Moral Reform for the Muslim World
Flip through the television channels some night and sooner or later you will hit on a detective show or medical drama where qualified professionals pace around, methodically searching for clues to help them understand the nature of the problem. This great search for answers is one of the strengths of Western civilization fueling its ceaseless culture of inquiry, but where there is a problem that cannot be solved regardless of how many clues are dug up and how many microscopes are adjusted, then that strength can become a weakness.
The Muslim world is the patient that we have tried to cure and the case that we have tried to solve. The problem-solving traditions of our culture told us that if we worked hard enough to unravel the mystery of Muslim violence, we would arrive at a solution that would restore harmony to the order of our world. But after sacrificing blood and treasure to try out our cures in Kabul and Baghdad, in Cairo and Benghazi, it appears that not only are we are nowhere near a solution, but that there is no solution to be found.
The Arab Spring arose from the prescription of political reform as the democracy cure for what ails the Muslim world. But political representation has only made the Muslim world that much sicker. There is certainly no balm to be found in Gaza, where democracy created Hamastan, or in Cairo where the Muslim Brotherhood has already made Egypt more tyrannical than it was under Mubarak, or in Iraq, where the Sunni-Shiite civil war is on the verge of breaking out again.
The prescription of political reform arose from a false diagnosis that the problem lay in a political blockage, and that once the tyrannical blockage was excised, the Muslim world would become a fit member of the human family. The surgery was performed repeatedly, both invasively with bombs and tanks, and non-intrusively with domestic protests, and each time the results have only worsened the illness.
Political reform, whether carried out through external regime change or domestic protests, will not fix what ails the Muslim world; though its advocates will likely not admit that until the Muslim world democratically agrees to form a Caliphate and democratically enforces second-class status on infidels, third-class status on women and free-fire status on the rest of the planet.
Obama had advocated political reform for Egypt as early as his first anti-war speech in 2002. Ten years later the ashes of the Arab Spring are fluttering over American embassies and consulates. Mitt Romney has proposed economic reform instead of political reform as his prescription for change, but it is not likely that reforming Muslim economies will work any better than reforming their governments did.
As in the fable of the blind men and the elephant, each of our blind doctors steps up to feel the ten-ton elephant of Muslim violence and offers his proposed philosophical cure. The blindness of the doctors is in their Western preconceptions which prevent them from seeing the huge beast as anything but a conglomerate of familiar parts. One of the blind doctors sees a lack of democracy and another sees a lack of free enterprise, and they prescribe what they think is lacking in the Muslim world.
Their false sense of familiarity with the Muslim world, akin to the linguistic false friends that deceive us into thinking that a familiar foreign word is the counterpart of a word in our own language, leads them to see the East as the West with a few missing spots that need to be filled in. But the Muslim world cannot be fixed by attempting to graft on a few Western institutions; if it were that easy then British and French colonialism would have already fixed the Middle East.
The Muslim world is not in need of political reform; or rather it has no ability to make any meaningful use of such reforms. Trying to cut open the Muslim world to insert some tubes of democracy inside it is as futile and destructive as trying to run 13th Century England by the legal and moral standards of 21st Century England. The results would have been much the same as those of the equivalent modern attempts in the Muslim world.
What the Muslim world needs is moral reform, not political reform. Without moral reform, political reform empowers the people to be at their worst while they take refuge in the magical thinking that justice will come from an Islamic order, rather than from accountable government and common ethics.
Moral reform is not a problem that can be solved on a timetable or seen through a microscope. It cannot be exported by armies or achieved through social media protests. The Muslim world's problems cannot be solved by Western professionals promoting reform or integration. They can only be solved by Muslims taking moral responsibility for their own behavior.
That does not mean that we should abandon hope for the reform of the Muslim world, but like a cousin with a drug problem we should keep it at arm's length until it stops its abusive behavior and gets its own house in order.
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