Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New
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terror is a deadly threat we have barely begun to address.
Yet religion-fueled fanaticism in the Middle East shouldn't
surprise us: The tradition pre-dates the Prophet's birth by
thousands of years.
just have better tools these days.
amaze us isn't the terrorists' strength, which has limits,
but the comprehensive failure of Middle Eastern civilization.
Given all the wealth that's poured into the region, its vast
human resources and all of its opportunities for change, the
mess the Middle East has made of itself is stunning.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books,
as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both
under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist
for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]
Beyond Israel, the region hasn't produced a single first-rate
government, army, economy, university or industry. It hasn't
even produced convincing second-raters.
Culturally, the region is utterly noncompetitive. Societies
stagnate as populations seethe. To the extent it exists, development
benefits the wealthy and powerful. The common people are either
ignored or miserably oppressed - and not just the women.
Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn't so much an invasion as a last-minute
rescue mission - an attempt to give one major Middle Eastern
state a two-minutes-to-midnight chance to develop a humane, democratic
It may not work. But we'd better hope it does.
The Middle East's failure on every front enabled the rise of
the terrorists - as well as the empowerment of other religious
extremists, secular dictators and political parties willing to
poison electorates with hatred.
The popular culprit
for the mess is Islam. And there can be no doubt that the faith's
local degeneration has been catastrophic
for the region. By far the most numerous victims of "Islam
Gone Wild" have been Middle Eastern Muslims.
But we can't be content with a single explanation for a civilization's
failure, as powerful as the answer may appear. Yes, Islamist
governments fail miserably. But so do secular Arab, Persian and
Pakistani governments (whose leaders belatedly play the Islamic
Yes, the culture is Islamic, even in nominally secular states.
But we have to ask some very politically incorrect questions
that cut even deeper.
Many of the social, governmental and psychological structures
at the core of Middle Eastern societies pre-date Islam. Authoritarian
government; a slave-like status for women; pervasive corruption;
labor viewed as an evil to be avoided; the relegation of learning
to narrow castes; economies that rely on trade rather than productivity
to generate wealth, even the grandiose rhetoric - all were in
place long before Islam appeared.
The repeated failures we've witnessed go far beyond a religion
on its sickbed. Instead of Islam being the Middle East's problem,
what if Islam's problem is the Middle East?
and Judaism "saved" because they
escaped the Middle East? Were these other two great monotheist
religions able to master the power of knowledge and human potential
because they were driven from their stultifying cultural and
geographic origins? Did the Diaspora and the subsequent Muslim
destruction of the cradle of Christianity ultimately save these
The Middle East is a straitjacket that turns religions mad.
We got away.
A dozen years ago,
I wrote that "culture is fate." And
culture is tied to soil. My travels over the intervening years
have only deepened that conviction. Regions have distinct cultures
that endure long beyond the shelf-life predicted for them by
The stunning conquests Islam made in its early centuries may
have been its undoing - a faith secure in its heartlands never
had to worry about its survival thereafter. Despite gruesome
invasions, Islam remained safely rooted in its native earth.
As "refugee religions," Christianity
and Judaism had to struggle to survive - the latter still struggles
all of the pop theories blaming the Rise of the West on germs,
dumb luck or sheer nastiness, the truth is that Judeo-Christian
civilization was hardened by mortal threats - including horrendous
We got tough. And the tough got going.
It isn't an accident that the industrial revolution took off
in resource-poor Britain, or that the poverty-ridden contin-
ent of Europe invented new means of exerting power.
In exile, the Judeo-Christian civilization grew up on the global
mean streets. MiddleEastern Islam suffered from easy wealth,
luxury and a narcotic regional heritage.
We changed, they froze. An Assyrian tyrant, such as the murderous
Ashurbanipal - who reigned over 1,200 years before Mohammed's
birth -would understand the governments, societies and disciplinarian
religion of today's Middle East. The West would baffle him.
Since the Renaissance, the West fixed its gaze on the future.
Islamic civilization sought to freeze time, to cling to a dream
of a lost paradise, part Islamic Baghdad, part Babylon.
Shocked awake over the past few centuries, some Middle Easterners
realized they had to change. But they didn't know how. Modernization
sputtered out. Pan-Arabism foundered on greed and corruption.
The shah tried to
buy the "good parts" of Western
civilization, but the pieces didn't work on their own. Next,
Iran tried theocracy - government by bigots. Didn't work either.
Arabia has a per capita GDP half that of Israel's (whose sole
resource is people). Dubai has shopping
malls - selling designer goods with Western labels.
Today's fanatics can hurt us, but can't destroy us. Their fatal
ability is to drag their civilization down to an even lower level.
The problem is that the Middle East hasn't been able to escape
the Middle East. CRO
latest book is Never
Quit The Fight.
piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post