The Arabic word 'Islam' literally translates to English as 'submission' - to surrender or resign oneself – and in the context of the religion specifically; submission to the will of Allah.
I would suggest that this in itself is at the root of all the problems faced by the Muslim world today.
Let me explain myself a little. We see a number of significant issues. Political instability – frequently under the rule of a dictator who himself is part of a dynasty that has been in place for decades. Where public feeling has eventually managed to organise itself and overthrow the dictator, he has simply been replaced with another authoritarian regime, or general chaos has ensued.
The political instability feeds, and is fuelled by, a cycle of corruption at all levels of society with personal and organisational ethics driven by the lowest common denominator; with few prepared to suffer the economic disadvantage of unilaterally playing fairly. The ubiquitous corruption makes these societies open to abuse by individuals or organisations (e.g. petrochemical or weapons companies) who see opportunities for personal gain, with little or no regulation. Deep mistrust going back centuries is enshrined in every transaction of all kinds, even marriage proposals, leading to an unhealthy rate of consanguineous marriage with its consequent genetic disorders.
Education and literacy in the Islamic world is woefully inadequate, and an oft-quoted insularity indicator is that “the whole Arab world translates about 300 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates. The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Mamoun [d. 833 AD], is about 100,000 - just about the number that Spain translates in one year” (UNAHDR).
Following on from my recent post (below), the World Values Survey maps traditional / religious values against secular / rational values and self-expression. Some aspects of why self-expression should be antithetical to religious values, and the deeper significance of this were not immediately apparent to me.
In the western world since the 20th century there have been philosophers and psychotherapists such as Sigmund Freud, Nathaniel Branden and more lately Steven C Hayes, Russ Harris, who have developed the earlier work of others (including Buddhism, Hinduism) and make it accessible to the West. One of the key elements of their message, is that self-esteem is dependent on high levels of personal integrity, and sources of approval being internal, not external to oneself.
In other words, a key underlying issue in the Muslim world is the subjugation of one's reason to external validation and approval. Society determines what is acceptable behaviour; how you dress, where you go and with who, what you eat and drink, what one can say or even feel or think. The will of Allah is all pervasive, with the phrase “insha'Allah” (God willing) as a caveat tacked onto every planned action. But who interprets the will of Allah? Given that Allah is supposed to control everything – weather, wars, traffic jams, intestinal movements, chemical reactions and the movement of electrons – Allah's will is a self-fulfilling prophesy revealed moment by moment, and nobody can gainsay it. Humans are powerless to predict or change the outcome of anything at all. Anything that happens is God's will and everything and everyone inevitably has to submit to it.
This leaves the Muslim individual with a deep sense of powerlessness. Of being expendable, helpless and adrift in a world that is totally outside their control – even down to their own behaviours and life. Everything is predestined.
In my view, it is that loss of self, that submission to some essentially arbitrary set of rules interpreted via a social hierarchy, that undermines all attempts at rational thought and provides the basis for a strong predisposition towards acceptance of tyrannical leadership. External sources of validation and approval ... always external. Islam literally means submission to external authority.
However, human nature being what it is, there is always a certain amount of double-think going on. And that 'predestination' can be subverted to ones own ends. You can justify your tyrannical control of your citizens, staff, family, wife, children by appealing to the relevant external authorities (Qur'an, Hadith, Shariah, clerics) and choosing a suitable interpretation favourable to yourself. And of course there are masses of suitably oppressive and tyrannical Islamic sources to quote from.
Combine that suppression of rational thought with indoctrination that your religion, holy book, beliefs are God-given and superior to all others, and you have a poisonous situation that can spill over into all manner of evil activity at any moment. That deficit of self-esteem leads to suspicion, paranoia, and conspiracy theories ... and we see this in the Muslim world all the time.
This really is a recipe for a hellish nightmare with reason, rationality and the right to self-expression lost. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. (Dante)