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TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles on the Arab world after 2009
Obama's Cairo speech: wishful thinking at its worst
Dreaming a peaceful Islamic world
Islam has not changed
How can the Arab masses be so gullible?
Articles on the Arab world before 2009
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

  • (september 2009) Obama's Cairo speech: wishful thinking at its worst. It is always dangerous to generalize. Three hundred million Arabs and one billion Muslims are not identical robots who fit one stereotype. However, i'd rather err on the sid of generalization when it comes to the problems of the Islamic world because i think they are serious enough, and they were serious enough way before 2001.
    Obama gave a speech in Cairo that is totally out of touch with the reality on the ground (in the streets of Cairo and of any other city or village of the Arab world, and of the Islamic world at large). The biggest problem of USA foreign policy is that very few USA officials know and understand what "the street" thinks and how the mind of the average Arab works. You cannot bridge the gap between our reality and their reality if you don't know and understand how different the world appears to them after decades of self-brainwashing.
    It is not only a USA problem. The entire (non-Islamic) world is still living in denial of what the real problem is. The real problem is that the Islamic world has a perception of reality that is (allow me to grossly simplify) the exact opposite of reality. The Muslims of the world are convinced that exactly the opposite happened of what really happened. There is a massive, consistent, relentless distortion of the facts within the Islamic world that creates "their" reality, a Muslim-friendly "reality" in which every piece of (the real) reality is an anti-Islamic lie.
    If a Muslim commits a crime, it's a matter of minutes before the story is twisted by the Arab media (and the mosques are the main media here) into a story in which the Muslim criminal is innocent and the whole thing has been fabricated by the CIA, by Israel, by India, by Russia, ... If a Muslim is the victim of a crime, it's a matter of minutes before the story is twisted by the Arab media (and the mosques are the main media here) into a story of religious intolerance against Islam. If, on the other hand, a non-Muslim is victim of religious intolerance in an Islamic country, the news never reaches ordinary people. Therefore there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who believe (and i am not exaggerating) that thousands of Muslims are murdered every year in the West for being Muslims (including women shot dead for wearing a headscarf) while nobody, absolutely nobody, is discriminated or persecuted in Islamic countries for being a non-Muslim. The reality is, of course, the exact opposite: non-Muslims have left the Islamic world by the millions because of the constant discrimination and sometimes outright persecution, while tens of millions of Muslims have moved to non-Muslim countries and are protected by the local laws against discrimination or persecution; and these Muslims gladly remain there and raise their children there. But the average Muslim is convinced of exactly the opposite, and s/he gets angrier by the day, thinking that fellow Muslims are helpless victims of continued massacres in the USA, Europe, Russia, India, China... (And sometimes i suspect that there is also a more subtle reason: it is common in the Islamic world to discriminate based on nationality, religion, ethnicity, social status and so forth, and therefore assume that others do as well).
    The story of all stories for them becomes that there is an international, world-wide conspiracy against Islam. They have become convinced that the non-Muslim world is out to destroy the Islamic world. As evidence their media point to the fact that so many Islamic countries are falling apart: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, ... The rest of the world views this fact as evidence that Muslim extremists are a major problem (inside and outside the Islamic world) but ordinary Muslims are indoctrinated to believe that the Muslim extremists have nothing to do with it (and, in fact, sometimes they are just an invention of Western propaganda). Ordinary Muslims are repeatedly told (sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes explicitly) that the real cause of the trouble in all the Islamic countries is the interference of non-Muslim countries. Once you assume this premise as true, you view every world event through a different lense: you look for the hand of the infidel in every negative event. Therefore the daily distortions of the facts are merely the reflection of a more global world view.
    If you point them to a book or a magazine to clarify the facts, they will refuse to read it. Any scholarly work is considered Western propaganda. This is truly the huge divide between Islam and the rest of the world. Islam considers unreliable any scholarly study. The more scholarly it is, the less likely to be read in the Islamic world. They consider highly reliable the word of mouth that they pick up in the mosque or at the cafe. They will never read a book written by a historian who spent his life studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the very fact that the historian spent his life studying that topic plays against the book. Muslims (and especially Arabs) want a gossip that can be broadcast in a second, and that doesn't need to be proven, not a complex theory with lots of names and episodes. The fact that the gossip cannot be proven is the very reason that the gossip is believed to be true. You have to be a Muslim to understand this logic: the whole Islam is founded on the idea that you have faith, and not that you prove scientifically your faith. As a Muslim, you are raised to have faith: you are rewarded if you have faith without doubting, you are punished if you need a proof.
    It is the "infidels" who need to prove their theory. Proving a theory is impossible if your Muslim audience does not believe a word of what you are saying. They will even doubt that the World Trade Center ever existed. They may even doubt that New York exists. But they will never doubt any conspiracy theory that assigns the blame on a non-Muslim, no matter how ridiculous that conspiracy theory is. As long as the culprit is a non-Muslim, hundreds of millions of Muslims will believe it without questioning it. In fact, questioning it would be equated to treason and blasphemy.
    There are countless books written by experts who spent years researching their subject. But in the Islamic world a rumour picked up in a cafe is much more credible than a book. Just about nobody in the Islamic world is willing to read a book to learn the opinion of an expert. When they want to find out who blew up the World Trade Center, they walk to the neighborhood cafe and listen to the day's gossip. You can point them to any number of books that refute the gossip but they will never read them. They won't even read the titles. The gossip at the cafe always wins. It is difficult to educate people who don't want to be educated, who are skeptic about education, and who sometimes feel that education is equivalent to Western propaganda. To them, the version of history that they learn at the cafe is much more "objective" than the version of history that comes from a distinguished scholar.
    One of the fundamental dogmas of the Islamic world (and this too comes from religious belief) is that Muslims are always innocent. Muslims never accept lightly that a fellow Muslim might be guilty. (In a sense this is a good attribute, as Muslims honestly believe that Islam makes people better, and therefore a bad Muslim is a contradiction in terms). Even when a Muslim commits a crime against fellow Muslims, the first impulse of the fellow Muslims is to deny that the criminal is a Muslim, and the second impulse is to find a way to blame Israel or the USA. After a few minutes the situation is already so confused that distant Muslims will only pick up the accusations against Israel and the USA (or Russia or China or India).
    Perhaps the scariest aspect of Muslim society today is the virtually infinite supply of suicide bombers. If you spend a few weeks in any Islamic country, it's not difficult to understand why: people are so convinced that Muslims are being targeted by a world conspiracy that they get very emotional about "defending" their Muslim brothers. Also, Muslims tend to be very critical, criticizing everything and everybody (from their own relatives to friends to neighbors all the way to distant nations). It is not terribly difficult to turn that belief and this attitude into a deadly weapon. However, most Muslims deny outright that there are Muslim suicide bombers at all. All the suicide bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan are blamed on the CIA and on Israel. The fact that the suicide bomber was a Muslim is never publicized, and rarely investigated. Nobody really cares for his identity and life story. It is puzzling how the media in the Islamic world don't seem interested at all in interviewing the relatives or analyzing the background of a suicide bomber the way Western media do with mass murderers. The reason is that the Muslim masses have already decided that it is all irrelevant: the ultimate culprit is either the CIA or Israel (or Russia or India or China), and it doesn't really matter what the name of the suicide bomber is, where s/he came from, who hired her or him, where s/he got her training, etc.
    Despite the overwhelming evidence, very few Muslims admit that there are Muslims killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslims consistently believe that it's all architected by the CIA and Israel. When Al Jazeera shouts that "USA soldiers continue to shed innocent blood in Iraq and Afghanistan" (the most frequently repeated mantra on that tv station), it reflects the belief of one billion Muslims: it's the USA that does all the killing (even if in practice very few people are killed by USA troops and the vast majority are killed by Muslim suicide bombers, Muslim militias and Muslim warlords). There is no amount of evidence that will change their mind, just like there is no amount of evidence that will convince them to abjure the prophet of Islam. The two things are in fact tightly coupled. Accusing a Muslim of a crime to clear a non-Muslim of the same crime is perceived as un-Islamic to start with. (Sunnis may occasionally blame it on Shiites and viceversa, but even then you are likely to hear accusations that a non-Muslim power is behind this or that sect).
    Whatever crime is committed by a Muslim, no matter how clear the responsibility is, most Muslims in the world find a way to blame the USA, Israel and the West, or at least Russia, India and China, and therefore absolve the Muslims who carried out the attack, and therefore create even more hatred and anger against the non-Muslim world. It's a win-win situation for the terrorists: the Islamic terrorists can kill their own people and the result will be more hatred and anger against the non-Muslim world. You cannot convince a Muslim that Islamic terrorism is a problem because the Muslim will typically point the finger at the USA, Israel or some other non-Muslim entity to explain a terrorist attack. The more often Islamic terrorists strike, the more anger Muslims feel against the non-Islamic world. (Needless to say, this only encourages Islamic terrorists: you don't solve a problem by denying that the problem exists, and you certainly don't solve a problem by pointing at a cause that has nothing to do with the problem).
    Even when Muslims admit the existence of Islamic terrorists it is relatively easy for them to justify the actions of the terrorists. The USA calls "terrorists" the groups that carry out individual strikes against civilians, but does not call "terrorist" a superpower that created a regime of terror in many developing countries by supporting either brutal dictatorships or fascist guerrillas. Muslims get annoyed that the USA accuses terrorists of killing a few people when the USA and the regimes installed by the USA have killed thousands around the world. The Islamic world is more afraid of USA's unbridled power than of "rogue" states like Iran and North Korea going nuclear. In fact the Islamic world views the USA as the main rogue state in the world. When the USA points to this or that violation of United Nations resolutions, Muslims point to Israel's countless violations. Within the Islamic world itself, both Morocco (that invaded Western Sahara) and Turkey (that persecuted Kurds), two strong USA allies, have violated more United Nations resolutions than Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In the eyes of the Islamic world, Al Qaeda's terrorism pales in comparison with the terrorism caused by the USA and its allies.
    The judgment that Muslims (especially Arabs) give on Western politicians and Western media is similarly odd. Western media are obviously much more objective than Arab media. Arab media present only one side of the story (Arab journalists who have tried to present the other side have been fired, jailed and even killed). Western media range from the right-wing commentators of Fox News to left-wing film-maker Michael Moore (author of the best-selling documentary of all times, which was, incidentally, an indictment of the USA government) to left-wing writer Noam Chomsky (who has published countless books that have sold countless copies) to CNN to the New York Times to all sorts of right-wing and left-wing blogs, magazines, newspapers, tv stations. It should be obvious who has the most open and diverse media, and who is instead brainwashed by just one monolithic and very biased version of the facts. In fact, most of the scandals or suspicions that are routinely used in the Arab world to create conspiracy theories originated in the Western media: Western media (magazines, newspapers, books, films, tv shows) exposed most of the wrongdoings of the Bush administration, from torture to civilian deaths. Nonetheless, Arabs will consistently tell you that USA media brainwashed USA citizens but will never admit that he or she has been brainwashed by the Arab media. The often quoted and repeated fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was documented by the Western media (an Arab dictator would have simply put the weapons where he wanted the media to find them or even more simply ordered the media to write that the weapons had been found). The plurality of opinions that one can find in Western media is somehow taken by Arabs as proof that the Western media are unreliable, whereas the consistent version of the facts of their media is taken as evidence that the Arab version of the facts is correct. (I write "Arab" and not "Muslim" because Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and sometimes even Iran have more independent media).
    The local media help shape the idea that the governments outside the Arab world are dictatorships, not the governments inside the Arab world. For example, Al Aljzeera does not cover riots (or even mild protests) in Arab countries, but covers extensively any kind of protest in the West, thus implying that Western governments are worse dictatorships than the Arab governments. (In december 2009 this also applied to the Islamic government of Iran: on december 26 Al Aljzeera's website did not have a single word on the anti-government riots in which several people were killed by the Iranian police). When the local media cover some kind of intra-Arab dissent, it gets inevitably linked to foreign interference.
    Another aspect is the curious alliance between the anti-Western propaganda that countries like Russia and China have inherited from their communist times and the anti-Western propaganda of the media in the Islamic world. The Islamic world loves the conspiracy theories that were spun by the old communist regimes. It has simply revised them and adapted them to the post-communist world. Ironically the Islamic media (and the masses of the Islamic world) tend to be more forgiving of the "crimes" committed against Muslims by Russia and China than of the actions carried out by the West in the Islamic world. Very few Muslims hate Russia for the genocide in Chechnya the way Muslims hate the USA for invading Iraq. Very few Muslims hate China for scientifically eradicating the Uigur culture from Eastern Turkestan. The difference, of course, is that neither Russia nor China has a Michael Moore and countless other leftists spinning conspiracy theories against the government and becoming a world-wide best-seller. Neither Russia nor China tolerates that journalists investigate and publicize the dubious actions of the government. Neither Russia nor China has CNN broadcasting live from the war zones. The Islamic world comically mis-interprets the quantity and diversity of information in the Western world (and in particular in the USA) as a sign that the sins of the Western world are more numerous and more serious than the sins of Russia and of China, where the actions of the government are less criticized or not reported at all.
    The rest of the world misses the point when it blames only the Arab dictators for the state of the Islamic media. The cause runs much deeper into Muslim society (and possibly in the religion itself) than anyone is willing to admit. Muslims are used to a uniform opinion (on foreign-policy matters). When they congregate at a cafe or meet friends in their house, there is a limit to which opinions can be expressed. A Muslim who defends Israel is unthinkable: he would be expelled from his own house. It's easier for a USA citizen to spit on the flag of the USA than for a Muslim to say that Israel is a better country than any Muslim country. There are orthodox opinions that all Muslims are supposed to share. Any other opinion is viewed as treason, blasphemy, apostasy. It happens all the time from Morocco to Pakistan that people receive death threats for something they have said or done. When a group of men (usually it's men) discuss politics at a cafe, it is not about comparing different opinions: it's about who gets angrier and louder about the commonly agreed opinions. Therefore the uniformity of opinion (about foreign affairs) is inherent in Islamic society.
    It is not so much that the media of the Islamic world distort the facts but that ordinary people have a different understanding of what those facts mean, all based on who the culprit is. The best (worst) example is always about the wars. The average Muslim blames George W Bush for causing the death of thousands of people ("people" really means "Muslims" otherwise they wouldn't care that much). The same Muslims were never particularly upset with the thousands (sometimes millions) of people killed by the likes of Saddam Hussein, nor about the thousands killed in the civil war of Algeria. In those cases the killers were Muslims. When the killer is a Muslim, the Islamic world is willing to ignore, tolerate and sometimes justify. When the killer is not a Muslim, then there is absolutely no justification. If one Muslim kills one thousand Muslims in a premeditated act, the average Muslim thinks it's a bad event, but life goes on. If one non-Muslim kills ten Mulims by accident, the average Muslim views it as an unspeakable atrocity that nothing can possibly justify and that must be avenged. This attitude explains why, for example, the Islamic world hates George W Bush more than Saddam Hussein or any mass terrorist: from the point of view of the average Muslim, Bush "screwed" up the Arab world but Saddam Hussein and all the other Arab mass murderers (who killed a lot more Muslims than Bush) did not. The media simply reflect that attitude.
    There are certainly brilliant intellectuals who know the truth and realize who is guilty of what. But they cannot do much: if they challenge the popular opinion, they are despised and persecuted, and eventually have to leave the country and settle in a Western country. It doesn't help to change the mindset in their country of origin.
    The same odd attitude applies to Western politicians. The average Arab firmly believes that USA politicians are despicable and untrustworthy people, as if the Arab presidents, prime ministers and kings were any better: they are obviously much worse. So much worse than millions of Arabs prefer to live abroad. Arabs in Israel enjoy more rights than Arabs in Arab countries (starting with the right to vote). In the wave of democratization that has swept the world after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Arab world has remained painfully behind. The vast majority of remaining dictatorships is concentrated in the Arab world. It should be self-evident that someone living in or coming from that region should not criticize Western politicians but envy them. The exact opposite: the worst Arab dictator (pick your favorite, from Mubarak to Assad) is viewed as more credible and respectable than the president of the USA or the prime minister of Israel.
    On the other hand, don't view Muslims as evil people that fabricate all these accusations for fun. The vast majority are very honest and good people. It actually gives them peace to get angry against the non-Muslims in order to defend Muslims. When they trade fictional stories about Muslims being victimized by non-Muslims, they somehow reassure each other that their faith is good. Whenever they are forced to listen to the other version of the facts (for example, to Israel's reasons, or to an unbiased account of the civil war in Iraq, or to the horrors of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan), they lose their sense of security. Some of them may even have a heart attack.
    They argue about politics the same way that they recite the Quran: there is a standard list of complaints and recriminations that they expect to simply recite, not to be asked to use logic and facts to discuss. In most cases the logic alone would easily prove that they don't have the correct facts, but, again, they expect to simply recite the narrative they have memorized in mosques and cafes.
    The world according to the average Muslim is simple. The Islamic world is perfect. Muslims are perfect. All the problems in the world, and particularly in the Islamic world, are created by non-Muslims.
    Whenever something happens in the world, there is a template that Muslims use to interpret it and that within minutes changes the narrative into one in which Muslims are innocent, Muslims are victims, Muslims are heroes.
    We (the rest of the world) see an Islamic world that is full of problems, and we see that the Islamic world is at war against everybody (USA, Israel, Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Africa, Philippines, Australia, Thailand...)
    The vast apparatus of science, history and politics that European, Chinese and Indian civilizations have created over the last decades is scorned by the Muslim masses, who perceive all of that as an attack against their civilization. In a sense, they are right, because the Islamic religion (like most religions) is inherently opposed to modern values.
    The net result is a vicious process of distorting the facts that is very similar to what the Soviet Union was doing decades ago. The difference is that the Soviet Union was forcing its people to accept false statements, whereas in the Islamic world (and particularly in the Arab world) the anti-Western propaganda is created in the streets and in the cafes by ordinary people. The difference is that in the Soviet Union there was a vast government apparatus devoted to censorship of any news that would hurt the reputation of the communist system, whereas in the Islamic world the censorship against any criticism of the Islamic world is created by ordinary people. The positions are reversed: in the Soviet Union ordinary people knew that the government was lying, but they were powerless to object; in the Islamic world it's the government that knows that the people are lying, but it finds it more expedient to go along with the lies than to establish the truth. For example, any journalist who has dared give Israel some credit has been immediately persecuted by its government after the masses got outraged, not viceversa.
    A Pew poll found that Osama bin Laden was viewed favorably by the majority of people in several Islamic countries (including Pakistan and Jordan). In no country a strong majority of people viewed him as a criminal. In every poll taken in the Islamic world Osama consistently beat USA president Bush. In order to understand this, one has to view the world through the lenses of the Arab media. The average Muslim (from Morocco to Pakistan) does not think much of Osama's religious ideas but agrees with Osama's political views, which are the same views espoused day after day by their media. See also my retrospective article on Osama bin Laden.
    (The USA, and the West in general, has its own responsibility for creating this climate of mistrust, but that's another story. See my Report from a trip to the Middle East. I am also painfully aware that Europe was in a similar situation until not long ago. It's precisely because of what happened in Europe, and of what Europe ended up doing to the rest of the world, that the attitude of today's Muslims is worrying).
    Coming to the worst part of the issue, the attitude of the Islamic world towards suicide bombing has always been outspoken but the rest of the world has always pretended not to hear it: the vast majority of Muslims has always justified suicide bombers and often approved their action ("approved" is more than "justified"). Support has decreased slightly over the years for a simple reason: the majority of victims are now Muslims. The Islamic world was united in thinking that suicide bombings was a legitimate tool when the victims were mostly Jews, Christians and Hindus. Now that the vast majority of victims are Muslims, the opinion has changed a bit. But the rest of the world is fooling itself if it thinks that suicide bombings are tolerated only by the "extremists". Ask ordinary housewives and high-school students, not politicians and clerics who are paid to prove that "Islam means peace" (only when they speak in English, of course). You will find widespread adulation for suicide bombers. There is widespread acceptance of the principle that, when you commit a crime against me, i am then entitled to kill your family and even your neighbors and even someone who simply lives in your city and anyone of your nationality and even anyone of your religion anywhere in the world. Throughout the Islamic world you will find very few people willing to condemn the killing of a person in retaliation for a crime committed by another person. Therefore no surprise that most Muslims tolerate, justify and sometimes openly approve of the killing of a Jew in retaliation for something that was done by the government of Israel; or the killing of a Danish person for something that was done by a small newspaper in Denmark. In their logic this is a correct way of complaining: just kill someone who is ethnically, religiously or politically related to the real target. The rest of the world still has to grasp how widespread this principle is in the Islamic world. The media in the Arab world routinely name the act of a suicide bomber "martyrdom": that word has a connotation that is not negative at all. The media rarely present a suicide bombing as a case of mass murder. Any child in those societies gets the message.
    (Luckily the vast majority of Muslims are very peaceful people who would never hurt anyone, but the same peaceful person who would never harm you will talk of suicide bombers as "martyrs").
    The truth is even worse. Very often it is obvious that a terrorist attack was pointless or counterproductive. If you kill ten random Israelis, you have not hurt the prime minister of Israel. You might, in fact, have killed some Arabs, or some tourists, or even some Israelis who disagree with the prime minister and would have voted against him at the next election. However, the Muslim masses tend to be favorably impressed by such a terrorist attack. Worse: this is true even when the victims are Muslims. When 100 people get killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad, the normal reaction by the Islamic world is to blame Israel and the USA for it (even when it is obvious that the perpetrators are enemies of the USA). The second reaction (when it becomes clear who the perpetrators were) is to side with the perpetrators. Killing 100 people has some glorious attribute to many "moderate" Muslims, because they are 100 not because of the merits or faults of those people. It's the number that matters.
    When (october 2009) a massive suicide attack killed 50 people at a market in Pakistan, the main article on Al Jazeera's website seemed proud of the high number of casualties and commented that "it follows the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud by a USA drone attack, that the militants have repeatedly vowed to avenge". In other words, it was a legitimate act of resistance. The fact that the victims were random civilians (and even Muslims) did not seem to matter.
    That's the reason why so many Muslims (of those who believe that Osama did it, as opposed to blaming Israel or Bush for it) think that September 11 was justified: it was justified for some Muslims to blow up 3,000 random people to avenge whatever wrong the Christians are guilty of. If you are a Muslim, you probably find this logic perfectly fine.
    How much of these attitudes originates from religion (from the inherent "jihadism" of the Quran and from the fact that the "Prophet" himself was a warrior) can be debated forever. But denying the obvious and outspoken attitude and thought of hundreds of millions of Muslims will not help solve the problem.
    There is no question that the Christian world has been even more violent than the Islamic world is today. No religious group has killed so many people as the Christian world. However, Christians mostly hated and killed other Christians: French, Spanish, British, Germans, Russians, ... Most of their wars were wars against other Christian powers. In any case even the Christian world has been moving towards peace, democracy and civil rights, and so are doing most of Asia, Latin America, and now even sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamic world is being left behind on all fronts: economic, cultural and political (not to mention the condition of women).
    When i have discussions in the streets and cafes of the Arab capitals (and this is mainly true of the Arab world, and not true of Turkey and Iran), i sense that the very idea of coexisting peacefully with non-Muslims is a contradiction in terms. The reason is simple: any ruler of a Muslim country who entertains friendly relationships with the West (or Russia or China or India) is viewed by the masses of his country as a coward and a traitor, by definition. You begin to understand why Arafat never made compromises with Israel: for the simple fact of being nice to Israel in any shape and form, the Muslims of the world would have thought of him as a traitor. In the West you win the Nobel Prize for Peace, but in the Islamic world they behead you. Saddam Hussein was despised by the Arab world for his behavior against his own people, but became a hero of the Islamic world when he stood up against the USA; not because he had become any better as a human being, but simply because he was a Muslim doing... the thing that all Muslims should do, i.e. be hostile to non-Muslims.
    Contrary to what most Westerners think, hostility towards the West is not government-sanctioned propaganda: it is the ordinary people who despise any politician who entertains friendly relations with the non-Muslim world. It's the other way around: the political elite of most Islamic countries would love to do business with the world powers. They are stopped by the "street". Arab leaders are despised not for the terror regime they created but for their friendly dealings with the world powers. That is the ultimate sin: be friend with an infidel. The Arab streets are willing to tolerate poverty, corruption, crime and even sectarian violence, but not a friendly gesture towards a non-Muslim power.
    I am pessimistic about the possibility that there ever be peace and harmony between the Islamic world and the rest of the world in the near future. They have been moving in opposite directions, and i see the rest of the world (USA, Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, Africa, Latin America) moving in one direction while the Islamic world is pulled in the opposite direction.
    In order to have real peace between Islam and the rest of the world it takes much more than words. It takes a much higher level of education. The regimes and the media of the Islamic world, and in particular of the Arab world, have to start teaching people the truth: that the trouble started when a man came out of the Arabian peninsula proclaiming himself a prophet and oppressing the other religions, that the kingdom he created invaded the lands of the Christians and of the Jews and of the Zoroastrians and of the Hindus (de facto, the first "world war", and the first one fought with guns, the first "weapons of mass destruction"), that many countries and not only Israel have oppressed and still are oppressing minorities (Morocco invaded and still occupies the land of the Sahrawis, Turkey and Iraq oppress the Kurds, Sudan oppresses the Christians of the south, etc), that Muslims occupy the holy lands of at least four religions (Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Zoroastrian), that the Arab world has the highest percentage of totalitarian regimes of all regions in the world, that Israel has a much better government than any of the Arab countries, that many more Iraqis are killed by Muslims than by the USA, that many more Muslims are killed by Muslims in the Arab world than in Palestine, that many more Muslims were killed in civil wars like the Algerian civil war than in all the wars against Israel or the USA, that many more Christians and Jews have left the Islamic world than Palestinians have left Palestine, that millions of Muslims emigrate to the Christian world but not viceversa, that Muslims are welcome in the capitals of the other religions whereas non-Muslims are banned from Mecca, that (for the first time in history) there is peace in all regions of the world except the Islamic world and its borders, that the most famous Muslims are terrorists and dictators and not scientists and poets, that Jews have won more than 100 Nobel Prizes whereas the entire Islamic world has won only six, that the Indians, the Chinese, the Brazilians and just about everybody else on this planet has managed to rise from colonialism and create a good economy except the Islamic countries (most of which are poorer today than they were under the European empires), that Arabs are ultimately the ones responsible for the downfall of their great civilization (and not everybody else is responsible for it except the Arabs), and, last but not least, that the religion (Islam) is an important factor to explain all their problems. All of these topics are still taboo in 2009. The educational systems of the Islamic world, and in particular of the Arab countries, produce not higher education but biased ignorance about the history of their countries through the most severe form of censorship in the entire world.
    Obama doesn't seem to know that Al Jazeera routinely announces to its audience of millions of Arabs that this or that scientific theory has been proven wrong, from Darwin to Einstein.
    In fact, the anti-Western stance is now often used to justify ignorance. If you point out that Muslims know very little about Chromodynamics or the history of Russia, they often reply that there is no need to study such things: it is Western propaganda that it is important to know such things to distract from the study of the things that are really important (typically, anti-Western conspiracy theories and the Quran).
    Without adequate education (and the Arab world ranks last in education among the regions of the world) even democracy becomes dangerous, as Iraq proved. Check how many Arab universities make the list of the top 200 of the world: none. In the list of the top 500 universities, compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, there are six Israeli universities but not a single Arab one. The Swiss-based World Economic Forum ranks Egypt (the cultural cradle of the Arab world) 128th in the world in primary education. The report "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2007" found that less than 1% of students in Arab countries have an adequate education in the sciences, compared with 10% in the USA and even higher in Asia and Europe.
    Any solution that we may suggest or try to implement for their problems (whether accepting their immigrants in Christian Europe and allowing them to practice Islam even in the capital of Christianity or signing free-trade agreements with their governments or granting scholarships to their students or, god forbid, removing their hated dictators) can be interpreted (and most likely will be) as another move in the holy crusade against Islam. If we do nothing, that will also be interpreted as a move in the holy crusade against Islam. How do we dispel the notion that there is a world conspiracy against Islam? How do we dispel the notion that the USA is a rogue state and the main sponsor of terrorism?
    It takes a lot more than a speech in Cairo, Mr Obama...

    P.S. Western media are routinely accused of generalizing and blaming the religion of Islam for behavior and beliefs that are (according to scholars) un-Islamic. I tend to believe that the Western media are more accurate than the people who criticize the Western media. See my highly controversial article Intolerance and modern Islam. I think that Islam has a lot to do with the attitude of Muslims (both the sense of being victims of a world-wide conspiracy and the aggressive stance towards non-Muslims).
    Having read all the main religious books of all the main religions, there is no question in my mind that the Quran is inherently more violent than other religious books, and Islam is the only major religion that was founded by a man who personally killed people (the Hadith prevail over the Quran whenever the interpretation is dubious). That prophet killed them because they did not believe in his god, which is precisely the opposite of the civil rights that the rest of the world is trying to impose (the right of anyone to worship any god they choose). That prophet created a Mecca where all other religions were and still are banned, precisely the opposite of the multi-religious society that the rest of the world is trying to create (there are mosques in Rome and Beijing, but no Christian churches or Buddhist temples in Mecca). Mecca "is" hell from the point of view of anyone who believes in religious freedom. It will always be very difficult for a Muslim (for someone who believes that Mohammed was carrying out Allah's will) to accept a truly multi-religious society and to open Mecca to other religions (the way Rome or Beijing or Kyoto are open to all visitors and even immigrants). Mecca is open to neither visitors nor immigrants from other faiths, and cannot be because religious discrimination was Islam's very act of birth. We can argue forever about what the Quran means or doesn't mean, but there is no question that Islam was born because Mohammed wanted to expel all other gods from Mecca. It is terribly hard to undo such a strong founding principle. There has never been anything in the Christian religion forbidding a Muslim to visit Rome and even the Vatican, but there is something very important in Islam that forbids a non-Muslim from entering Mecca (let alone building a church there). Hence there is no question that some of the traits that make it difficult to coexist with Muslims are not going away any time soon.
    (When the Swiss voted to ban minarets, the Arab media led by Al Jazeera trumpeted the event as an affront, but nobody in the Arab world seemed to realize that at least a Christian country like Switzerland allows mosques and welcomes Muslims, and the largest European mosque is actually located in the very capital of the Catholic world, Rome, whereas no religion is allowed in Saudi Arabia other than Islam and only Muslims can walk into Mecca. The Muslim audience of Al Jazeera was digusted by the Swiss ban on minarets but the same audience has never felt and does not feel that there is anything wrong with the Saudi ban on all other religions: most Muslims see the double standard as perfectly reasonable. In april 2008 Saudi religious police destroyed a clandestine makeshift Hindu temple in Riyadh and deported all the worshippers found there. Nobody in the whole Islamic world found the event outrageous the way they find outrageous that Switzerland, a country where Muslims are allowed to worship Islam and even open mosques, decides to ban just the minarets).
    Furthermore, i don't think that the most barbaric attitudes of today's Islamic world were endemic of North Africa or Mesopotamia or Persia or of the Indus Valley. These are all places that were highly civilized before Islam (in fact, the greatest Muslim scientists and writers later came from these areas). I suspect that the most barbaric attitudes (all of them the consequence of a stone-age tribal mindset) were endemic of the Arabian peninsula. Islam comes from there. I think that the side effect of the Arabian religion of Islam has been to "export" these Arabian attitudes together with the religion itself (were they encoded in the Quran or not). Basically, Islam spread not only a religious idea but also the customs of the Arabian peninsula. The religion spread the evil vices (as well as the virtues) of the Arabian peninsula to the whole Islamic world. (By the same token, Christianity per se is not an "imperial" religion, but because it was spread by the Roman Empire all the countries that adopted it ended up fighting for empires similar to the Roman Empire. There are traits that are not inherent in the religion but attach themselves to the religion and then spread from the original region to the regions that convert). The fact that most of Islam later fell into the hands of tribes coming from Central Asia (such as the Ottoman empire and the Mughal empire) only helped cement those tribal attitudes. In my opinion, most of the Islamic world (at least from Morocco to Pakistan) is still living under the influence of the moral values of the Arabian desert and of the Central Asian steppes. In this case Islamic scholars are correct in pointing out that Islam is not the source of the evil: Islam indirectly spread the evil, but the evil is not embedded in Islam. By the same token, Italy and Spain exported Latin habits to Latin America while they were converting Latin America to Catholicism or simply sending immigrants there.
    See also Report from a trip to the Middle East, which also talks about the responsibilities of the West.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (may 2009) Dreaming a peaceful Islamic world. There is a new Gallup poll out about the Islamic world. It's pure fairy tale. It depicts the Islamic world as close to perfect. Virtually nobody supports terrorism. Virtually nobody discriminates against women. Virtually everybody wants peace and democracy. A typical question is "Do you think that women should be allowed to work when they are qualified for it"? The vast majority of Muslim men replied "yes". But it's a trick question: ask the same men "what jobs are women qualified for"? and you'll get the real picture. Ask Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia not what they think of the USA (which is pretty much what the French or the Russians think of the USA) but what they think of Osama bin Laden: then you get the real picture (that the vast majority does not hate him, and a sizeable minority views him as a hero). It is very easy to get a standing ovation from a Muslim audience when one claims that most Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people. But it does not explain why so many Muslims are willing to use extreme violence (from suicide bombing to beheading) to achieve their goals unlike the other six billion inhabitants of the planet (many of whom live in much worse conditions). John Esposito, the Italian-American who co-wrote the book "Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think" based on this Gallup Poll, fails to remember why the mafia prospered among the Italians: because the vast majority of Italians were ambiguous about it. When the Italians finally decided that the mafia was an evil to get rid of, the mafia declined very rapidly. Esposito should look into his own roots to understand why Islamic terrorism is prospering today throughout the Islamic world. Denying that a problem exists is not a good way to find a solution.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (april 2009) Islam has not changed. After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the USA there was a lively (and in my opinion healthy) debate on the merits of Islam. Now that the USA is disengaging from Iraq and that there haven't been any major terrorist attacks on the West in a few years, people are beginning the forget. Unfortunately, nothing has changed: the Quran is still the same book, and one billion people still believe that the Quran is the word of a god named Allah and that Allah is the only god. (See Intolerance and modern Islam)
    Islam is still Islam, and will not change any time soon. For example, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, an Egyptian intellectual, declared publicly that it is wrong to keep slave girls. Sounds innocent enough? An Egyptian jury condemned him for blasphemy, declared him a non-Muslim, divorced him from his wife (using the clause that a Muslim woman is forbidden from marrying a non-Muslim) and was de facto expelled from the country. All of this happened in the most "liberal" of Arab countries. Just imagine what is happening on a daily basis in the rest of the Islamic world...
    Let us not forget who the real enemy is: religious dogmatism.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (january 2009) How can the Arab masses be so gullible? It should be self-evident that literally nobody is helping Hamas. When someone shot rockets from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah went out of its way to prove that it was not responsible (See this article). Iran is not even threatening the slightest of intervention (See this article). Egyptian state press has blamed Hamas for breaking the truce (See this article). And we all well know that Egypt has contributed to the Gaza embargo as much as Israel. It sounds like all Arab regimes are secretly happy that Israel is killing all those Palestinians. It sounds like Hezbollah is secretly happy that Hamas is losing a war after Hezbollah won one. And it sounds like Iran is more interested in becoming a nuclear power than in saving Palestinian lives.
    The interesting question is: why do the Arab masses always blame only Israel (and the USA) for what obviously all Arab countries are doing too? How can the Arab masses be so gullible? Why do they volunteer to become suicide bombers in Jerusalem but not in Mecca or Cairo or Tunisi or Casablanca? The Arab regimes are cowards who help Israel aim while hiding in their palaces. They are as guilty as Israel of everything that Israel does to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel could not do what it does without the tacit approval of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, etc etc. And the ordinary Arabs who live under those regimes are guilty of not doing anything to overthrow their regimes. They are cowards too: they yell at Israel because it's free and easy, but they don't yell at their own kings and tyrants because they are afraid of going to jail. They want to become suicide bombers but then they are afraid of going to jail... It would be funny if it weren't tragic and stupid.
    The Hamas leadership that has called for Palestinians to blow up Israeli malls, buses and markets should call for Palestinians to also blow up Jordanian malls, Egyptian bus stations, Saudi markets, etc. If the Hamas leadership doesn't, the Arab masses should finally (after 60 years) begin to wonder whether they are being used by Arabs who are no less evil than their Israeli counterparts. How can the Arab masses always be so ridiculously gullible and naive?
    Furthermore, it should be so obvious by now that the Arab state media use Israel's actions to deflect attention from those state's failures. Israel's invasion of Gaza was certainly timed with the last days of the Bush administration, but it was also timed with the economic crisis that is beginning to grip the whole Arab world: people are losing their jobs but they get distracted by Israel's invasion. What a convenient coincidence for the failed Arab regimes.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on the Arab world before 2009
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