Islamic Civilizational Meltdown?
In an article titled "On Trade: Obama Right, Critics Wrong" (NYT, April 29, 2015) - and let's agree to ignore the title for a moment - Thomas L. Friedman offers an intriguing observation on the Muslim world, especially on the Arab Muslim world:
When you look at it from Europe - I've been in Germany and Britain the past week - you see a situation developing to the south of here that is terrifying. It is not only a refugee crisis. It's a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq - the core of the Arab world - have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses.I don't claim any expertise in economics and thus don't know if President Obama is right or not about trade, but I do dabble in history and cultural comparison, and I think that Friedman is either 100% right or 100% wrong on his warning of a "civilizational meltdown." Either we're watching the Islamic world's awful collapse, or we're watching its even more awful resurgence in its most virulent form as the Islamic State expands its influence in various parts of the Muslim Ummah.
But - and this is the crucial point - all this is happening in a post-imperial, post-colonial and increasingly post-authoritarian world. That is, in this pluralistic region that lacks pluralism - the Middle East - we have implicitly relied for centuries on the Ottoman Empire, British and French colonialism and then kings and dictators to impose order from the top-down on all the tribes, sects and religions trapped together there. But the first two (imperialism and colonialism) are gone forever, and the last one (monarchy and autocracy) are barely holding on or have also disappeared.
What should we do? How should we respond? I don't really know. Whether we do something or do nothing, things just seem to get worse. About all I can do is continue analyzing events . . .