What’s Going Wrong? Haqqani explores Islamic dysfunctionalism

My colleague at BU has an interview with the alumni magazine Bostonia.

Bernard Lewis wrote a book entitled What Went Wrong?, in which he explored the Muslim encounter with the West. Here Haqqani meditates on why it’s still going wrong.

Why They Hate Us: The Long Answer

Husain Haqqani explores the roots of a Muslim instability.

By Tricia Brick

Husain Haqqani argues that a lack of economic, intellectual, cultural, and technological productivity in the Muslim world has left a vacuum that has been filled by paranoia and inflammatory rhetoric.

Husain Haqqani recalls a Newsweek cover from October 2001: a Pakistani child brandishing a gun and the headline “Why They Hate Us.”
zakaria nwswk cover
The photo is emblematic of a question that has haunted Haqqani, director of BU’s Center for International Relations and a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of international relations. “I have always wondered why the Muslim world is in the eye of virtually every storm, in my lifetime at least,” he says. “The Middle East is a cauldron. The India-Pakistan conflict has a Muslim dimension. In Russia, there’s Chechnya, another Muslim dimension.” Why is the Muslim world plagued by instability, undemocratic governments, and sectarian violence?

Haqqani has set out to find answers. He calls his project State of the Muslim World, and he draws broadly from such fields as anthropology, sociology, history, economics, and demography. He has written a series of articles exploring some of his questions, and he plans to begin writing a book this year.

Despite the diversity of the Islam-influenced world, he says, Muslims everywhere share membership in the Ummah, or community of believers. “There are many differences among Muslims, but there are also common streaks running from Egypt to Indonesia, and there is a sense of belonging together,” he says. “And yet, in the last few centuries, it has been a belonging together in decline. The Kuwaitis may be rich, but they know it is coming from oil in the ground, not from something they’ve accomplished. There is a lack of a general sense of accomplishment in modern times.”

He reels off a succession of surprising statistics in support of this argument: the GDP of the world’s fifty-seven Muslim-majority countries combined is less than that of France.

Mind you, this is what the Muslims produce for themselves… if you will, how they take care of their own people. The huge discrepency between production (GDP) and available capital (income) that characterizes the Arab world is what happens when a prime-divider elite can import everything it needs. No matter how wealthy the country inflated by petrodollars (new petroeuros?), the commoners get the scraps. It’s the sign of a culture of impoverization in which the eliites disdain productive activities and despise manual labor.

Those fifty-seven countries are home to about 500 universities, compared to more than 5,000 in the United States and 8,000 in India. Fewer new book titles are published each year in Arabic, the language of 300 million people, than in Greek, spoken by only 15 million. More books are translated into Spanish each year than have been translated into Arabic in the last century.

These are all signs of insularity, insecurity, incapacity to absorb criticism.

Haqqani is getting some help in pulling together the data. “On Fridays, I usually have a set of my students working with me on this project,” he says. “How many books are sold in Bahrain? Compare that with some other country comparable in size and resources.”

I’d advise a study of the media, the percentage of “conspiracy” narrative, the appeal to zero-sum emotions, the incidence of genuine self-criticism. Interesting question: how to quantify these qualitative phenomena?

Using these facts, Haqqani argues that a lack of economic, intellectual, cultural, and technological productivity in the Muslim world has left a vacuum that has been filled by paranoia and inflammatory rhetoric, fueling “a culture of political anger, rather than political solutions.” Angry rhetoric, he maintains, keeps Muslims in a constant state of fear that Islam and Islamic culture are in danger of being snuffed out, resulting in a persistent cycle of violence as Muslims respond to the perceived threat posed by both external and sectarian enemies.

Well, I guess that answers the implications of my suggestions. It’s so nice to hear a Muslim say this, because when I say it, my “progressive” colleagues call me a racist and a demonizer and my “liberal” colleagues edge away in the hope they won’t get tarred.

At the same time, this culture of anger prevents Muslims from examining the internal problems that plague the Islamic world, such as repressive governments, sectarian conflict, and a lack of democratic representation. “Muslims must rise and peacefully mobilize against sectarianism and the violence and destruction in, say, Iraq,” he wrote in the Gulf Times, an English-language newspaper popular in Qatar. “But before that can happen, Muslim discourse would have to shift away from the focus on Muslim victimhood and toward taking responsibility, as a community, for our own situation.”

This could make an enormous difference in Iraq, because despite the demonization of the West in Arab discourse, and its affirmation by BDS-impaired “critics”, what the US has offered Iraq — real independence if they can sustain it — is a fantastic opportunity. Of course, in the Muslim world Haqqani’s dream of peaceful mobilization against sectarianism and violence is a quasi-messianic leap of hope. It would help if Western progressives didn’t have Bush Derangement Syndrome so badly that they prefer everyone to lose if only they can blame Bush, and so feed the worst instincts in the Arab world.

But if there are bold Muslims who want to bring their people out of this land of self-defeating rage, no single dimension of their culture offers a simpler and more pervasive issue for reconsideration/reformulation than their collective discourse on Israel. This astonishingly uniform and harshly negative attitude not only features all of the elements of this larger discourse of grievance and rage, but each one of them appear in their most severe form. Indeed, I’d venture that anti-Zionism constitutes the “sacred narrative” of Muslim rage and fear, and only by reconsidering it, will Muslims be able to dismantle their prime dividers and enter the productive world of civil society.

Haqqani came to the United States after a career as a Pakistani journalist and statesman. He was Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1993 and was an advisor to Pakistani prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, and Nawaz Sharif.

Haqqani is the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, which was a bestseller in South Asia. He is also a practicing Muslim who studied in a madrassa, or traditional Islamic school, in Pakistan.

Although he hopes his message will reach Muslims, Haqqani believes that his research has something to teach Western policy makers as well. “Basically, I am saying that this is an entire section of the world that is reeling from the trauma of its decline,” he says. “How can the United States and other Western powers build relationships with the Muslim world without understanding what happens in the Muslim mind?”

Right on. It takes a great deal of courage to say this.

Instead our policy makers think of how they can appease the angry, resentful Muslim without having a clue about the doubt and anxiety that underlies that anger. Not a good idea.

18 Responses to What’s Going Wrong? Haqqani explores Islamic dysfunctionalism

  1. [...] = “34d024″; var mooter_wrapper_url=””; var run_method = “onload”; var mooter_target = “0″; What’s Going Wrong? Haqqani explores Islamic dys… saved by 3 others     frizz5000 bookmarked on 01/13/08 | [...]

  2. Cleanthes says:

    “such as repressive governments, sectarian conflict, and a lack of democratic representation. ”

    Democratic representation is necessary, but not even close to being sufficient. The crucial element is the rule of law and its cousins, security of property rights and sanctity of contract. Without these, democracy merely legitimises the tyrants.

    A really fascinating question is what impact does Islam have on these things? If Islam generally undermines the rule of law – and having a divinely inspired and completely unchangable legal code in the form of sharia – then THAT’s your problem, not the lack of democracy.

    RL: I completely agree with your comments about what i call a demotic culture, and i’d go so far as to say it’s not just “rule of law” but rule of isonomic law” (ie equality before the law). i believe that Islam, like all monotheistic religions, believes in equality before the law, at least for believers. that may strike westerners as not good enough (ie, it should be regardless of denominational adherence), but in prime divider societies, the law even divides believers (generally along lines of those who have privilege, vs. manual laborers).

    in his book on “What went wrong,” Lewis actually identifies the problems Muslims have with granting equality to non-Muslims (ie dhimmi laws) and to women, as a major problem in their attempts to modernize.

  3. Diane says:

    because when I say it, my “progressive” colleagues call me a racist …

    This has me scratching my head. How does citing demographic facts about the Muslim world say anything about race?

    The only explanation I can find is that any sort of generalization about Muslims (in the progressive mind) has become conflated with racism — though that’s certainly a fallacy. Muslims come in many ethnic flavors, as do Jews.

    Do we have Edward Said’s “Orientalism” to thank for this phenomenon? Particularly, the idea that Westerners are, by definition, incapable of looking at the East in anything but a racist fashion….

  4. Diane says:

    Indeed, I’d venture that anti-Zionism constitutes the “sacred narrative” of Muslim rage and fear, and only by reconsidering it, will Muslims be able to dismantle their prime dividers and enter the productive world of civil society.

    Wait a minute. Are you saying that solving the Arab-Israel conflict is the most direct path to solving all the Muslim world’s problems? That’s what the “progressives” say, and we Zionists flinch everytime we hear it, because we think it’s code for sacrificing Israel to the Arab street.

    But by tinkering with the equation a little, can’t we get the progressives on our side? We would then both be arguing that Israel is the central issue – but the fix isn’t to dismantle Israel but to help the Arab world come to terms with it.

    Interesting.

    RL: That is exactly my contention. Actually, roll the clock back a hundred years: Jews are fleeing a deeply troubled continent, prey to paranoid fantasies like the Protocols and blood libels, with the best of what the west has developed under their belt — science, literature, secular and religious freedom, technology, egalitarian ideals, philosophy — and no love lost on the Europeans. If the Arabs had welcomed them (as Faisal wanted), the Jews could have been their ticket to modernizing without making obeisances to their Christian enemies.

    it’s still not too late. i know millions of israelis who would be thrilled to participate in helping the Arab world get out of their pit.

  5. Richard says:

    Dismantling refers I believe to the process that needs to happen mentally inside the Muslim world. Once the rage and emotion is dealt with then, the Muslim world might be able to cope with the modern age and accept Israel.

  6. fp says:

    what must happen in the muslim world for it to civilize won’t happen, no matter how much it is wished to happen. and one of the main reasons is that the west, particularly the “progressive” component (or at least the one who erroneously deems itself that) (a) engages in suicidal behavior (b) props up and emboldens the muslim component which insures it won’t happen.

    the rest is commentary.

    fp
    http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/

  7. Joanne says:

    I wonder what Haqqani has to say about Arab relations with Israel.

  8. Rob says:

    A brilliant essay by Haqqani. He absolutely puts his finger on it. He could have added that Israel has achieved all the things the Arabs have failed to do – democracy, the rule of law, intellectual muscle, technological strength, economic innovation (and military might) – and that too plays massively in the Arab psyche and fosters their sense of victimhood and resentment.

  9. lee eckhardt says:

    Here is another factor which I feel to a be very important part of Muslim rage: the religious element. If you truly believe that you are, through the medium of the Koran, following the dictates of the supreme being of the entire universe, how do you account for failure? Does it mean that Allah isn’t really on your side? This is a question they shy away from, because it leads to another, even more fearful question – maybe Allah doesn’t exist at all…

  10. fp says:

    lee,

    another factor? we’ve been saying here that this is the MAIN factor.

    it is the core of what the khomeini (shii) and obl (sunni) use to incite the masses: you’re not a good muslim, do jihad and implement sharia law on the infidels and allah’s will and his world order of muslim supremacism will materialize.

    the average muslim is too indoctrinated otoh, too lacking in knowledge and ability to reason otoh to question the koran/allah. but the leaders of jihad are probably quite concerned that it may happen if the utter failure of islamic societies relative to the west continues.

  11. bernie says:

    If a book agrees with the Quran, it is not necessary; if it disagrees with the Quran, it should not be published. Either way, there is very little need to either publish new books or translate old ones.

    In the Muslim world there is little interest in the history preceding Mohammed or in cultures of the rest of the world; thus the destruction of the Buddhist statues and other religious artifacts elsewhere. The great finds in Egypt and in the Middle East were done by Europeans and not by the Arabs who blithely ignored the relics of cultures that preceded them. If it’s not in the Quran it is not important. Muslims could live in a primitive world but there is no hope for them in this one.

  12. fp says:

    well yes, but…

    left to their own devices they would not amount to much. the problem is the infidels not only prop and keep them alive, but actually facilitate their taking over. and when they do, they’ll live off the dhimmis, like they did in the past.

  13. [...] Richard Landes wrote an interesting post today on Whatâs Going Wrong? Haqqani explores Islamic dysfunctionalismHere’s a quick excerptThe photo is emblematic of a question that has haunted Haqqani, director of BU’s Center for International Relations and a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of international relations. “I have always wondered why the … [...]

  14. fp says:

    here’s yet other examples, which keep coming:

    Sarkozy: France Will Help With Saudi Nuclear Program

    In January 14 meeting with Saudi businessmen, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that France is willing to help Saudi Arabia with a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes, and will send French nuclear experts to help operate nuclear facilities.

    Source: Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 15, 2008

    US and Saudi in $123m arms deal

    BBC: Tue, Jan 15, 2008 The Bush administration has notified the US Congress that it intends to go ahead with a major sale of sensitive military…

  15. Eliyahu says:

    fp, Ahmed Ben Bella, a deposed former dictator of Algeria after 1962, once stated –in so many words– that if the Arab [or the Islamic] world could not defeat Israel, then it would implode.

    Now, if we want to be nice to the Arabs –to help them implode softly– we could suggest that they take seriously those parts of the Qur’an that could be considered Zionist: 1) the covenant between Allah and the Children of Israel; 2) Allah assigning the Holy Land to the people of Moses [Jews]; 3) the Jewish return to their land at the Entdtime. See link:

    http://ziontruth.blogspot.com/2005/05/quran-agrees-with-zionism.html

    Of course, they have an answer to everything and the Quran comes in other verses and cancels out what is positive. But that could be a fruitful way of having a discussion or debate with them. Just ask them to live up to the positive, pro-Zionist, verses in the Qur’an. Let’s see how they react. Then when they deny that the verses are still valid, one could ask: How come no longer valid?? and add: Isn’t that racist Judeophobia??

    Let’s see how they rationalize or explain away the verses in the Qur’an that are not useful to the cause.

  16. fp says:

    eliyahu,

    whatever way they react, i am not interested because it won’t be based on reason. engaging islamists is a total waste of time, because they see it as a one-way street and a sign of weakness.

    more generally, as an atheist I don’t engage with believers as a matter of practical principle: utter waste of time. I don’t give a flying you know what about what some ancient primitive text says, on the basis of which I am supposed to reason with somebody who believes in the supernatural against all reason.

    there aren’t many endeavors more nonsensical than arguments about religion.

  17. fp says:

    just to clarify: the study of religion for the purpose of understanding and respoding to its consequence, that’s different. see what robert spencer is doing.

  18. Windy Wilson says:

    “Israel has achieved all the things the Arabs have failed to do . . . . and that too plays massively in the Arab psyche and fosters their sense of victimhood and resentment.”

    Add to this the fact that the Israelis have done it all in land the Arabs had lived in for centuries, they’ve essentially beaten them at their own game and that has contributed to the Israeli Derangement Syndrome.

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