Americans know that a central tenet of Islam is an absolute conviction that government and religion are intertwined as one. But they can’t bring themselves to see that this perception is fundamental and embedded in the culture of the region. Nor can they see that this reality will always militate against the democratic impulses that inevitably spring up from time to time within the hopes and dreams of many people of the region.
Further, many Americans can’t see that many secular mores and folkways of the region are the product of the bedouin culture, developed over centuries of isolation in an austere and unforgiving land. As David Pryce-Jones writes in his book The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, Middle Eastern nationalism “simply adds what might be called an outer ring” to the tribal customs and judgments of Middle Eastern society.
The story of Western civilization is in significant measure the story of the slow, inexorable ascent of liberal democracy. It is a grand story, full of civic tension, brutality, sacrifice, intellectual exploration, heroism and triumph. But this is not the story of Middle Eastern Islam, which emanates from a separate cultural etymology and distinct cultural sensibility. It isn’t realistic to expect that the peoples of this cultural heritage will embrace in any serious way the structures, sensibilities and practices of an alien culture, however successful it has been in comparison.