Richard Landes’ colleague Husain Haqqani at Boston University explores the roots of a Muslim instability. This article appeared in 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 itâ€™s still going wrong. In the following, bold face is Landes, italics is from the Bostonia article.
Why They Hate Us: The Long Answer
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 â€œWhy They Hate Us.â€
The photo is emblematic of a question that has haunted Haqqani, director of BUâ€™s Center for International Relations and a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of international relations. â€œI have always wondered why the Muslim world is in the eye of virtually every storm, in my lifetime at least,â€ he says. â€œThe Middle East is a cauldron. The India-Pakistan conflict has a Muslim dimension. In Russia, thereâ€™s Chechnya, another Muslim dimension.â€ 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. â€œThere are many differences among Muslims, but there are also common streaks running from Egypt to Indonesia, and there is a sense of belonging together,â€ he says. â€œAnd 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 theyâ€™ve accomplished. There is a lack of a general sense of accomplishment in modern times.â€
He reels off a succession of surprising statistics in support of this argument: the GDP of the worldâ€™s fifty-seven Muslim-majority countries combined is less than that of France.
Mind you, this is what the Muslims produce for themselvesâ€¦ 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. Itâ€™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. â€œOn Fridays, I usually have a set of my students working with me on this project,â€ he says. â€œHow many books are sold in Bahrain? Compare that with some other country comparable in size and resources.â€
Iâ€™d advise a study of the media, the percentage of â€œconspiracyâ€ 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 â€œa culture of political anger, rather than political solutions.â€ 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. Itâ€™s so nice to hear a Muslim say this, because when I say it, my â€œprogressiveâ€ colleagues call me a racist and a demonizer and my â€œliberalâ€ colleagues edge away in the hope they wonâ€™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. â€œMuslims must rise and peacefully mobilize against sectarianism and the violence and destruction in, say, Iraq,â€ he wrote in the Gulf Times, an English-language newspaper popular in Qatar. â€œBut 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.â€
This could make an enormous difference in Iraq, because despite the demonization of the West in Arab discourse, and its affirmation by BDS-impaired â€œcriticsâ€, what the US has offered Iraq â€” real independence if they can sustain it â€” is a fantastic opportunity. Of course, in the Muslim world Haqqaniâ€™s dream of peaceful mobilization against sectarianism and violence is a quasi-messianic leap of hope. It would help if Western progressives didnâ€™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, Iâ€™d venture that anti-Zionism constitutes the â€œsacred narrativeâ€ 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 Pakistanâ€™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. â€œBasically, I am saying that this is an entire section of the world that is reeling from the trauma of its decline,â€ he says. â€œHow can the United States and other Western powers build relationships with the Muslim world without understanding what happens in the Muslim mind?â€
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.