Malice in the Mimbar
We are assured daily that communications technology and globalization are liberating the Muslim world. We are also led to believe that social networks bring down the totalitarians. We are ultimately led to believe that democracy is the default setting for all those "jasmine" revolutions. Alas, such optimism is nonsense. Revolution has been mistaken for reform.
The West seems to know little of the Muslim world, except what they garner from English-speaking, Western-educated, computer-savvy Islamic elites, especially clergy. The reality of the Ummah is a world apart from much of what is heard from media, political, and Christian pulpits in the West.
Wishful thinking aside, we know how the West gathers and shares information. More important is the Muslim cipher; how do the Islamic masses get their information or cultural marching orders? Surely the illiterate and semi-literate have little use for a newspaper, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Do illiterates "tweet" and upload video clips to YouTube? Probably not!
Muslims represent a fourth of the world's populace, yet not a single Muslim university ranks in the top hundred worldwide. Such standings probably explain why Muslim elites come west for real schooling. Yet even infidel credentials do not guarantee civility.
Sayyid Qutb might be a poster child for ecumenical blowback. Qutb is the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. He matriculated at Colorado State Teachers College for an "education" degree.
Schooling at home, for the few Muslims who get the opportunity, is scriptural cant. The madrassa produces robotic scriptural literalists, yet such schools do little for literacy. Illiteracy among Muslim women is epidemic. According to the World Economic Forum:
Seventeen of the 20 countries at the bottom of the gender (literacy) gap scale are Islamic -- Lebanon (placed at 116), Qatar (117), Nigeria (118), Algeria (119), Jordan (120), Oman (122), Iran (123), Syria (124), Egypt (125), Turkey (126), Morocco (127), Benin (128), Saudi Arabia (129), Mali (131), Pakistan (132), Chad (133) and Yemen (134).
Put aside for the moment the illiteracy problem. Penetration statistics confirm that Islam is not wired, either. "Penetration" is the unfortunate euphemism used by geeks to measure the per capita ownership of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computer consoles worldwide. The entire Muslim world, as with literacy and education, is at the bottom of that pile, too. In most Muslim countries, the laptop penetration is less than five percent. Figures for cell and smartphones are worse still.
The only people who are hyper-connected in the Muslim world are the elite: intercontinental academics, cowering secular politicians, and a loud, arrogant clergy. In short, when you combine statistics about education, literacy, and electronic connectivity, Islam, unlike the rest of the world, must communicate to the masses through historical avenues -- agents like the mimbar, the mosque pulpit.
Indeed, the devout might not use a laptop or read anything except the Quran, but they nonetheless pray three times a day and go to Friday prayers once a week. No time for education or electronic marvels, but weekly sessions with ayatollahs, imams, mullahs, and muftis are de rigueur.
The mimbar is the one constant communications link for most of the faithful. If the Muslim world is semi-literate, backwards, and plagued by cultural pathology, the fault lies with the mimbar and a clergy who insure a kind of permanent religious servitude.
The Muslim pulpit as menace is confirmed by anecdotal, as well as empirical, evidence. Recall all those Western news outlets, including al Jazeera, who routinely warn that the period after Friday "prayers" is a danger zone, a time when all-male, bearded mobs might pour into the streets and become incendiary or lethal. If there is no link between the mosque and mayhem, why issue what now have become global Friday prayer warnings?
Subsequent to any Muslim mob violence, the airways are usually rife with loose talk about ignorance -- particularly Western ignorance of Islamic culture and religious beliefs. Indeed, before the smoke clears or the blood dries, the apologists are deployed as they were after the Benghazi atrocities. Nonetheless, if literacy, education, and digital evidence matter, the Muslim world pretty much owns the ignorance franchise.
Western literature, education, and ideas have been haram within the Ummah for centuries. Who gets to decide what is acceptable, or un-Islamic? Surely such matters are not decided by independent thinkers, science, referendum, or democratic vote. Apostasy, heresy, and blasphemy are capital offenses in many Islamic cultures. A choice between dogma and death is no choice at all.
The chronic cultural pathologies within Islam are home-grown. Islam has had 13 centuries to address problems like illiteracy, misogyny, terror, and religious intolerance. Many things might be blamed on outsiders or infidels, but Muslims alone are responsible for what they know, what they believe, and how they act. As long as Islam defers cultural or social maturity and follows arbitrary, and often malicious, clerics, there is no way forward. Profound ignorance has profound consequences. Permanent social and cultural infantilism is on the short list of likely futures. Belief and truth are not synonymous.
The painful truth about literacy and education in the Muslim world is obvious. Both are a threat to religious hegemony. The ignorance and carnage that plague the Ummah today, especially in the Arab quarter, have two culprits: religious clergy in the East and secular apologists in the West -- a now tragic mix of clueless and gutless.
G. Murphy Donovan writes frequently about politics and national security.