In the past fifty years, many countries have caught up with the rich and developed Western World. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, with virtually no natural resources, have created advanced, urbanized and prosperous societies, complete with world-class technology that often exceed that which is found in the West. India, Brazil and China, although not fully developed, now all possess large and affluent middle classes that did not exist just a few decades ago. There is no reason to believe why their economic and social progress of all of these countries will not continue for the foreseeable future.
The Muslim world, on the other hand, has struggled during this era of unprecedented global wealth creation. These countries have profited almost solely, by happy geological accident, from oil and gas extraction. Beyond these activities, economic activity in Muslim countries remains scant, low tech and strictly oriented towards local consumption. Despite trillions of dollars in oil revenue over the past sixty years, Muslim progress in many other areas, such as scientific research, social issues and education, lags badly behind the rest of the world.
How could this be the case? The answer, which the major media dares not touch, lies in the very culture of Muslim countries themselves. Consider the following:
Belief in magic. State-owned Malaysian newspaper and television stations routinely run breathless stories about witch doctors ('bomoh'), evil spirits and other forms of the supernatural. Outsiders get a good laugh out of such quaint cultural practices, until they realize with a shock that the local belief in such superstition is absolutely sincere. But it's not just Malaysia where this happens. In Saudi Arabia, witchcraft is considered very real and a capital offence. And in Iraq, many of the locals were absolutely convinced that American soldiers wore sunglasses that could see through clothing and had bases protected by force fields. A culture that is eager to embrace the supernatural takes a giant step away from rationality and deceives itself fundamentally. Self-deception is always the path to failure.
Belief in conspiracies. Muslims take it as Article of Faith that various groups of so-called infidels or other outsiders are engaged in various conspiracies to keep Muslims down, make Islam look bad, or are otherwise up to No Good. The lack of evidence means little to a society where 'skepticism' is already an unusual and foreign concept. For instance, even well-educated Muslims will tell you, with total earnestness, that the 9-11 terror attacks were actually perpetrated by Zionists, or the CIA, or the U.S. Government, or some other nefarious group. Never mind the vast amount of evidence to the contrary. When presented with these sorts of rebuttals, Muslims will often just shrug and carry on with their nonsensical conspiracy theories.
Lack of innovation. Here in Malaysia, it is telling that the word in the Malay language for innovation ("innovasi") did not exist until it came from English, quite recently, as a loan word. Innovation, meaning to create something without precedent, is a risky and therefore dangerous business in the Islamic world. The reason for this is because Islam already has a word for innovation, "bid'ah". In Islam, this word is essentially the same in meaning as 'heresy', which is yet another capital crime under Islamic law. Hence creativity and individuality is stifled in a comprehensive and totalitarian fashion, even in Muslim countries where Islamic law has not yet been fully implemented. Improvisation is also discouraged for similar reasons. This is why Islamic countries are usually characterized by a near-total lack of scientific research and reluctance to embrace technology in general.
Lack of devotion to non-family/non tribal/non-clan organizations. In most Muslim societies, loyalty often runs no farther than one's tribe or sect. People from the far-off central government, or those from the next valley over for that matter, are foreigners to be met with suspicion or hostility. Afghanistan is a perfect example of this sort of chaotic situation. Even if these differences are eventually papered over, so to speak, by the force and coercion of a tyrannical government, the lack of cohesion and distrust remains. Muslim leaders usually come into power and stay in power by playing one tribe or group off another. Patriotism amongst the general public is another foreign concept. Muslims may remain loyal to Islam in general, but more importantly, to the tribe in particular.
Lack of empowerment of women. The future, no matter what form it may take, is going involve more technology, not less. How well equipped is a society for this future if half of its members are only (at best) grudgingly given their rights? In many Islamic countries, women are often illiterate and have no rights in essential critical life decisions, such as those involving child-rearing, marriage or education. And why should they? Various Quranic verses, age-old Islamic traditions, and core Islamic teachings render women as nothing more than chattel and the property of their male relatives—never the equal of men. And no one can 'reform' these teachings to something more enlightened—see the penalty for "bid'ah" above.
Lack of personal responsibility. Muslim leaders often lie to their own people, to subordinates, or to allies in order to advance their own personal agendas. Remember that most Muslim countries are a patchwork of tribes who barely tolerate one another in the best of times. Loyalty to one's country as a whole is next to non-existent. So, the main objective of these leaders, whether at the top, middle or bottom, is to steal as much as they can, while they can, in order to vastly enrich themselves and their families or clans or tribes—national 'interest' be damned. If you're one of the rare incorruptible types, or are otherwise too stupid to steal when given the opportunity, then more the fool you are. Other tribes or groups are useful as scapegoats when the need arises or when blame must be deflected.
Lack of meritocracy. In the West, they have thrived not only because they have learned to hold people responsible for their actions, but also they have learned to give out rewards based on individual achievement. Hence higher–performing individuals tend to be eventually in charge and reap the most rewards (in prestige, rank, money, etc.) Westerners do not always manage to live up to these ideals, but the concepts are not questioned. In the Islamic world, however, personal loyalty, personal connections, and tribal/sect membership are what count. Incompetent leaders are preferable to competent ones, so long as they are properly loyal. Such a state of affairs makes for incredible inefficiency on a normal day and catastrophic consequences when any sort of crisis arises. Muslims are fond of saying "it's God's will" at difficult times, which for Muslims seems like most of the time. Actually, it's not so much "God's will" but more like the inevitable consequences of their dysfunctional culture.
If you've read up to this point, no doubt that you could add a few more things to this list. But remember, political correctness dictates that all cultures are somehow 'equal', and Muslims are convinced their cultures are somehow superior; never mind the reams of evidence which conclusively show otherwise.
So what does the future hold for the 1.3 billion Muslims of the world? One must remain hopeful, but the smart money is not riding on those who would reform Muslims' maladjusted, underperforming societies. At least not yet. It is a serious problem just getting Muslims to talk about any of this in a forthright and honest manner, let alone take meaningful steps towards a solution.