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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Cradle Of Hate
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 9/16/06

Islamist 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.

Terrorists just have better tools these days.

What should 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
Ralph 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 government.

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 card).

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?

Were Christianity 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 two faiths?

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 academics.

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 today. For 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 internal conflicts.

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.

"Oil-rich" Saudi 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

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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