Ed Driscoll

Putting the Toothpaste Back into the Tube, Middle East Edition

Mark Steyn on “Pharaohs and Fairy Tales:”

Mr Erb seems to assume that simply because “half the Arab population is under 24” that means they’re “modern”. But look at these four photographs: The female graduating class of Cairo University in 1959, 1978, 1995 and 2004. The young women of the Fifties and Seventies are little different from their counterparts at Brown or Brandeis. The 2004 group shot shows a wholly transformed culture: True, it’s more “modern” than Take Your Child Bride To Work Day in Kandahar, but that’s about it. As I wrote three years ago:

The other night at dinner, I found myself sitting next to a Middle Eastern Muslim lady of a certain age. And the conversation went as it often does when you’re with Muslim women who were at college in the Sixties, Seventies or Eighties. In this case, my dining companion had just been at a conference on “women’s issues,” of which there are many in the Muslim world, and she was struck by the phrase used by the “moderate Muslim” chair of the meeting: “authentic women” — by which she meant women wearing hijabs. And my friend pointed out that when she and her unveiled pals had been in their 20s they were the “authentic women”: the covering routine was for old village biddies, the Islamic equivalent of gnarled Russian babushkas. It would never have occurred to her that the assumptions of her generation would prove to be off by 180 degrees — that in middle age she would see young Muslim women wearing a garb largely alien to their tradition not just in the Middle East but in Brussels and London and Montreal.

Whenever I speak about Islam, some or other inevitablist always says, “Oh, but they haven’t had time to westernize. Just you wait and see. Give it another 20 years, and the siren song of westernization will work its magic.” This argument isn’t merely speculative, it’s already been proved wrong by what’s happened over the last 30 years. Huge majorities of Egyptians are in favor of stoning for adulterous women and of execution for apostasy. Run the numbers, and then see if you can recite your inevitablist theories of social evolution with a straight face. The idea that social progress is like the wheel or the iPhone — once invented, it can never be uninvented — is one of the laziest assumptions of the western left.

You can also see that at work in these photos of Iran in the 1970s, or even Afghanistan in the 1950s. But does the western left still think that “social progress is like the wheel or the iPhone — once invented, it can never be uninvented?” Because in the first decade of the new millennia (as these things were once reckoned in less enlightened times), they’ve been doing a bang-up job at attempting to roll back the progress of the first half of the 20th century themselves.

Related: “Egypt: Islamist judge to head new constitution committee,” the London Telegraph reports.