Decline and Fall of Arabs: Lessons for Pakistan

The News, September 26, 2005
Decline and fall
Chris Cork

Civilisations come and go, empires rise and fall, and currently we may be seeing the decline and fall not of Islam -- which as a religion appears to be in good health the world over -- but of the Arabs, most of who just happen to be Muslims.

There is an unspoken but underlying assumption in many western minds that the "Clash of Civilisations" predicted by Huntington in his book of the same name published in 1996 is now under way, and that battle has been joined between the opposing forces of Christendom and Islam. Well, Dear Reader, it isn't, and here's why.

Islam, and specifically the twenty--two Arab nations present no significant military threat to the West. Even assuming the Arabs could put aside their differences and assembled a unified fighting force it would never punch much above lightweight. They have a collective GDP a little less than that of Spain and the combined -- and purely conventional, let's not forget -- military power of the Arabs isn't going to give the war-planners of the Pentagon sleepless nights. Outside the Arab world, other Muslim states present no threat either. The real threat that exists for all of us is the potential collapse of the Arab world, a world kept afloat by a sea of oil. Consider the following...

The website of the Arab League has a paper detailing the contributions made by the Arabs to civilisation generally -- with the year 1406 being the most recent date at which a significant contribution was made. Thereafter -- stagnation and decline from the end of the Ottoman Empire with only oil money holding back collapse.

Statistics from the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report give us more telling insights. There are 18 computers per thousand Arab citizens compared to a global average of 78.3. Only 1.6% of the population has Internet access. Average Research and Development expenditures are less than one-sixth of Cubas's and one fifteenth of Japan's. There are 60 million illiterate adults, mostly women, and a declining educational system, its quality being eroded by the inroads made by religion at all levels. Take out the income from the export of oil and the entire region exports less than Finland. Rapid population growth is reducing living standards across the region, as evidenced by the fact that per-capita GDP is currently $1,500, down from $2,300 in the late 1970's.

Arab populations are expected to grow from 280 million to almost 460 million by 2020. And over 600 million a generation later. Many Arab governments are already failing to meet basic human needs, and it is difficult to see how they are going to cope with such a population increase.

There is a potential for collapse in the Arab world that would be bad news for all of us. Think oil. Think regional instability and war. Islam is not the root of the collapse but instead a fundamental failure of Arab culture that is causing them to look backwards to the Golden Age of their civilisation.

And now, Dear Reader, think of all of the above and lay the template across Pakistan. True, many of the indicators are absent or much reduced here, but some are uncomfortably close -- the "youth bulge" and the rise of religious extremism, for instance. Internal decay may destroy the Arabs, but a "Clash of Civilisations" probably won't. Look and learn, Pakistan, look and learn.

The writer is a British social worker working in Pakistan

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