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Monday, February 11

In Defense of Mark Steyn

A correspondent pointed to one passage in Mark Steyn's The Future Belongs to Islam to argue that the essay actually does reflect discrimination against Muslims:
In the new technological age, manpower will be optional -- and indeed, if most of the available manpower's Muslim, it's actually a disadvantage.
This same passage is alluded to in two of Mohamed Elmasry's human rights complaints against Maclean's magazine et al., which charge that the Maclean's publication of the Steyn piece is "anti-Muslim." Number 38 on the list of Elmasry's list of complaints interprets the passage as meaning, "From Western society's viewpoint, Muslim 'manpower' is a disadvantage."

As you can see from the exact wording of Steyn's passage, he doesn't state or imply that this view of Muslim manpower is "Western." Now study the passage within the context of Steyn's observations at that point in his essay:
After all, what's easier for the governing class? Weaning a pampered population off the good life and re-teaching them the lost biological impulse or giving the Sony Corporation a licence to become the Cloney Corporation? If you need to justify it to yourself, you'd grab the graphs and say, well, demographic decline is universal. It's like industrialization a couple of centuries back; everyone will get to it eventually, but the first to do so will have huge advantages: the relevant comparison is not with England's early 19th century population surge but with England's Industrial Revolution. In the industrial age, manpower was critical. In the new technological age, manpower will be optional -- and indeed, if most of the available manpower's Muslim, it's actually a disadvantage. As the most advanced society with the most advanced demographic crisis, Japan seems likely to be the first jurisdiction to embrace robots and cloning and embark on the slippery slope to transhumanism.
So the passage in question clearly refers to job skills and education relating to cutting-edge technologies and science that are increasingly vital to advanced societies in the post-industrial age.

Steyn is saying that the aggregate pool of Muslim workers, and (from other passages in his essay) in particular the pool of immigrant Muslim labor in advanced countries, does not and will not (at least, as things stand now) make a contribution worth mentioning to a society's ability to cope with steep population decline. And indeed, it can be a disadvantage for an advanced society to have to support a large population segment that cannot fill jobs that are high priority for an advanced society, and which labors at jobs that are slated to disappear due to technological advances.

Of course all advanced societies carry large numbers of non-Muslim workers whose job skills will become obsolete within their lifetime, and who may not be able to retool their skills to fill the most demanding work. So isn't it discriminatory to single out people of a particular religious faith when discussing this situation?

For the answer I'll turn to a few observations by Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani Muslim who is a leading educator, scientist, mathematician and humanist, and who teaches nuclear physics at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University.
Progress [for Muslims] will require behavioral changes. If Muslim societies are to develop technology instead of just using it, the ruthlessly competitive global marketplace will insist on not only high skill levels but also intense social work habits. The latter are not easily reconcilable with religious demands made on a fully observant Muslim’s time, energy, and mental concentration: The faithful must participate in five daily congregational prayers, endure a month of fasting that taxes the body, recite daily from the Qur’an, and more. Although such duties orient believers admirably well toward success in the life hereafter, they make worldly success less likely. A more balanced approach will be needed. [...]

Most universities in Islamic countries have a starkly inferior quality of teaching and learning, a tenuous connection to job skills, and research that is low in both quality and quantity. Poor teaching owes more to inappropriate attitudes than to material resources. Generally, obedience and rote learning are stressed, and the authority of the teacher is rarely challenged. Debate, analysis, and class discussions are infrequent. [...]

As intolerance and militancy sweep across the Muslim world, personal and academic freedoms diminish with the rising pressure to conform. In Pakistani universities, the veil is now ubiquitous, and the last few unveiled women students are under intense pressure to cover up.

The head of the government-funded mosque-cum-seminary ... in the heart of Islamabad, [Pakistan's] capital, issued the following chilling warning to my university’s female students and faculty on his FM radio channel on 12 April 2007:

"The government should abolish co-education. Quaid-i-Azam University has become a brothel. Its female professors and students roam in objectionable dresses. ... Our female students have not issued the threat of throwing acid on the uncovered faces of women. However, such a threat could be used for creating the fear of Islam among sinful women. There is no harm in it. There are far more horrible punishments in the hereafter for such women. ..."

The imposition of the veil makes a difference. My colleagues and I share a common observation that over time most students -- particularly veiled females -- have largely lapsed into becoming silent note-takers, are increasingly timid, and are less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. This lack of self-expression and confidence leads to most Pakistani university students, including those in their mid- or late-twenties, referring to themselves as boys and girls rather than as men and women.
If you are new to this story you cannot grasp at this point the full import of Hoodbhoy's words. This is because Muslim governments and academic establishments have been misrepresenting the state of science education and research in their countries, even though they have lavished billions on educational and research facilities. In the precise language of a scientist Professor Hoodbhoy reveals the true story in three papers: Science and the Islamic world -- The quest for rapprochement, Pakistan's Universities - Problems and Solutions , and Assessing Pakistani Science (which also discusses science in other Islamic countries; e.g., Iran).

I hope the correspondent understands now why Mark Steyn was not discriminating against the Islamic religion when he wrote that Muslim manpower is a disadvantage in the most technologically advanced societies.

With Muslims such as Pervez Hoodbhoy in mind, could Steyn have qualified his statement? If he was writing a dissertation on the topic, yes; in that event he could also have qualified his observation that Westerners were selling out their own culture. Of course not all Muslims are a disadvantage, just as not all Westerners are suffering from civilizational ennui.

But Steyn was not writing a dissertation. It's said that you should never shake a sleepwalker so as not to traumatize him. That advice goes out the window if you see the sleepwalker headed for a high ledge. Mark Steyn was making an Eleventh Hour attempt to shake entire societies into wakefulness. His words spared no one. Don't fault him for that.
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