis’ fantastic “ The Muslim Discovery of Europe.” He convincingly shows how indifferent the Arab Muslims were toward advances of any type. One might even be accused of witch craft by displaying a clock. These people had little interest whatsoever in improving their economic situation. Am I exaggerating? OK, can anyone point to to even one significant achievement by the Arabs since the Middle Ages? They consistently lie to themselves. That’s why the Arabs make a big deal about Israel. In one way or another, the Arab Muslims prefer to scapegoat and blame others for the mistakes of their own ancestors. Ataturk was one of the few Arab thinkers and politicians who had the maturity to get away from this nonsense.posted by: David Thomson on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
I agree with a lot of what you say, but wouldn't that apply to democracy as well? If Islam is not receptive to capitalism, maybe it's not receptive to democracy either. I don't necessarily equate capitalism with democracy, but wouldn't that suggest that bringing democracy to the Middle East is futile?posted by: MWS on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
“I agree with a lot of what you say, but wouldn't that apply to democracy as well? If Islam is not receptive to capitalism, maybe it's not receptive to democracy either. I don't necessarily equate capitalism with democracy, but wouldn't that suggest that bringing democracy to the Middle East is futile?”
Islam is inherently hostile towards both democracy and capitalism. It is also disrespectful of women and theological outsiders. Inclusiveness of any sort is an alien value. We can only hope that a peaceful religious reformation is taking place. Is it futile? No, but the task is overwhelmingly difficult. We have no choice but to assist the Arab Muslim world to embrace the necessary changes. Altruism has little to do with it. I’m talking about self preservation. There is no realistic way that millions of raging and embittered followers of Islam can be isolated on this very small planet. Iraq is merely the first domino that must fall. Saudi Arabia looks like the next one. What should we look for regarding the latter situation? The legal right to permit women to drive automobiles.
Marcus Noland and Howard Pack irritate me with their mealy mouth academic style writing. Brutal frankness---with a dash of added politeness--- is far more suitable. 400-500 years have essentially been wasted. The Arab world can no longer be permitted to indulge in self deception. These people must begin behaving like adults. Their ancestors screwed them and not the “Zionist conspiracy.” The Western world must cease treating them differently because of their lacking blue eyes and blond hair.posted by: David Thomson on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
As usual, people are incorrectly using Muslim and Arab interchangeably. Culture includes more than religion. There are many examples of Muslim countries that are relatively successful economically (at least relative to the pathalogical state of most Middle Easterm muslim countries). These include Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey. Of course, none of these are in the Middle East. Iran's an interesting case in that I think that Iranians are generally pretty entrepeneurial and forward looking economically. Iran's been retarded by the mullahs for the last 25 years but in the long term, that's an a-historical blip that will be reversed when the mullahs' inevitable end comes.
Islam sort of did have a "reformation" of its own but it happened under the Abassid caliphs about 1200 years ago. The caliph al-Ma'mun favoured a view of the Koran as a text created by man rather than an eternal truth (the Mu'tazili theology). Mutazilites believed that the Koran should be interpreted with logic based on reality and the surrounding world. They were heavily influenced by Greek rationalism and al-Ma'mun founded the House of Wisdom (ironically in Bagdhad, the seat of the Abassid caliphate), where many ancient Greek texts were translated into Arabic. The Arab (or possibly Persian) mathematician al-Khawarizmi worked in Baghdad at this time. Unfortunately, the Mutazilite theology never took hold and dwindled away as Abassid power waned.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that the current ascendance of Wahabbi theology is highly aberrant based on Islamic history. As recently as a hundred years ago, it was considered heresy in mainstream Islamic theology but it has spread like a cancer driven by Saudi $$$$$.
All this is a bit of a digression from the topic but it's worth considering when drawing broad conclusions on Arab and the larger Muslim world. Even within Arab countries, consider Morocco, which isn't exactly an economic superstar but is at least less bad than other Arab countries. Another point is that oil (and natural resources in general) have always been a curse for developping countries without existing practices of good governance.posted by: ramster on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
“Mutazilites believed that the Koran should be interpreted with logic based on reality and the surrounding world.”
This group obviously lost the battle. They are similar to the Protestants before Luther. I’m sorry but the irrefutable evidence proves that the Islamic world opted for a reactionary ideology contemptible of the modern world. I will concede that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the Arabs and the overall Muslim world. That’s because the Arabs have always been the dominant player. Let’s be blunt: Islam will be better off when the Arab influence decreases.posted by: David Thomson on 06.18.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]
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