Still, for all the caveats, Arabs themselves recognize that they have a cultural problem. The Arab Human Development Report of 2002 singled out three “deficits” of Arab society that are “obstacles” to progress. One was the lack of political freedom; another was the narrow knowledge base; and the third the status of women. All of these vary across the region — Saudi Arabia’s women are forbidden to drive — but nowhere in the region are women as free as they are in the West or, for that matter, Israel. In all of vast Arabia, about half of the potential workforce is poorly educated.
This hubbub about culture may seem esoteric, but it is really very important. The tendency to hold the Arabs blameless for their own culture is part of the predilection to hold them harmless for the lack of peace agreement with Israel. The Israelis have much to account for, but they are not alone in this matter and they are not the ones who have over and over again rejected peace plans. The adamant refusal to hold the Arabs accountable infantilizes them — a neo-colonialist mentality that is, in the end, simply insulting.