A man named “Spengler” writes opinion pieces for the Asia Times. Many of them feature what is now often called “out of the box” thinking. His article taking off from the cartoon controversy is particularly worth reading. He reminds us how gingerly we in the West treat Islam, as if freedom of speech weren’t even part of our tradition:
More revealing than the refusal of the mainstream American media to repost the Mohammed cartoons is the disappearance of more dangerous material previously available. Newsweek’s “Challenging the Koran” story of July 28, 2003, has vanished from the magazine’s website. The government of Pakistan had banned that issue, which among other things reported a German philologist’s contention that the Koran was written in Syriac rather than classical Arabic, translating the “virgins” of Paradise as “raisins”. As I observed before, the topic of Koranic criticism has disappeared from the mainstream media. Since the suppression of the Newsweek story the Western media have steered clear of the subject.
Well, we all know that, don’t we? Being the slighest bit offensive to delicate Islamic sensibilities trumps free speech anytime. (“Spengler” dryly channels Professor Henry Higgns, “What can’t a Muslim be more like a Jew?”) But the essayist is on to yet bigger game, connecting up literacy rates with religious belief (“Spengler” is apparently himself a believer):
Once the literacy rate reaches 90%, the percentage of non-religious jumps into two digits. That is as true for Muslim countries as well as for non-Muslim countries. Because the Muslim literacy rate is so far below the average, though, few Muslim countries have a high proportion of non-religious people.
But this is under threat. He continues later:
Of all the large Muslim countries, Iran is most at risk, with a literacy rate of 71% and a population growth rate of 1.3%, projected to decline to zero within a generation. I have elaborated elsewhere on the devastating implications of a large population of dependent aged for a poor country (Demographics and Iran’s imperial design, September 13, 2005). These considerations prompted me to predict early on that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad no more would shrink from confrontation with the West than did Adolf Hitler. But the rest of the Muslim world faces the same pressures.
UPDATE: Newsweek evidently still has that story on line. Spengler is not correct on that.