11 October 2007

Blame the Koran and the Clan

Why is the Muslim world so backwards?
The 1.2 billion-1.3 billion people in the Muslim world, about 20% of the world’s population, have a smaller GDP than Germany, about 1.2% of the world’s population. The Muslim world boasts three of the world’s top 500 companies, on par with Finland, a country of 5 million or 0.08% of the world’s population, but is responsible for fewer international patents. In short, the people who believe that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet are clearly fighting for the “Who Has the Most Shit Civilisation?” award. Currently, sub-Saharan Africa is winning, but Islam is making inroads through seduction and slaughter into some of the world’s most backwards areas, think Darfur.
The question remains, why is the Muslim world doing so badly?
My current theory is that the culture of family honour and the insistence on the divine perfection of the Koran are at the root of the problem.
Let’s start with the Koran. Throughout much of the Muslim world, many people believe that the Koran contains all the wisdom needed. Anyone who questions the Koran or the Prophet is strongly chastised. Much Islamic education consists of little more than memorisation of religious texts and practical interpretation, which is a Herculean task given the huge number of internal and external contradictions. See endnotes for examples.
The problem is that endless repetition of dogma doesn’t make it true, it just makes people brainwashed. On an individual level, if someone believes that God/Allah created the world and everything in it, that person is not going to make a good evolutionary biologist.
Similarly, if someone believes that the rules for a perfect social structure is contained in a book written by a semiliterate 7th century incestuous paedophile merchant from a cultural backwater of a collapsing empire who suffered from auditory hallucinations, they are not going to make particularly wise legislator.
If that weren’t bad enough, the authoritarian clan structure and obsession with honour create a situation where lying is rampant and independent thought is stifled.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in The Caged Virgin: “This [Muslim] cultural background is characterized by three important factors. First, an authoritarian mentality based on strict hierarchy; second, a patriarchal family structure, in which the woman has a reproductive function and is expected to obey men in the family; if she doesn’t she will disgrace the family. Third, all thoughts revolve around the group; the group always comes before the individual; social control is very strong; and the fierce protection of the group’s honor makes people obsessed with avoiding shame at all cost, with the result that doing so through lying or simply denying what has really happened becomes the norm.”
Honour, as a concept, is relatively weak in the West, but in the Muslim, especially Arab world, it is central. That honour can be marred by weakness or wrongdoing, especially by women not following cultural rules designed to subjugate women. The preservation of honour can include murder of one’s own family members, something that I, as a Westerner, put at the very tippy, tippy top of the list of barbaric, uncivilised and dishonourable acts.
It is worth noting that the concept of honour is strong in eastern Asia in countries such as China and Japan. However, the rules against consanguineous marriage and small family size largely offset the effects, as does the importance ascribed to education.
The cultural influence of preserving honour in Muslim culture is exacerbated by the size and structure of clans in the Muslim world, especially the Arabic Muslim world. In the West, the Catholic Church, in the Middle Ages, banned marriage within the family to seventh degree of consanguinity (i.e. a couple couldn’t share the same great-great-great-great-great grandparent). That subsequently dropped to four degrees of consanguinity (great-great grandparent). The Church did this partly out of Roman and German culture and law and partly for its own benefit. By splitting up clans, families were more likely to give their allegiance to the Church.
By contrast, the Arab Muslim world is largely still based on clans with a very high frequency of marriage within the clan. According to various studies, marriages between first or second cousins are thought to account for 60% of Saudi couples, 58% of Iraqis, 55% of Kuwaitis, 50% of Jordanians and 48% of UAE natives. One consequence of this is that congenital diseases are much higher than in the West. The other consequence is social. The clans grow large and powerful and the individual’s independence of thought and action is subsumed into the good of the clan.
That combination of preserving honour and intellectual stagnation make progress in the Muslim world nearly impossible, which is why most Muslim countries are at least partly stuck in a mediaeval mindset where faith, pride, ignorance and tyranny rule and any voices of reason are threatened with death.
Is it any surprise then that the West, with societies largely based on reason, evidence and scepticism are far ahead of the Muslim world?

Example of an internal contradiction from the Authorized English Translation:
[10:90] We delivered the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh and his troops pursued them, aggressively and sinfully. When drowning became a reality for him, he said, "I believe that there is no god except the One in whom the Children of Israel have believed; I am a submitter."
[10:91] "Too late! For you have rebelled already, and chose to be a transgressor.
[10:92] "Today, we will preserve your body [Pharaoh’s], to set you up as a lesson for future generations." Unfortunately, many people are totally oblivious to our signs.
Contrast that with:
[17:102] He [Moses] said, "You know full well that no one can manifest these except, obviously, the Lord of the heavens and the earth. I think that you, Pharaoh, are doomed."
[17:103] When he [the Pharaoh] pursued them, as he chased them out of the land, we drowned him, together with those who sided with him, all of them.

Example of an external contradiction:
[51:49] We created a pair (male and female) of everything, that you may take heed.
Clearly Mohammed didn’t know jack about God’s creatures such as bacteria, fungi, snails, earthworms, bdelloid rotifers, and many others. This begs the question, if the Koran is God/Allah’s inspired word, why did God/Allah get it wrong?

N.B. The Bible is no better. Like the Koran, it is full of internal and external contradictions. The difference is that there are very few if any Christians who threaten to kill people who question it.

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