CRISIS OF FAITH IN THE MUSLIM WORLD: PART 1: Statistical evidence (Spengler, 11/01/05, Asia Times)

Radical Islam should be interpreted as a cry of despair in the face of the ineluctable decline of Islamic society. Read carefully, the leading Islamists say precisely this. At the close of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was the sick man of Europe, and its former territories today comprise the incurables ward of geopolitics. From this vantage point, America’s attempt to foist its own form of democracy on the Islamic world seems delusional.

As I have reported before, the demographic position of the Islamic world has set a catastrophe in motion. It is hard enough for rich nations to care for a growing elderly population, but impossible for poor nations to do so. Iran, along with most of the Muslim world, faces a population bust that will raise the proportion of dependent elderly in the population to 28% in 2050, from just 7% today.

If America faces discomfort, and Europe faces crisis, Muslim countries face breakdown. America now has a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$40,000 and a diversified economy. Iran has a per capita GDP of just $7,000 and depends on oil exports for the state subsidies that keep its population fed and clothed – and Iran will no longer be able to export oil after 2020, according to some estimates.

America can ameliorate the impact of an aging population by raising productivity (so that fewer workers produce more GDP), attracting more skilled immigrants (and increasing its tax base), and, in the worst of all cases, tightening its belt. American life will not come to an end if more people drive compact cars instead of SUVs, or go camping for vacation instead of to Disney World. But the Islamic world is so poor that any reduction in living standards from present levels will cause social breakdown.

In 2002, the United Nations’ Arab Development Report offered a widely-quoted summation of the misery of the present position of the Arab World, noting:

# The average growth rate of per capita income during the preceding 20 years in the Arab world was only one-half of 1% per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa

# One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 per day

# Fifteen percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this number could double by 2010

# Only 1% of the population has a personal computer, and only half of 1% use the Internet

# Half of Arab women cannot read.

Negotiating the demographic decline of the 21st century will be treacherous for countries that have proven their capacity to innovate and grow. For the Islamic world, it will be impossible. That is the root cause of Islamic radicalism, and there is nothing that the West can do to change it. […]

America’s fertility rate – the average number of children per woman – has stabilized at just around the replacement level. That is why America’s elderly dependency ratio will stabilize around 2030. But the fertility rate of the Muslim world is falling much faster.

To the contrary, there’s much that the West (well, really the Anglosphere) can do and is doing. The most important thing is hastening the End of History–forcing the Islamic world to reform along liberal democratic lines, adopting democracy, capitalism, and protestantism–which amounts to a Reformation of Islam itself. This will not only make Islamic societies healthier but will, in the process, refurbish Islam, demonstrating that it can be the basis for those thriving 21st-century societies, is indeed a necessary basis.

At the same time, the dying nations of Europe, whose secular rationalist faith can not provide such a basis, will serve as a safety valve drawing off the excess unemployed in the Islamic world. The success or failure of these European states and of the massive waves of migrants they’ll be taking in will depend on a recognition that they must be assimilated into the culture that had made Europe successful until the early 20th Century and that Islam can be integrated into that earlier Judeo-Christian model.

None of this will be easy nor is it certain to work. Even in a best case scenario it requires tremendous upheaval in both the Islamic world and in Europe and a free flow of ideas and peoples that will hardly be welcomed by everyone. But, as Spengler points out, the alternative is abysmal.

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