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Desert Islam’s rapid march

I am sure many of you have heard the joke: An Arab meets one of the screenwriters from Star Trek and says “Hey, how come there are no Muslims on the Starship Enterprise?” The screenwriter replies “Because the story is set in the future.”

But many of the most puritanical and intolerant Muslims have their eyes very much on the future. Over on the Social Affairs Unit‘s blog, William Ridgeway has writen an interesting piece called “Those Drunken, Whoring Saudis: Desert Islam’s problem with women”:

Encroaching modernity has resulted in an increase in the place and power of Desert Islam in everyday society. Contrary to widespread Western beliefs about the trajectory of the Middle East as a hesitant but inevitable climb to liberal democracy, the region is actually going the other way – fast. Academics call this “Islamicisation”, the spread of radical Shi’a and Wahhabi beliefs and practices throughout the region. Because of this trend, the Middle East one sees nowadays is nothing like it was, say, fifty years ago. Around the 1950s, about the time oil was being discovered in the Gulf, many Muslim nations were relatively liberal by today’s standards. Alcohol flowed freely, women went uncovered and there was lively public debate about “Ataturk’s way”, the separation of Islam and state, modernisation, and dialogue with the West. The Middle East seemed to be going in the right direction.

Saudi oil changed all that.

I still think in the long run secular western civilisation will crush radical Islam under its sheer weight but it is an interesting article. Read the whole thing.

31 comments to Desert Islam’s rapid march

  • – Dear Perry,
    Unfortunately, “in the lung run” we’re all dead as Dr Keynes famously said…
    For a combination of sociological, political and sheer demographic factors, I sincerely doubt that “secular western civilisation will [ever] crush radical Islam under its sheer weight”…

    – William Ridgeway’s article is worth reading, and he’s certainly right to say that:
    “Around the 1950s, about the time oil was being discovered in the Gulf, many Muslim nations were relatively liberal by today’s standards. Alcohol flowed freely, women went uncovered […] The Middle East seemed to be going in the right direction”.
    However, his assertion that “Saudi oil changed all that” is quite simplistic to say the least.
    In the past 50 years, the “Pan-Islamic” impact of Saudi foreign policy has been significantly magnified by (covert and/or explicit) support from successive US and British governments.

    Interesting article in the Washington Post earlier this week:
    “…We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,” said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity…”

    So this is what we’ve come to uh? 2 ½ years after the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, a far away Middle-Eastern country that posed no threat to the West whether “imminent” or otherwise- remember Tony Blair’s sci-fi army of Iraqi drones eager to nuke Hyde Park?

    With all its faults (the Baathist regime was certainly no more authoritarian than say Wahhabi-Saudi absolute monarchy, Islamo-fascist Shiite Iran, or Nazi-Kemalist Turkey), the Republic of Iraq under Saddam Hussein was probably the most progressive/secular country in the Arab world: 20% of members of government and high ranking civil servants were women (most of them wore no veil unlike their oppressed sisters in neighbouring countries); the number 2 man in government was Tariq Hanna Azeez, a devout Roman Catholic; most of Saddam’s senior advisers were French and/or UK educated Middle-Eastern Christian; and Iraq was the third largest importer of Johnnie Walker whiskey!

    Today, as Rumsfeld’s protégés finalize the drafting of the country’s “constitution”, it has become clear that the new Iraq is fast morphing into a totalitarian Islamic Shiite Bantustan under the tutelage of its Iranian and Hebrew masters.

    The Neocon’s “forward leaning foreign policy” turned out to be scam on a gigantic scale: The US government has spent $ 400 billions in taxpayers money and more than 1,900 American kids have lost their life for a useless military adventure…

    There’s an old saying in Latin…qui bono, who benefits?
    Iran and Israel are clearly the only winners: for 2 ½ years, they’ve watched from the sidelines as American soldiers massacred tens of thousands of innocent Sunni Arabs in Fallujah, Tickrit and Baghdad: today, Teheran and Tel Aviv are ready to reap the fruits of the “global war on terror”- a failed policy in need for a change of name… “Colonial proxy war for the advancement of Fascism” would be a more fitting appellation.

  • Verity

    What a fascinating article! I recommend it to all Samizdata denizens! The Saudis are definitely into porno to the max. Before the days of the internet, I had a friend who had a sideline in smuggling porno into Saudi Arabia for some immensely wealthy people with famous names.

    How awful that they’re encroaching on the Gulf states. The author’s sense that they’re going backwards is chilling.

  • Eric the .5b

    1) I hate that joke.
    2) That joke was clearly devised by someone who didn’t watch much Star Trek, or at least not as recently as the 90s. Hell, the King of Jordan was an extra on Voyager years back.

  • So “Dr. Victorino”… presumably your other alter egos will soon pop up to agree with your usual pro-Ba’athist fascist apologias. Funny how fascism always come creeping in disguised as anti-fascism.

    Interesting you should quote Keynes as he was heroically wrong about so much. In any case, I told you to get lost as I cannot abide people who post under several names.

    the Republic of Iraq under Saddam Hussein was probably the most progressive/secular country in the Arab world:

    Yeah, very progressive. Pity about the mass murder, gassing the town of Halabja etc.

  • Perry, I think the good Doctor is correct. Saddam did have some very progressive methods of ending lots and lots of lives. Apart from the aforementioned liberal (pun intended) use of chemical weapons against his own people – most innovative! – how about throwing living humans through massive plastic shredders? What about raping and killing the families of supposed spies and traitors in front of the accused? What original and forward-thinking ideas! Saddam certainly presided over a truly progressive murdering machine.

  • John Rippengal

    Perry, you may well have recognised the style of a previous poster of doubtful political convictions but although the Saddam regime was pretty hideous, a Shia led, Sharia dominated system tightly allied to the maniacs in Iran looks to me a darn sight worse. I mean not only worse for the Iraquis but a horrendous strategic problem for the West.
    It all looks pretty desparate to me.

  • American soldiers massacred tens of thousands of innocent Sunni Arabs in Fallujah, Tickrit and Baghdad

    I very seriously doubt this. There are dozens if not hundreds of global media outlets who would love to be able to publicize Americans massacring innocent Iraqis, yet somehow this has remained a big secret. Nice try, doc.

    Teheran and Tel Aviv are ready to reap the fruits of the “global war on terror”- a failed policy in need for a change of name… “Colonial proxy war for the advancement of Fascism” would be a more fitting appellation.

    Yes, nothing advances fascism like overthrowing a totalitarian or two.

    And just how is Tel Aviv reaping any fruits here? Last I saw, the Israelis were giving up territory in order to placate their enemies and shorten their defensive lines. Pretty funny way to reap fruit, if you ask me.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Perry, interesting article. What I don’t quite get is how oil has so deranged the Saudi polity.

    I would strongly recommend David Landes’ fine book, the Wealth and Poverty of Nations. His treatment of what radical islamism has done to the ME is scathing.

    Civilisations have regressed before and the Middle East, or at least bits of itk, are no exception.

  • Matra

    James Waterton – if you are suggesting that Saddam put people through shredding machines I’d like to see the evidence. Ann Clywd brought that up but was later shown to have been incorrect.

    Saddam may have killed a lot of people but if I’m not mistaken that was mostly in the 80s and, of course, the marsh Arabs right after the first Gulf War. But he had consolidated his power and with no real internal threats he didn’t seem too bad in recent years. I’ve never been there myself but one work colleague who visited just before the invasion of Kuwait believed it was one of the better mideast countries in terms of secularism – role of women, access to alcohol etc.

    I’ve also heard that it was easy to buy guns in Iraq – does anyone know if that’s true? I’ve often considered a state that allows its citizens to be armed is one that can’t be all bad. Those that ban guns usually do so for a reason – and, no, it has nothing to do with crime concerns.

  • guy herbert

    There are relatively few polities a serious quantity of oil hasn’t deranged. Britain, Norway, er… maybe Alaska and California. My impression form afar is the oddness of Texas has been fostered by oil, and is declining as oil becomes a lesser part of the Texan economy.

    But if you don’t start out with a free polity, you don’t stand a chance of getting one once oil concentrates power in the hands of state-sponsored rentiers.

    But my guess is that in the Saudi case, oil didn’t make the bandit-princes deranged. It magnified the power of their peculiar derangement, when in the normal course of events they might have been swept out of the Hejaz in a decade or so, and their seizure of Mecca and the pilgrim trade relegated to a very small footnote in Islamic history.

  • John East

    The expansion of Islam, often in its revolutionary form, in areas such as Africa (Nigeria, Ivory coast, Sudan), and Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, and The Philipines) seems to me to be more than an oil funded Saudi enterprise. I’ve always assumed this world wide expansion owes more to the nature of the doctrine itself, and the ignorance and poverty of the areas where it takes root rather than to the efforts of any individual state.
    However, I’m convinced in the long run that when offered subjugation and poverty or the relative freedom and wealth of Western society one would have to be very strange to opt for the former.

    Maybe that’s why we are seen as the Great Satan.

  • jrdroll


    What I don’t quite get is how oil has so deranged the Saudi polity.

    Its has monetarily empowered the Wahabbis sect of Islam. Look at the descration of Muslim sites in Bosnia at the behest of the Saudis. Hell look at Mecca where few structures from the time of the “prophet” have not “bin demolished”. These folks think you are a muslim and you don’t know it til the blade of their knife is under your chin. Unlike many of you on this board who disparage religion, these folks who follow the “prophet” really do want the worldwide Caliphate. They are also very patient people these Jihadists. So Jonathan to clear any misconceptions of the rival power in this struggle I would suggest:

    The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Paperback)
    by Robert Spencer

  • Colin

    It’s interesting to compare this with the prohibition era in the US where the majority found a way round the laws of the temperance movement.

  • Verity

    Guy Herbert – oil certainly hasn’t deranged Mexico or Malaysia. They’re both sane, well-run countries.

    I don’t agree that the oddness of Texas has been fostered with oil. Not at all. The mindset of Texas was already in place, and it proved welcoming to the wildcatter mentality. Texas is the only state (save Hawaii) that was once an independent nation. Not a territory, not a protectorate. A country bordering on the United States. That’s why, I think, there’s a very different and more independent feel to it.

  • Verity

    I think Perry’s headline points to the truth: it is the desert Islamics who are barking. Yes, wherever there is a war, it is aggressive Muslims vs You Name It. These people are a one-religion grudge-o-rama – but it is the desert Islamics who want to impose an alternate universe, by violence, on the rest of the world.

  • Susan

    The question is not whether the oil revenues make the Wahabbis what they are today (some achievement), but what are we who are in the direct path going to do about it?

    And the most sane answer is to get off the oil teat by hook or by crook. Without oil revenues they have no means of spreading their doctrine and influence throughout the whole world. Cut their oil revenues and you cut their means of mischief making way down.

  • Verity

    Susan – Hello. I’m sure there’s plenty underway, but that’s a long, long time into the future – and it wasn’t motivated by opposition to Islamic ranting. I hope our society does not go forward to new inventions to counter Muslim threats. We go forward, as we always have, because that is the nature of the West.

    Meanwhile, before we can leave them sitting on a sand dune making a picturesque silhouette before the setting sun, we need to get control – which the left knowlingly sacrificed. And things didn’t work out quite by their script and they’re beginning to feel the hot breath of 58m Britons on the back of their scurvy little traitorous necks.

  • x

    I think that Susan is right. I also think that the value of the natural resources is a big problem.

    Natural resources are something of a curse. They allow bad governments to be sustained and for nations not to progress. We have to progress to keep up with other capital/intellectual based nations. Countries that do not, or introduce socialism/facism will eventually decline.

  • I agree. There may have been some fiery intellectual debate within the Arabian intelligensia in the 1950s, however from an overall picture Arabia and Iran can be summed up as Africa + Oil.

    Matra – I think I remember reading about the plastic shredders in Bob Woodward’s book Plan Of Attack.

  • guy herbert


    I guess it depends what you mean by well-run. Mexican political life used to be dominated by the imperative to get and use the patronage of the national oil company. No doubt it is better now, but Transparency International rated it only slightly better than Saudi Arabia for corruption in 2004. Here’s part of current US State Department advice on travel to its closest and most friendly neighbour:

    Be wary of persons representing themselves as Mexican police or other local officials. It is not uncommon for Americans to become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by Mexican law enforcement and other officials. Mexican authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. You must, however, have the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint. Make a note of this information if you ever encounter difficulties with police or other officials.

    If a Mexican official solicits a bribe from you, it is up to you whether to pay. Bribing officials is illegal. Demands for bribes are often dropped if the subject insists on being taken to the “delegación” (police station).

    … although non-US travel guides advise caution with regard to police stations. Perhaps American citizenship is an advantage.

    Malaysia on the other hand appears to be considerably less corrupt–5/10 as opposed to 3.6/10 on TI’s scale (UK=8.6, US=7.5, France=7.1). But sane? It has an interesting system with all businesses effectively obliged to provide employment for Malays with pull, a simmering resntment of the Chinese commercial class, severe censorship of the media, and parallel law codes differentially applicable to the citizenry including Sharia for nominal Muslims. (So you can’t decide you aren’t a Muslim or be subject to apostacy proceedings, and “deviant sects” are violently persecuted.)

    Whether any of that is down to oil is hard to tell, but it is very hard to maintain that it has made things better.

  • guy herbert

    Sorry. From “Be wary of persons…” to “taken to the “delegación” (police station).” should be a blockquote. Not sure what happened to it.

  • guy herbert

    There is an interesting point in de la Vega here:

    “the Republic of Iraq under Saddam Hussein was probably the most progressive/secular country in the Arab world:”

    Though perhaps not the one he intended. The mistake of many secular Westerners, myself included, was to assume that that secularism in Iraq was somehow “natural”, and removing Saddam would leave it in place. It starts to seem that the modernism, outside culturally distinct Kurdistan (as in Soviet-dominated Afghanistan) may have been sustained by the dictatorship.

    What gives me pause is that I could see this with Afghanistan–“why are we trying to replace the Soviets by supporting something far worse?” went my argument then–but not in Iraq. Was it the relative absence of beards and mountains that mislead me?

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Guy, I doubt the poster’s point was anywhere near this subtle. Some weak minds do tend to associate ‘secular’ with good to support their non-existent argument; as if being secular and treating women a bit better than the neighbors – like that’s so hard – disproved anything else the regime did. If you throw enough code-words on the wall, some may stick, I guess.

    But that Matra character was the best hoot, I thought. “…but that was in the 80s”. Well, that makes it all OK then. I wonder how old the guy is. Of course, when the alleged criminals are American or Israeli, there is no prescription to things that happened after 1990. Heck, what about the 1,000-year old Crusades ?

    More seriously, you’re right. The relative, apparent modern secularism of Saddam’s regime might have been one of those excuses Western powers used to justify dealing with, and supporting his regime.

  • Findlay Dunachie

    What lowers American morale (and ours too, if it can) is basically the media. They did it to such an extent that the US lost the Vietnam war, for which they have never repented. I’m sure a lot of media-people still preen themselves on it.

    The Americans, and us as well could stay in Iraq till the cows come home – as a military campaign, and as a peace-keeping force in the true sense.

    I read the other day that there are 140,000 US military personnel in Iraq. Taking into consideration resting and leave, probably some 200,000 have been there.

    Some 2000 have been killed since the invasion in March 2003. That is one in a hundred during that two and a half year period. So we can say that someone going to fight in Iraq in March 2003 had something like a one in 250 chance of getting killed. Can that possibly be regarded as high by any measure? Can any conflict have had such a low death-rate?

    No one can say what the aftermath of a war will be. In World War II we went in to “save Poland” and left it under an oppresive dictatorship. A lot of horrible things happened as a result of our replacing Hitler with Stalin, including a lot of killing.

    We now seem to be replacing a very nasty secular regime with an obscurantist Islamic one, with two sects whose differences are historical (back to 661 AD) rather than religious. Did anyone in advance forecast that any colection of people could be that stupid?

    The prospect of establishing a democracy in any Muslim nation is an act of faith, contradicted by any Muslim regime one can bring to mind. Malaysia is the only one that a claim could be made for, and not a very convincing one.

    Did anyone come out and say bluntly “These Muslims are incorrigible; you’ll only get something worse, like what happened when we destabilized the Shah.” Not that I can remember.

  • Mark

    Think about this:

    Which country has a more secular population — Turkey or Iran? Having been to neither countries, I do not know the answer to that question, but there seems to be a lot of pro-Western sentiment in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Islamists seem to do quite well in supposedly secular Turkey.

    It almost seems that these Muslim fools have to go all the way to Sharia before they realize how awful of a life it creates.

    Would it have been better to have installed Chalabi as president, forced a U.S. style Constitution down the throats of Iraqis, and hoped the fruits of capitalism would have moderated Islam? Probably, but again, has it really worked in Turkey?

  • Verity

    Guy Herbert – I wouldn’t like to live in a mirror image of Indonesia either! I was just presenting all these “official” Muslim this, Muslim that blah de blah-blah as an example of the sleazy opportunism of grabbing for themselves privileges they would not dream of according others in their own countries.

    And the Board of Deputies attends to its own affairs and minds its own business. Plus, it goes without saying, Jews have been wonderful contributors to our society and GNP.

    Re your report on the Mexican police – these reports are always out of date by the time they come out. Mexico has come a long, long way during President Fox’s eight years in office. The police, for example, are not (in most cases) the ill-educated layabouts they were before. They are much better trained, they’re fit (you see them exercising in 98 degrees), they take exams, they have pensions, medical and social security. It’s different from the old days. In the Mexican cities I’ve been in, the only people driving at the speed limit are police cars. Everyone else whizzes past them on both sides.

    There are still poor workmen driving old bangers, but the number of cars on the roads and in the supermarket parking lots that are 10 years old and younger is quite an eye opener. Chryslers, big snazzy Ford pickups, Subarus, VWs (including the upper end of the market), Jaguars, Renaults, SUVs, Toyotas, BMWs … NAFTA has been great for Mexico.

    The only place that Mexico resembles the Mexico of old movies is Nuevo Laredo, up on the border. A couple of weeks ago, the new sheriff was shot dead an hour after he was sworn in. I hear real estate’s going really cheap.

  • Robert Alderson

    Turning Iraq into a democracy like Britain, Belgium, Australia or the US is not realistic. Turning it into a less undemocratic, less intolerant, less violent place like Malaysia, Jordan, Turkey or some of the Gulf states is a realistic goal.

    On the point about oil wealth damaging a nation, you could make that point about Britian in the late 70s / early 80s, remember all the talk about how we could be spending the oil money on skoolznhospitalz rather than undergoing the necessary Thatcherite reforms?

  • Thanks for the article, a nicely written piece.

  • rosignol

    There are relatively few polities a serious quantity of oil hasn’t deranged. Britain, Norway, er… maybe Alaska and California. My impression form afar is the oddness of Texas has been fostered by oil, and is declining as oil becomes a lesser part of the Texan economy.

    No, the Texans have always been like that. And if you don’t think California is deranged- remember, these people elected Arnold Schwarzennegger governor- you haven’t been paying attention.

    Alaska avoided being seriously deranged by setting up personal accounts and giving a cut of the oil proceeds to state residents.

  • Off-topic. Deleted by Admin. The subject is not Donald Rumsfeld, it is Islam. In any case this commenter been banned from Samizdata.net for posting under multiple personalities.

  • Divine Mercy

    Dr Victorino–

    The glorious picture you portrayed of Ba’athist Iraq and Saddams picturesque secular country, topped with the cherry on top, Tarek Aziz to prove his love for Catholics is not a reality.

    Perhaps some facts on the Chaldeans would cause some enlightening.


    Also, Saddams Republican Guards humane behaviour in Kuwait in 1990, would lead me to believe, he also had no love for his fellow Muslim brothers. At least that invasion dispelled any myths on his kindness towards his own Iraqi Muslim population.

    Gassing the Kurds, tsk tsk, extremely rude. The Ba’asthist regime was a platform for Saddam and his “friends” Tarek Aziz being one of them.

    The secular lifestyle I saw in Kuwait during the Invasion and War was the “Johnny Walker” whiskey (Red Label) flowing in Kuwait along with tons of heroin and hashish. Such modernization on such a short notice. Personally, I would have preferred to see the importing of Lear Jets, so we could escape.

    Then again, considering the kind secular life we had, basically the same as Iraq–which included huge cash bounties for many, rapes, tortures of many I know personally, I must say the Johnny Walker probably helped numb some.

    Ahhh, let us not forget the fact that women did not have to veil during the Invasion of Kuwait.
    The truth of the matter is, MOST women did veil, even their faces to avoid being harassed by the secular soldiers at every corner. So much for freedom of choice.

    Gee, love that secularism.