2001 : WHAT NOW?

john_mccarthy's picture
Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University
Professor of Computer Science

I have lots of ideas but have decided to present just one of them:

What Can The West Do To Help Islamic Countries Overcome Fanatacism

Today fanaticism based on Islam is a major force in Islamic countries. It is a danger to the West, but it is much more a danger to the peoples of these countries themselves to whom it has already done enormous harm. What's the harm?

1. It has led to more oppressive government. Many governments in these countries have always been oppressive, but religious fanaticism makes the oppression worse.
2. It has suppressed free speech and free press and has put dissenters in prison or killed them. 
3. It has reinforced educational systems based on rote learning and fostered ignorance. 
4. It has hindered economc progress. 
5. It has prevented these countries from making their full contribution to science and technology. In the Middle Ages and well into the European Renaissance Islamic countries were leaders in mathematics and science. In particular, they preserved the Greek knowledge, but they did a lot more.

Oppressive Islamic fanaticism is in part a recent development - perhaps from the 1970s. Before then intellectual youth were modernists, but in the 70s political Islamism became dominant in many countries. Perhaps this is related to the loss of confidence in Western society among the Western media elites and among Western youth, at least as depicted in the media.

Fanaticism is therefore not a permanent feature of these countries, and will probably die down again as new generations come to see it as a dead end.

What can the West do about this situation?

In the main the changes will have to come from within these countries, but Western media are quite influential. The purely cultural aspects of the West are sufficiently widely known, whether it be high culture or the low culture of consumerism.

Here is some of what can be done.

Western broadcasts in the languages of these countries should emphasize:

1. Historical contributions of these countries to world culture. 
2. The voices of dissidents to oppressive governments. 
3. Direct criticism of the harm fanaticism does. 
4. Current contributions of writers, e.g. Mahfouz, to world culture. 
5. Developments in Western science, technology and medicine.

Probably the number of broadcasts should be increased.

More Internet sites emphasizing modernism in Arabic, Farsi, Berber etc. are needed and people building them should be helped.