Curiosity killed the cat, but the refusal to be curious — to be open to novel ideas — eventually kills the culture.
Bernard Lewis proposes three obstacles to the Muslim world’s attempts at modernization. They are easily summarized: first, and “most profound,” is the relegation of women to the harem. The second obstacle is the insistence on theocracy as the only valid form of government. The Western separation of church and state, the long, bloody clashes to establish tolerance and barriers, never happened in Islam. Last is the Islamic world’s insistence on using the inventions of the Infidels while refusing to allow the creative mise-en-scène from which these inventions and advances arose. It was new wine in old wineskins.
According to Stanley Kurtz, Lewis failed to address fully a central feature of Muslim culture, its tribal identity. Unlike the West’s Judaeo-Christian elevation of individual liberty and responsibility, Islamic identity begins and ends in the tribe. When Western pundits question the absence of Muslim disapproval for the excesses of the jihadists, it is obvious that they have failed to grasp the tribal nature of Muslim culture.
In Western culture, the notion of being “beyond the pale” has lost its currency. Once upon a time, though, we understood the pain of isolation behind the phrase. To be beyond the pale was to be forced to live outside the fortification that kept the wilderness at bay. It was a cruel punishment. This is a social position still understood by today’s Muslims and they are loath to incur it.
The failures of Islam to adapt to incursions from Dar al-Harb, its cultural decision to be the scavengers rather than the reapers of a well-tended garden, and its insistence on reclaiming an atavistic Utopia — all these are the symptoms of a brittle culture which cannot survive its own contradictions.