Trouble in Paradise

From reader JK comes a link to an article about a growing tension in the Persian Gulf. No, it isn’t between the Sunnis and the Shi’a, or between US diplomats and the Iraqi parliament, but between Islamic fundamentalists and those in the region who, having attracted enormous foreign investment, and having used it to build some of the most dynamic and opulent financial centers in the world, are also beginning to develop a taste for another Western export: freedom.

The article focuses on Kuwait, where a recent election seated a bloc of tribalists and Islamists, some of whom are shown walking out of the legislative hall to protest the presence of two female ministers. (As I have pointed out before, nothing strikes more deeply at the roots of Muslim fundamentalism and repression than the empowerment of women.)

What this makes clear is the difficulty of having it all: if these nations wish to attract Western money, business, goods, and workers, they must also allow Western influences into their midst. If they wish their children to have the Western educations that allow them to compete in a 21st-century economy, it seems likely that many of them will then be reluctant to rejoin a benighted 7th-century tribal culture.

While Islamic leaders in Europe have announced their intention to conquer that continent “with the wombs of their women” (a project that seems to be making lamentably steady progress), perhaps we can make a flank attack, closer to home, in the brains of their young adults.

Related content from Sphere


  1. the one eyed man says

    1) The suggestion that “if these nations wish to attract Western money (and) business … they must also allow Western influences into their midst” is incorrect. As long as the Kuwaitis have oil, they will attract money and business from Western countries eager to buy it. The fact that they are selling oil incurs no further obligations to them, just as the fact that we are buying oil incurs no other obligations to us. Western countries have been happily buying oil for decades from countries far more objectionable than Kuwait, and there is no quid pro quo except for them to send the oil.

    2) While you may object to the Salafis’ legislative agenda, the fact is that they were democratically elected and presumably reflect the will of the people. Like Hamas, they pose the question of how to regard democratically elected governments which act in ways which Western societies find offensive. Does the plurality of votes bestow a legitimacy on their acts, or are there certain things which should universally be condemned regardless of their popularity?

    3) One hundred years ago, America had legally enforced racial segregation and denied women the right to vote. In the century before that, we had legally sanctioned slavery and the genocide of the native population. Within a relatively short historical moment, we’ve made enormous changes. Kuwaiti society is more advanced than we were 100 or 200 years ago: at least women in Kuwaiti society can vote and hold office. They also seem to be moving in the direction of modernity and Western values, as the article suggests, even though it may be a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. I think it is unfair to blame them for not marching in lockstep with the West. Given time, our society will hopefully continue to move forward and so will theirs. Just as women in politics were jeered here when they were a rarity, it will not be too long in the future before they are viewed as commonplace in Kuwaiti society.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    Good comments.

    1) What you are saying would be true if the development in the modernizing cities of the Gulf were limited merely to the sale of oil, but that is not the case. Dubai, for example, is becoming a major center of global trade and finance, and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world (my brother, for example, the founder and CEO of an innovative steel company, is involved in much of the new construction, and is over there every month or so). As mentioned in the article, nearly half the population are now foreigners. This is the the unavoidable influx of outside influences I was talking about.

    2) As far as I am concerned, repression of women should be condemned, yes. That Hamas or the Salafists manage to get themselves elected (to what extent they represent the will of the majority of all the people is a fair question also) certainly doesn’t mean I have to admire or respect them.

    3) I hope you are right; the point of this post was that it might go either way.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  3. I guess I don’t see this as a purely “us vs them” situation. We are each and everyone of us evolving and growing as people. Our various nations also grow and change -evolve and desolve… Change is the only constant, and we – at least here in the USA, have the ability, (possibility) to steer a course that will contain elements of many cultures to build a lasting society that is able to contain both Islamic and non-Islamic cultures. –

    I realize that many believe the die-hard islamists would not find this a good solution, but the reality will be hard for them to deny. Women will achieve power in time. It will be fought against and the old will pass into history. Progress has a direction. It is not toward the 7th century, it is toward the 22nd and beyond… Do not fear the reversal of time old friend – we will also get old and the new will arrive without us…So relax and let the wackos at it if they must-they will lose and dissappear.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Hi Pat,

    I appreciate the good-hearted sentiment behind your remarks, but must add that it is probably not enough just to sit back and watch as an inevitable change simply happens; it requires rather more of forward-leaning posture, I think. Parts of the world, including sizable enclaves in Europe, are indeed marching toward the 7th century even as we speak.

    And while you may not see this as an “us-versus-them” situation, it is, however, clearly the case that certain of “them” quite implacably see themselves as versus us (as witness the loss of several largish buildings in Lower Manhattan recently).

    But yes, I share your hope that the overall trend will be toward reason and liberty, and not superstition and repression. We’ll see.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  5. Hey there Mac,
    As you know I seldom serve the future with a wait & see attitude, I’ve been able to try to create some progressive change pretty often in my life and travels.

    I do not say we should JUST wait, only that I am sure that no matter what the backward driven nut-jobs may do, I am pretty sure that change will happen to them – and they will not be ready to deal with it… Their women will become the force for change. I too know that the Wahabbiests are not to be placated nor ignored, but challanged and obstructed as we are able. I just think that we are fighting them on their terms when we attack them with armed forces. We are able to undermine them in many ways -such as educating their women to stand up for themselves…

    The violence that evil wishes to use -we should not accept as our way of challange and change- IF, we are to be civilized or the civilizing factor here then we should find the sane way to proceed… back to work- Pat

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    In broad terms, Pat, I agree. I am certainly not about to rule out the use of armed force when necessary, however – although that is really not the point as regards this news item.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  7. Hi again,

    Mac, you know I am not a pacifist per se. I also know peace is better than war for everyone concerned, (which does not preclude the use of force when it is called for).

    I just do not believe that what we are bringing to the fray is “freedom” for the people where we invest troops. It seems as if we are there to protect, if not directly market – US biz interests, usually big oil, and perhaps inhance the revenues for the arms makers here as well. That we call these various military operations a striving to build democracy is just not true in most cases.

    We have imposed many more tyrants than we have deposed over the past century. This is not to say we should not protect US biz interests abroad, just to call it what it is, not what we hope to sell it as. But there’s the rub, few would follow a leader who actually claimed we are invading some foriegn land to make his buds some extra money…(billions!) –

    So it is necessary to lie about the nature of the enemy we seek to destroy, in fact to invent an enemy in order to have reasons for wars that only profit the few industries that gain from such activity…

    I maintain that the Wahabbiists were largely a product of Saudi money and raised as a tool to create a need for war. In fact, the profits that were indeed amassed from this scenerio are all too avident in the past two year’s profits made by Exxon et al…So I see our big international oil industry as a greater enemy to “freedom loving” Americans than the Iraqies ever were…

    The need for alternative fuels seems pretty obvious to me, and the technology may even be here already. Norway has – for 1 example – created a viable fuel-cell system that may prove very useful indeed as an example of how technology can over come the current need for energy. Then, pretty soon, the Islamists will be without any real power to speak of, their oil money will no longer be streaming in. They may then have to educate their women for a work-force geared towards knowledge/information… and modernization will come to pass after all…Just an alternative to blasting them into glass etc…

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Pat, we are talking past one another here. I think we can agree that war is horrible. In particular I have no wish to rehash old arguments about the motivation for the invasion of Iraq; we have already beaten that horse to death.

    I quite agree that to reduce the demand for Mideast oil would strike most gratifyingly at the economic base that supports a great deal of Islamic fundamentalist power. Perhaps in light of this a re-examination of offshore drilling restrictions is in order, as I have no doubt we are going to have to rely on oil for quite some time to come.

    Posted June 18, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  9. I suppose if I was hoping for the end of days to be soon upon us, as so many Bushies do – I would also look to squandering our potential reserves, in order to offer a few weeks or perhaps months of ATV, & SUV gasoline usage…If I was to long for a union will Jesus ASAP, I would behave as the Bush administration suggests…Support the oil biz as ever I am able and use up, destroy or just trample whatever gets in the way of higher profits…

    But I look to the future where we as a Nation, will no longer cow-tow to big-oil and the Saudi kingdom for our political directions, if not directives…I do not believe that we will need to rely on oil as we have been doing, for all that long.

    We can develop alternatives quicker than we built B-29s and aircraft carriers at the end of WWII…Were there a political will we show and develop the several other plausable sources of power… even as the Europians are doing already, that is. There is no political will to do anything other than all of us working to pay the gas companies their hugh profits…As we all are, each of us, going at it every day, working to pay the gas bill for our lives to remain mobile…

    By the way, the war in Iraq has now cost about $600 Billion. Who got that money? How many of those who saw profits there have the slightest concerns about what they have wrought? Who are you defending here Malcolm? And why would you do so? Are those men people you admire? I just don’t get it Mac!? These bums do not deserve it.

    Peace- Pat

    Posted June 19, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    It fascinates me that every post I write ends up being a referendum on Iraq. What makes you think I am defending anyone here? All I was doing was to point out reports of a growing tension in Mideast society between Western influences and fundamentalists.

    I too have no fondness for kowtowing to the despicable Saudis; in fact I only buy gas from companies like Sunoco that don’t buy foreign oil.

    Also, I think that you overestimate how easy it is turning out to be to develop practical alternatives to oil.

    I’m an equal-opportunity curmudgeon; I have as many bones to pick with the Right as the Left. Well, almost, anyway.

    Posted June 19, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink