Change in Middle East takes more than war

TBy Austen Morris The year is 2300. Humans have colonized Mars. Books of paper and ink are no longer used. Schools have more or less disappeared: Children now teach themselves basic learning skills. Cures for cancer, HIV and numerous other maladies have been found. Average life-expectancy on Earth is approaching 300 years.

The Middle East has emerged as a pioneering center of human progress. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran have become economic superpowers. The region is a fountain of technological development. The best minds and talents are drawn there. It has become a global center for entertainment, a dazzling magnet for tourism, a cultural cornucopia. One finds in this hotbed of civilization some of the world’s top research institutions, headquarters of leading international corporations, cutting-edge architectural, engineering and transportation innovations. Its communications infrastructure is second to none. Immigrants searching for a better life flock there by the millions.

How did this state of affairs come about?

Centuries ago, over the course of decades, an enormous transformation took place in the minds of Middle Easterners. One might describe it, without exaggeration, as a cultural and philosophical revolution of historic proportions. It led to what is now known as the Second Renaissance, for it was indeed a renaissance, in the grandest meaning of the word.

The sparks, the triggers, the flag-bearers of this revolution were a certain number of extraordinary, courageous individuals, native to the Middle East, frustrated with the poverty, misery and tyranny under which their countries had lived from time immemorial.

Islam gradually but steadily underwent a reformation. Earthly happiness, tolerance of diversity and dissent, and the free and friendly exchange of goods, became embraced as fundamental values by leaders of the Muslim world. Internal pressure in the region caused an individualistic, rights-based, peace-loving ethic to emerge; blind collectivists and terrorists were systematically ostracized from society.

The movement caught the imagination of more and more Middle Easterners. To cast theocracy aside, to establish a government of strictly limited powers, to be free to speak one’s mind, to be free to build a business, to have sovereign ownership over land and property, to be protected by a rational and just legal system, to be free to come and go and mix and mingle. To live one’s own life! Just imagining the possibilities was more intoxicating than anything they had ever known.

Sweet music of liberty. Tyrannies fell; constitutional republics were installed. Slavery had given way to freedom; the slaves had asserted and demanded it themselves. A new age had begun in the Middle East.

Freedom established, the world witnessed an awesome release of energy. Creativity, innovation, imagination erupted from the region in all directions. The minds of millions of people had been liberated. It was a time of endless possibilities. Middle Easterners held to the thrilling vision of material comfort and enduring happiness, of productive effort being rewarded, of political stability. They regarded developed nations not with envy, but with admiration – and with a touch of swagger too. For they knew it would not be long before they had left the swamps of the Third World for good. Around the world people had been inspired by the song of their revolution. The future was theirs.

Today, in 2300, historians agree. The early overthrow of Middle Eastern regimes by Western nations made, at best, a small dent. Real, fundamental change in the region did not begin, and could not have begun, until the Middle Eastern and Muslim mind underwent its philosophical transformation.

Austen Morris welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]