Thursday, November 19, 2009

the Muslim world, then and now

At the end of Leo Africanus, it seemed that a united Muslim world was a finally a reality. Harun tells Leo that "at present from the borders of Persia to the coast of the Maghrib, from Belgrade to the Yemen, there is one single Muslim Empire” (335). Today that ideal seems to be an impossibility. Having a common religion is not enough to keep the modern Arab states together. Factors like internal sects, language and ethnic differences, varying economies and power struggles keep the Muslim world from uniting as it once did under the Ottoman Empire. Religion, in fact, no longer seems to be the strongest bond that Arab states have. Instead, a common anger over the conflict in Israel seems to be more important.

In Leo’s time, the economy of the Muslim world seemed to be centered on international trade. That remains true today, except that today the main commodity is oil. Although, as the Special Report on the Arab World pointed out, that is a generalization that certainly does not apply to many poorer Muslim countries, such as those in northwest Africa. However, it is safe to say that the Arab world needs to diversify their economies in order to remain relatively prosperous. They rely too heavily on oil, and although they became concerned enough to begin diversification a few years ago, they were lulled into false security when oil prices rose so dramatically in the past decade.

Since Leo’s time the Arab world is often thought of as being in a perpetual state of conflict. Whether it is over oil or religious convictions or terrorism, it is a huge issue. As Americans we may automatically think of Iraq, but the true stalemate in the Middle East is not the relatively recent war in Iraq but rather the ongoing conflict in Israel. Without the intervention of powers such as America, Israel could have easily been crushed by its Muslim neighbors long ago. However, unwilling to defy America but equally unwilling to give up on their Palestinian brothers, the Arab states have created a deadlock that in a way works to their advantages. Or at least to the advantage of the leaders and politicians. Many politicians are elected solely on the basis of their position towards Israel, and many rulers keep power by claiming a state of emergency due to the conflict in Israel, despite the obvious lack of impact that the war has on their citizens.

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