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Modernism has its roots in the golden Age of Greece. The fourth century BCE was a distinct forerunner of modern science. More than that, this golden era is still embedded in many modern societies. From My Journey:

Anything that Greeks didn't invent, they thought of. Indeed, Greek science brought dramatic progress in many scientific fields, even if it was more theoretical than practical.

That's why many Greek theories in physics, math, astronomy and medicine hold, in one form or another, up into our times. Other theories were not disproved until the late 16th century, simply because the reasoning behind them was logic and methodical thinking ("Who am I to disprove Socrates?"). And don't forget the Hypocritical Oath that all doctors today have to follow. That's yet another example of solid Greek philosophy that is still shaping our moral values.

One of the leading features of Greek culture, and of the later Hellenistic world in the Middle East and North Africa, was the attempt to explain the physical world in purely rational terms. Greek science, which brought dramatic progress in the fields of medicine, physics, astronomy, and mathematics, required a strict methodology based on logic, which could extend empirical data gained from observation into more general laws about nature's workings. More than Asian scientists of the classical period and later, the Greeks insisted on generalizing. More than modern scientific practitioners, they favored the deductive approach over the inductive.

Greek and Hellenistic science built on the works of many outstanding figures, but it was most deeply indebted to Aristotle (383-322 BC), who formulated logic into a discipline while gathering and categorizing a host of observations about nature. Aristotle accepted the notion that the spherical earth was the stationary center of the universe and that all the planets and stars moved uniformly in perfect circles around it. His errors here were accepted in Western science until the sixteenth century, so powerful was the example of Greek thought. But while Aristotle's facts were wrong, his argument was exceedingly important, for it showed the power of the rationalist concept; this too would be a heritage for later centuries.

If one word captures the essence of modernism, it is rationality and the Greeks made the most of it. Their advances in the the Golden Age are little short of miraculous. Given the context of the times, the Greeks matched what Galileo and Newton did in their time. But it was the latter who provided the spring board from which science leapt to produce the Enlightenment, the Industrial Age and Modernism.

Modernism seems a given to the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific Rim Countries. The Arabic world has experienced it quite differently. In 1750, their culture was agrarian, as it largely is today. The industrial revolution began in Europe, capital investment began to pay huge dividends which created yet more capital investment. Caught in their agrarian ways and still governed by Islam, the Muslim world was slow to respond. When it did, the modernizations were superficialwithout the cultural sea change in the mores of governance, business, and education modernization requires.

In the process of trying to catch up with the industrialization of the West, Muslim states began trading raw materials for cheap finished goods. The unintended effects of that were multiple. Local industry was stunted, even ruined. Agrarianism became a lifesaving fortress of last resort. Educationfocused on religion and the good earthwas slow to pick up on the new arts and sciences. Education lagged behind the non-Islamic world more and more seriously with time. Islamic culture was essentially closed to outside views; so the world passed it by. The Taliban ban against educating females is a primary example of this mentality.

Museums in Islamic nations still focus on the Middle East and the world of Islam. There is little revealed about the non-Islamic world. This is in dramatic contrast with museums elsewhere where Islamic culture is on display for the locals. Another remnant of an agrarian culture is polygamy (and even occasional slavery,) where the farming families need all the children and other help they can get simply to till the land by archaic means. Life span is still short for many of these folks.

Modernization came slowly to the lands of Islam. Education could always be had (by males), but too often it was for the privileged or favored few. Today, one can train for most any career in some Islamic countries. But too often, a new graduate cannot find a job of any kind except menial labor. Human capital remains largely unused in too many Middle Eastern nations, and the female half is largely unavailable for religious reasons.

Meanwhile, Europe and America moved forward at ever increasing pace, a pace made explicit by Moore's law. Moore was a cofounder of Intel and was first to observe that computer capability doubles every eighteen months or so. But in fact, that same law format holds for all technologies in societies governed by democracies free from religious constraints with market economies that educate all their peoples. Moore's law, with different parameters, holds for technology in generalfrom the Stone Age times forward. Moore did not invent it; he gave a narrow version popularity by recognizing explicitly how computing capability increases exponentially with knowledge in the modern age. It has always been so.

Empires have been an historical, largely European, way of life, and the lands of Islam suffered the fate of colonization by Europe. With that came feelings of second-class citizenship. Many Muslims are still caught in this beliefsome believe that they are not capable of pulling off a well coordinated and effective attack on the United States.

Japan escaped a similar fate and was able to modernize at its own pace, but Japan had to lose a devastating war before it became "civilized" in the democratic sense. Having no religious impediments to modernization, Japan leapt forward to become a modern nation in the forefront of modernism.

Technologically, Islam is rapidly falling even further behindbin Laden is merely a product of these conditions. But his cause is exciting to the disillusioned Muslim youth. He offers fame in this world and for the martyrs, a male-dominated paradise in the hereafter. Never mind that he employs dreams, even ordinary random events, as omens for guidance. Never mind that the modern world has passed him by; he is terribly efficient at what he does. On tape he declared that he grossly underestimated his own technical prowess. While bin Laden may have overestimated his own ability to marshal all of Islam to his cause, he nevertheless provided a template of terror others could and did emulate with devastating effect.

Unfortunately, American policy is aiding the Muslim extremist mullahs in Pakistan and other Islamic nations in turning out radicalized youth daily. All signs point to an increasing supply of terrorists and suicide bombers.

Muslims are people like everyone else; they know how to think for themselveswhen allowed to. But even Intellectual Muslims often feel intimidated in the many authoritarian states that make up the bulk of Islam. Expatriots are speaking up. And so are a few brave souls such as Shirin Ibadi and Mukhtaran Bibi.

A millennium ago, lightning was accepted by everyone simply as God's work. Everyone believed in the Ptolemaic universe. Navigation was problematic at best. Sickness was simply God's will. We now know better about these things and we have found ways to live with and use the fruits of nature to the point where we can live long and comfortable lives. Most of this know-how came from Europe, North America, and Pacific Rim countries. Our challenge now is to make the world safer and more peaceful for children everywhere. See Pluralism for more.


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