Juan Cole takes on Dennis Prager

Rightwing radio host Dennis Prager wrote a column awhile back called "The Difficulty of Intellectually Engaging the Left," in which he says progressives "do not necessarily have to engage [their] opponents in debates over the truth or falsehood of their positions." Let's see how he responds to Michigan history professor Juan Cole's fact-checking of his silly (and bigoted) LATimes column, Five questions non-Muslims would like answered:
Then [Prager] asks, Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?

Prager is not only stereotyping an ethnic group, he is profoundly ignorant. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a much more violent group than Arafat's Fateh, was led by Christian George Habash. In fact, the PFLP had to hire Eastern Orthodox priests to minister to its fighers. Christians in the Middle East, whether Palestinian Christians, or Maronite Christians in Lebanon, have been just as much parties to the violence in the region as Muslims. And, of course, Israeli Jews haven't exactly been pacifists.

Then he asks, Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?

Well, gee, Dennis. Let's see.

There is the legacy of European colonialism, which ruled most of the Muslim world with an iron fist and established modern bureaucratic practices that were authoritarian, which the post-colonial states inherited. (If you want to understand the Pakistani military, you have to understand the colonial British Army of India).

And, the Russians invaded Muslim Central Asia in the 19th century. They first subjected those peoples to Tsarist absolute monarchy, and then to Stalinism. Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan both have authoritarian tendencies, and it is because they both come out of the old Soviet system. You want to blame Islam for this?

It wasn't just colonialism. Neo-colonialism has played a key part. Iran was a parliamentary democracy in the early 1950s. Then its prime minister asserted Iranian ownership of Iran's own oil. And the UK and the US objected to this step, and sent in the CIA to overthrow the elected government of Iran, and install an absolute monarchy for all the world like Louis XIV! Courtesy of Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.

The political scientists now think that democracy is best sustained where the per capita income is at least $8000 a year. It isn't an absolute requirement, but it seems to help. There are a lot of poor Muslim countries because they are in resource-poor regions (arid parts of Africa and the Middle East).

Why bring ethnicity into it? Is that really the likely explanation? Prager could ask the same question about the Chinese. Why is only one Chinese-majority society (Taiwan) moving toward democracy? Does he think it really has something to do with being Chinese? Authoritarianism in East Asia used to be attributed to Confucianism, but then Japan and South Korea (and lately Taiwan) challenged that thesis. Things change. If we were in the 1930s Prager could ask what was with those Fascist Catholics.
Read all of Cole's Muslims and the 5 Questions.

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