Friday, January 27, 2017

From the Archive: The Collapse of Arab Civilization

Originally posted January 5, 2014:

        Browsing the web the other day, I came across an article from the September 2005 Naval Institute Proceedings you will find an article called "The Impending Collapse of Arab Civilization" by Lieutenant Colonel James G. Lacey, U.S. Army Reserve. A few interesting points:
       Interestingly, on the Arab League's website there is a paper that details all of the contributions made by Arab civilization. It is a long and impressive list, which unfortunately marks 1406 as the last year a significant contribution was made. That makes next year the 600th anniversary of the beginning of a prolonged stagnation, which began a dive into the abyss with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Final collapse has been staved off only by the cash coming in from a sea of oil and because of a few bright spots of modernity that have resisted the general failure.

       Statistics tell an ugly story about the state of Arab civilization. According to the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report:

       There are 18 computers per 1000 citizens compared to a global average of 78.3.

       Only 1.6% of the population has Internet access.

       Less than one book a year is translated into Arabic per million people, compared to over 1000 per million for developed countries.

       Arabs publish only 1.1% of books globally, despite making up over 5% of global population, with religious books dominating the market.

       Average R&D expenditures on a per capita basis is one-sixth of Cuba's and less than one-fifteenth of Japan's.

        The Arab world is embarking upon the new century burdened by 60 million illiterate adults (the majority are women) and a declining education system, which is failing to properly prepare regional youth for the challenges of a globalized economy. Educational quality is also being eroded by the growing pervasiveness of religion at all levels of the system. In Saudi Arabia over a quarter of all university degrees are in Islamic studies. In many other nations primary education is accomplished through Saudi-financed madrassas, which have filled the void left by government's abdication of its duty to educate the young.

        In economic terms we have already commented that the combined weight of the Arab states is less than that of Spain. Strip oil out of Mideast exports and the entire region exports less than Finland. According to the transnational Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), regional economic growth is burdened by declining rates of investment in fixed capital structure, an inability to attract substantial foreign direct investment, and declining productivity — the economic trinity of disaster.

       Economic stagnation coupled with rapid population growth is reducing living standards throughout the region, both comparatively and in real terms. In the heady days of the late 1970s oil boom, annual per-capita GDP growth of over 5% fueled high levels of expectations. GDP per-capita grew from $1,845 to $2,300. Today, after adjusting for inflation, it stands at $1,500, reflecting an overall decline in living standards over 30 years. Only sub-Saharan Africa has done worse. If oil wealth is subtracted from the calculations the economic picture for the mass of Arab citizens becomes dire.

       Things are indeed bad in the Arab world and will get much worse.
       The author's primary argument is that we are not seeing a collapse of Islam, nor witnessing a war between Islam and the rest of the world--refuting the thesis advanced by Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington--but a collapse of Arab Civilization, which is casting back to the time of its peak of glory to try and find a solution to current problems. Lacey contends that the best option for dealing with this collapse is containment:
       The grand strategic concept that provides the best chance of success is the one that served us so well in the Cold War—containment. No matter what else we do we must position ourselves to contain the effects of the complete collapse of Arab civilization. Already 10 percent of the French population is from Muslim North Africa. Europe's ability to assimilate a larger flood of economic refugees is questionable. And mass migration is just one effect a total collapse will have. Containment will mean adopting and maintaining difficult policy choices, which include:

       --Working closely with the European nations to defend their southern border against the mass migration of tens of millions of destitute Arabs as well as armed confrontations with failing Arab states.
       --Renewing our close ties with Turkey and making that nation a bulwark against the effects of collapse.
       --Working to help modernize and integrate the Russian military into an enhanced European defense structure.
       --Ensuring China is a partner in this containment effort.
       --Propping up weak border states that are already dealing with the spillover effects of Arab collapse—such as Pakistan and the new Caucasus states.
       --Assisting the Iranian popular will to establish a government not based on a religious oligarchy. The Persian people may form an eastern bulwark against collapse.
       --Plan for the security of critical resources even during possible upheavals and regional turmoil.
       --Spillover effects such as terrorist groups already evident in places like Indonesia and the Philippines must be eradicated or reversed.
       --We need to be clear that this is not a failure of Islam. In this regard we must help Muslims outside of the Arab world find their own interpretations of their faith and not fall prey to those being espoused by the Arab world—Wahhabism.
       Lacey's argument for this being an Arab, rather than Muslim, problem, seems to rest on two primary points. First, that Islam continues to attract adherents, and that the problems that stymie growth in the Middle East have not had an impact in the Far East. With the advantage of hindsight, it is not clear that Lacey's two grounds for saying this is an Arab problem rather than a Muslim problem have withstood time. First, several scholars--including David Goldman--have pointed out that Islam is facing a crises of faith that has resulted in declining active participation in worship. The mosques of the Middle-East are rapidly becoming as empty as the Cathedrals of Europe. Second, we have seen the same fundamentalism raise its ugly head in Indonesia as much as any other part of the Muslim world. Moreover, geographic location does not nullify the fact that Islam is anti-scientific.

       Notwithstanding, it is clear that Bush's and Obama's strategy of engagement has failed and that we should have followed Lacey's strategy of containment. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has thrown away most of the opportunities to contain the problems of a collapsing Arab Civilization. Europe continues to open its doors to Middle-Eastern immigrants. Turkey has abandoned secularism. Russia has no interest in integrating with the rest of Europe--in fact, Putin increasingly wants to resurrect the Soviet Empire. China is likewise charting its own independent course. Pakistan has already fallen to fundamentalism. Obama shot down the Green Revolution in Iran. Obama has delayed construction of the Keystone Pipeline and reduced oil production on federal lands, which would have provided additional security of "critical resources"--i.e., oil. No Western government is willing to address Wahhabism head on, let alone push alternatives.

       There is also a certain irony to the Middle-East attempting to regain its former glory by becoming more hostile to Christianity and Judiasm, since its advancements and achievements were largely the result of its Christians and Jews. It is no accident that Arab technical achievements stopped once the Muslim nations had largely eradicated its Christian and Jewish populations.

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