This article by Theodore Dalrymple has been making the rounds of the blogosphere lately, even though it was written back in 2004. What I find interesting is that Dalrymple comes to one of the same major conclusions that I have, that Islam’s primary problem is the lack of corrective mechanisms to keep the fanatics in check.
It also brings to mind another subject I was planning to write about, which is whether Islam can withstand not achieving world domination. In a theme related to the previous point, is what I consider a serious design flaw in Islam: it makes a promise of Heaven on Earth. One might say the same about Christianity, but Christianity holds no hope of achieving that through human means, only via divine intervention (i.e., the Second Coming). Islam, in contrast, promises material success purely through human acts, i.e. the foundation of a truly Islamic society. Sounds a bit familiar to students of history, doesn’t it?
As with Communism, the problem for Islam (as has been pointed out elsewhere) is that the West and the USA in particular achieve in their apostate ways what true Islam promises, while the Ummah remains mired in poverty, disease, oppression and failure. The very existence of the Great Satan is a rebuke if not a repudiation to Islam and therefore intolerable to the fanatics1. As Dalrymple notes, if the Ummah were content to live its own way by itself, as say the Amish do, then there would be little conflict. Islam, however, does not seem able to do that and I believe it is because of this issue. An belief that system that provides rewards in the afterlife or non-material rewards today can isolate itself and let the rest of the world go on its way. A belief system that promises the pinnacle of material success if followed properly cannot, just as Communism couldn’t. Dalrymple claims that we are seeing the beginning of the end of Islam, as this contradiction becomes ever more apparent and I tend to agree with that.
It may be that Islam can reform enough to adopt the social mechanisms of success (liberal democracy and capitalism) but I think that such a reform would be far more drastic (and therefore less likely) than it was for Christianity2.
1 Presumably it would be intolerable to the moderates as well, but non-fanatics of any religion rarely waste their time pondering such questions.
2 One is left noting that the third Abrahamic faith, Judaism, seems to have been structured appropriately for the End of History from its beginnings. A little side benefit for being the Chosen People?