Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Are The Poorest Countries Poor Because Of Islam, Or Are They Islamic Because They Are Poor?

I recently made the following observation: if you look at the top, say, 40 countries in which Islam is the predominant religion of influence, you'll see that they are 40 of the world's poorest, most oppressed and least-developed nations (see bottom of the page*). Further, this is also very likely due to how those countries treat women, and in too many cases their backward attitudes to the female sex in general. It stands to reason that if countries are starved of nigh-on 50% of their human potential it is inevitable that they will remain in a worse state than countries where men and women contribute more equally.

In response, a friend asked a 'chicken and egg' type of question: "Do you think many of the poorest countries are poor because of Islam, or are they Islamic because they're poor?

It's a bit of both, but primarily the former. Let me first say, I wouldn't wish to deny that there is an awful lot of cultural richness and beauty in those 40 countries. Moreover, despite being conceived as an organised response to sectarian feudalism, Islamic scholars contributed a lot to human progression, with their mathematical and scientific innovations.

Islam also helped foster societies that, while cruel in some parts, were quite forward thinking when it came to looking after the poor (particularly children and the elderly), taking inspiration from the Qur'an, which itself took inspiration from Jesus' words about helping those in poverty. If you follow the old Great Silk Road from the Middle East to China and look at Islam's history and influence, their comparative prosperity gave no indication that a few centuries later they'd end up being so far behind the world's most economically advanced counties.

So why have the Muslim countries done so comparably bad? I think first off, given that poverty is the natural default state of humans, and has been for almost the entirety of our evolution, you also have to say that relatively speaking the nations that have prospered have done considerably well. Put it this way, if you'd have asked two of the brightest minds, Erasmus and Spinoza, in what was Europe's most industrially advanced nation at the time, to foretell what human progression would be like in the 21st century, and then placed them in a time machine and showed them the results, they'd have been astonished at how far beyond their imaginations our progress has taken humankind.

And this is the clue to the principal point. The Islamic countries that haven't experienced this great acceleration are largely countries that haven't embraced the qualities that engender progression-explosions, namely liberalism, free trade and competition (and also, oddly, scientific investment, which is a peculiar retrogression given their origins in the medieval period). Their hardship is as much about what they haven't done as what they have. As I mentioned above, the Islamic influence is evident in its subjugation of women, which starves the nations of an awful lot of ideas, views and talent. Also when you're in an country under the thrall of oppressive rulers you lack a lot of the basic freedoms that can engender innovation, particularly if you're not permitted to think and express yourself too openly.

Islam is a pretty scientifically unfriendly religion too, as most deny evolution, and of course it's very antithetical to other human rights too (as anyone who is homosexual knows too well). I suppose add to that other factors such as being hostile to Jews which is bound to negatively affect outside investment, and the fact that nations with theocratic regimes and social unrest are lower down in the aspiration-list of foreign investors, and that historically many Arab countries have had a Soviet alliance, which meant a lot of those countries in the Middle East and Africa had a top-down Marxism and high levels of corruption with little democratic accountability, and there are plenty of things that retard the progress of those nations.

What about that chicken and that egg?
Well, technically speaking Chickens evolved from what one might call proto-chickens through small changes caused by genetic mixing of DNA (the male and female), or by mutations that produced the zygote, with the effect being apparent with the creation of a new zygote. In other words, two of these proto-chickens copulated and the resultant DNA in the new zygote contained the mutation(s) that one might call the first unique chicken. Given that the zygote cell is where DNA mutations can engender a new species we might call a chicken, then if we can say that the zygote cell is encased in the egg, I'm rooting for the egg in this biological race for the prize.


* See this link for a list of the countries.