Hopeful Signs

2003-09-14

One quarter of the world's population is Islamic, and majority-Islamic countries have done an absolutely horrendous job of basic governance: they are almost all controlled by authoritarian rulers, lack basic freedoms, and other than an injection of oil wealth in certain places they have been economically static since the end of colonialism (the only area of the world that has done worse is sub-Saharan Africa). It's a shame that so many people are living essentially without hope of a better life for themselves and their offspring. However, several factors may be combining to induce change in Muslim nations: one is the significant population growth they have experienced, which has led to equally significant demographic changes (societies with a preponderance of young people tend to undergo major changes); another is the growing exposure (via television, the net, and other media) to the serious gap between the stagnation in most of the Islamic world and the progress made in the West, in East Asia, and even in the relatively more free Muslim countries (such as Turkey and Indonesia). Indeed, there are hopeful signs of positive change: in two fascinating op-ed pieces published in recent days (one on the Iraq effect and another on the Islamic civil war of ideas), Amir Taheri provides evidence that many Muslims are asking long-overdue questions about how they can improve their situation. Even the mere asking of questions is heartening: rather than blaming the West or some anti-Islamic conspiracy, they are looking inside to begin solving the problems endemic to their societies. And looming large in many of the proposed solutions are things like democracy and freedom. Is it possible that this ferment will eventually lead to an Islamic Renaissance? One can hope so. The Islamic world was once the most open, progressive society on earth. Although I doubt that it will overtake the West in this regard, if Muslim peoples rediscover their open heritage, the Islamic world -- and the world as a whole -- will be a much better place.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal