Three Reasons

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.

6 thoughts on “Three Reasons

  1. The stagnation of China after the 15th century was due to the emperor explicitly forbidding interaction with and exploration of the outside world. Trade still took place, but only by suppressed smugglers, which encouraged corruption on a massive scale.

    Deterioration from the high culture of the middle ages to the warlordism of latter times can be attributed to xenophobia, paranoia and suppression of free thought. It was still a place full of wonders, but China refused to change. So eventually, the peoples who were able to change took great advantage of it.

    I imagine the same model applies to Japan before Perry and greater Islamia, now ruled by regional kleptarchs or religious fascism. Perhaps other places as well?

  2. Thanks for the reminder about China. Google’s new deal with China, limiting what returns a search can retrieve resounds this theme, doesn’t it? However, perhaps once Google has its nose under the tent some intelligent young hacker will find his way around this stricture. One can hope.

    In fact,your juxtaposition of Japan’s experience reminds me that its brittle culture broke under its need to have Western technology while demanding to stay aloof from Western values. Didn’t work there, either–though it took a long post-invasion period for things to settle out. Somewhere I still have wooden salad bowls that bear the imprint “Made In Occupied Japan.”

    The Islamofascists seem to be frantically putting fingers in an increasingly leaky dyke. States, cultures, peoples, cannot steal candy from strangers with impunity. The laws of unintended consequences are harsh indeed.

  3. “However, perhaps once Google has its nose under the tent some intelligent young hacker will find his way around this stricture. One can hope.”

    Either that, or one more example of another US Company further enabling the Chi coms as so many did during the Clinton 90’s.

    …or better: An ongoing war between freedom loving hackers and Google Engineers!

  4. The chances for being co-opted are very high. However, if history is to be believed, the Chinese have lowered the bridge over the moat more than once and become entangled in whatever visitors their curiosity/greed has allowed in.

    Dr. Seuss could probably have written a fine moral tale about the prospects for fun and trouble here. See his The King’s Stilts for a allegory on the ego; take note of the Special Forces, in the form of cats, who come to the aid of the kingdom in their time of need. Observe the villain who wants to destroy the creativity and joy in the kingdom. His final denouemont is that most horrific of punishments: to live out his life beyond the pale.

    At any rate, these China/West encounters will be going on long past whatever resolution eventually comes of the deathly conflicts with Arabia. Despite the dangerous differences, Islaam is a cousin to Judaeo-Christian culture. A poor cousin, of course–made mean and resentful by its decision to stay mired in this tribal paradigm and aweful patriarchal Godhead which leads to the death of curiosity–but family nonetheless. They may not evoke a loving response but there is an understanding of sorts.

    China, however, is truly a tertium quid. Ask “who goes there?” It’s not at all clear what the answer would be or if it could be comprehended.

  5. I love finding this blog. Thoughtful, intelligent, educational. Another addition to my “favorites.”

    I look forward to essays and comments about the second great war/challenge we face (Islamofascism being our greatest contemporary challenge): the war between the Gramscians and Tocquevillians: between the Marxist left and classical liberalism.


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