Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Image of Syrian boy's body has been shared around world
Haroon Moghul: Muslim countries are not poor; they are poorly governed
How can you not love this country?
I have seethed on far too many days like this, watching helplessly from afar. As Syrians make their way into Europe, fleeing north through the Balkans, they cross lands where Muslims died in great numbers not two decades ago. There are more refugees now than ever, more than during World War II. But there is no world war.
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Almost 1 in 4 people today are Muslim; by 2050, it’s estimated that will be 1 in 3. So why does it feel like the more of us there are, the worse off we are? We’re like foam on the sea, subjected to currents we not only do not control, but can’t seem to predict. And certainly not assist.
So it is to Europe so many refugees go, a Europe that already has trouble coming to terms with its growing Muslim communities. We can expect rising numbers of refugees to empower further an already rising right-wing across Europe: Slovakia, for one, considered accepting “200 refugees” on condition they were Christian.
But Syrians have nowhere else to go.
Yes, Lebanon has taken in huge numbers, and Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country (surpassing the previous record-holder, Pakistan). Yet the world’s wealthiest Muslim countries, the Gulf Arab states, have offered no refuge. Israel, which like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, expends great energy warning us of the Iranian menace, likewise refuses asylum to the victims of Iran’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.
It is in moments like this that the contrast between Israel and Western democracies is most obvious. Israel didn’t just refuse Muslim refugees – it has refused any Syrian refugees. Still, I find it much harder to understand why the wealthiest Muslims ignore their fellow Muslims, most of whom are Sunni Arabs like themselves.
But the question isn’t just “why don’t Gulf Arab countries accept the Aylans or Galips?” It’s not even, “why don’t Muslim countries offer the advantages to Aylans and Galips that European countries might?” It’s “why must Aylans and Galips, little children, innocent of any crime, flee at all?”
The lesson of the Arab Spring should be clear: Oppression leads to extremism and to rebellion. To stop the extremism and the rebellion, end the oppression. Do the hard work of building inclusive societies. The lesson the autocrats took, however, was: We weren’t dictatorial enough. The blowback, when it comes – and trust me, it will – will be much worse the next time. As terrible as it is, Syria might be merely a prelude to far more devastating conflicts.
So the Muslim world appears broken – unable to take care of its own, unable to solve its conflicts, unable, it seems, to be moved to care. Not only is Saudi Arabia refusing to help the victims of Syria’s war, it is creating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, to which we have so far paid little attention.
On days like these, many Muslims feel helpless, disgusted, ashamed. What is wrong with us? We often reach for colonialism, for imperialism, for occupation. But this misses the point. Many other parts of the world suffered foreign interference, too. And then they didn’t. China and South Korea, for example. Or India and Brazil. Now they have far more control over their destinies. They provide much more for their people. They are spoken of as rising powers. At some point, something changed. Something that made them not victims of the world but actors in the world.
It’s a something modern Islam seems helpless to find.
We are torn apart by al-Assads and al-Baghdadis, el-Sisis and al-Zawahiris. Our most vulnerable wash ashore, flee for their lives or cower under bombardment, from missiles above or car bombs around. But if there is any dim hope, it is in this: Our problems are not natural disasters or unforeseen tragedies. They are the product of human error, of human villainy.
Muslim countries are not poor; they are poorly governed. They are not backward; they are held back. And though they may be this way today, it does not mean they have to be forever.