Clash of Civilizations

The introduction of Playboy Magazine in Indonesia demonstrates an important point about the Islamic world. You’ll see that the article notes that the magazine is fifty years behind the American edition in terms of what it shows—not even nipples.

The key word here is fifty. The Islamic world is clearly behind us in certain respects, the role of women and free speech most of all. But by and large these societies are third world countries, with third world economies; they’re traditional cultures. There is something highly appealing about traditional cultures, but their attitudes on free speech and women’s freedoms are just backward. We used to be a traditional culture before World War II shook the daylights out of us and IBM and Hugh Hefner and Betty Friedan got to work. The point is that Islam’s attitudes on these questions are actually similar to our patriarchal attitudes 50 to 100 years ago. And they are likely now to change as ours did, and at a faster pace, given the internet…

Islam scares us. The fear was best expressed a couple months back on the News Hour on PBS by the redoubtable David Brooks, when he said that the Mohammed cartoons furor showed that Islam is still in the 12th century. Brooks is simply wrong (and reflecting Crusader-era paradigms). It’s not eight centuries off, it’s less than one. Sometimes the Other is not that other after all.