In his excellent book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, the economist and historian David Landes writes that it is impossible to understand the dismal economic performance of Muslim nations "without attending to the experience of Islam as faith and culture."1 Likewise, Bernard Lewis, the preeminent scholar of the Muslim Middle East, blames the slow pace of progress in the Islamic world on various cultural factors - in particular, the theological shackling of independent analysis, which has tended to "suppress enterprise, experiment, and originality and to reinforce a fatalistic world view."2Read this excellent piece. It is well footnoted, meeting accepted academic standards (and I thought those were dead).
After having gotten off to a fine start just four or five centuries earlier, Islamic civilization peaked in around 1200, since which time it has been "mostly downhill," leading to the "economic and intellectual backwater" of today. "History," writes Landes, "had gone awry."3 Perhaps it is not farfetched to speculate that Islam may have gone the way of other large-scale dysfunctional civilizations, such as the Aztec, had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of oil under their feet, which essentially rewarded their cultural maladaptation with a constant flow of uncreated wealth.
In this article, I would like to attempt to define some of the variables that have caused Islamic culture to fixate, regress, decay, and fail to prosper on so many fronts. In today's politically correct academic climate, even raising this issue is a controversial proposition, because it assumes that some cultures are more healthy and advanced than others, and that it is possible for an entire culture to become "sick" and developmentally stunted.
However, since September 11 we have all learned many disturbing facts about the Islamic world that make it difficult for even the usual academic suspects to accuse us of being racist and Eurocentrist for criticizing such practices as female genital mutilation, stoning adulteresses, burying homosexuals alive, amputating limbs from suspected thieves, etc. In fact, it is more than just intellectually naive to think of all cultures as equally healthy - it is a dangerous delusion. [see original piece for footnotes - ed.]
Grab your favorite drink and read.