Sharia Law in Pakistan's Swat Valley and North-West Frontier Province

Last week, as the Dish noted, Dawkins caused an uproar by tweeting: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” Isaac Chotiner mounts a defense of Dawkins:

[T]here is something not quite right with many of the responses to Dawkins. The point he was trying to make, I would assume, is that Islam is a religion which holds back intellectual development, and thus the Nobel Prize count is skewed towards non-Muslim countries. This might be a silly argument in point of fact, but it is perfectly acceptable to make these types of claims. Religions are man-made things. People choose to follow a particular faith. It would be one thing to say that the color of one’s skin sets back one’s intellectual development; Dawkins was (I think) trying to say that a belief system human beings choose to follow has impaired their development. Arguments like this should be not only within the bounds of reasonable debate, but are completely necessary.

I couldn’t agree more. Isaac is rightly tough on Dawkins for tweeting such a grand and foolish generalization. But it would be strange not to consider culture when analyzing any part of the world which is quite clearly lagging in economic, intellectual and social development. Just take a read of the UN reports on the Muslim Arab world and absorb their devastating conclusions about the region. Think of what the Israelis have managed to achieve in a few decades and then look at Egypt’s pathetic record. Of course, this cannot be reduced simply to Islam, which, as Dawkins noted, played a huge role in advancing human civilization a few centuries ago. But to ignore it seems perverse.

Take the simple issue of women’s equality.

Is there any doubt that a huge amount of the West’s success in past decades has been the final unraveling of female subjugation, unleashing half of humanity’s potential in the process? The places sealed off from that shift are going to be more backward than those who pioneered it. And since Islam in Arabia is critical to sustaining this subordinate role for women, it must be seen, for that reason alone, less intellectually vibrant and economically powerful than the West. Here’s the data on education spending as a proportion of GDP:

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It’s at a low level of low GDP and not going anywhere. And the most important correlation with it is the presence of mothers in the workplace. And is there any doubt that Islam’s often-rigid subjugation of women is connected to this?

I believe that the West is superior to the Arab Muslim world for this reason alone – as well as many others. And I believe religion has a big role to play in this. I suspect that’s what Dawkins was driving at, in his own glib, bigoted, off-hand way. I cannot stand his approach to these subjects – but I sure find more honesty in what he is saying than in the self-righteous chorus of anti-anti-Islamophobes.

(Photo: Girl students look through the window at the damage in their classroom at Hathier High School, which was bombed on March 22, 2009 by Taliban militants opposed to female education, pictured on March 31, 2009 in Mardan, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan. By Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images.)