Someone just commented on my 2008 post, The Enlightenment and its Critics, calling me arrogant for saying (“Western”) Enlightenment values are good for other, very different societies. This is a standard multi-culti trope, denying progress. But what’s really arrogant is believing enlightened Western values are good only for us enlightened Westerners, and not for those other benighted brown-skinned people over there.
So call me arrogant, but I do say Muslim societies would be better – for the Muslims in them – if they were more like ours. All this “Muslim Rage” happens because their existing social constructs aren’t working for them the way ours do. Europeans and Americans don’t burn embassies, basically because we lead more satisfying lives and aren’t so insecure that we feel humiliated or threatened by some stupid You-Tube video or cartoons. The violent response of Muslims who feel “dissed” mirrors that of the young street tough who feels dissed. Both are powerless nobodies and know it, defending their honor because, from their perspective, that’s all they’ve got. People whose place in the sun is secure don’t behave that way. (And, of course, nothing degrades Muslims as much as crazy violence.)
It’s no coincidence that Western nations, with “Western” values, are far richer not only materially but intellectually and socially than most Muslim societies, backward in every respect. It’s because they haven’t yet gotten “Western” values – like democracy, openness, competition, rule of law, pluralism – and freedom of expression.
These are what historian Niall Ferguson calls the “killer apps” of Western civilization, that have made us so phenomenally successful in providing good lives for most of our people. Some Muslims act as though it would pay for them to be protected against the insults coming from free expression. It would not. Freedom from insult carries a very high price, in intellectual stagnation. An open market in ideas is a key factor propelling the West to so much progress and human betterment than less open, and less open-minded, Muslim societies. I love living in the kind of dynamic society where my beliefs are insulted every day.
But Muslims are not doomed to forever stew in their self-emasculating backwardness. Western society was not born with our killer apps pre-installed. We had a long road groping our way toward them, with some stumbles along the way, like the odd world war. Only lately have we finally gotten into the groove. Muslim societies aren’t there yet, but they’re not congenitally handicapped; they’re on the road too, if only farther back. We were not straitjacketed by our feudal past, nor are they eternally stuck in their dysfunctional present. Societies change; and, in the grand sweep of history, for the better.
In fact, in just the last few years, some Muslim societies have made a lot of progress. Tunisia had elections, won by secularists. So has Libya; and thousands there, bless them, have marched against Islamic extremism. In Egypt, an elected president is pushing back against the army. And the embassy burners are, after all, small minorities. They are yesterday’s men, fighting against a tomorrow they cannot stop – because even most Muslims realize that “Western” values are human values.