COWEN: On Islam, if we look at Islamic countries
in the world today, we’ve all noticed in different ways — this is a generalization,
but it seems to me a true generalization — their ability to be stable democracies seems problematic,
at least right now. And I’m not just talking about the Middle East. If you look at places
like Bangladesh, Malaysia, other parts, they’re somewhat democratic, but they don’t seem
to mature into “normal democracies,” the way, say, South Korea and Taiwan have. And
of course much of the Middle East: they’re not close to being democracies. And why, at
the deepest level, you could explain — as a matter of intellect, theology, metaphysics — has
the doctrine of the religion ended up correlated with this result?
WOLPE: If I were wise, I would say that I’m neither an expert in Islam nor in politics.
And therefore, I would beg off this question, but I’m not going to. Because I think it
is incumbent, it is an intellectual necessity of the time, since I think there is no question
that jihadist Islam is right now as great a threat, I don’t want to say the greatest
— COWEN: OK, but not the extreme; I’m talking
about — WOLPE: Right, but I’m just saying. So there
is a necessity, I’m saying, to put some intellectual pressure on the question of why
it isn’t creating societies of healthier political climates.
I would say, if I had to pick one thing that is at the heart of Islam that is antidemocratic,
it is the concept that’s very deep — that is, in the very name of the religion — of
submission. Because a population that is trained essentially to submit is a population that
will create authoritarians. And so I think that the recalcitrants — when
you think about Israel, the founders of Israel, none of them came from democracies. They came
from Russia, from Eastern Europe; they came from the Levant; they didn’t know democracy,
and yet why did they create a democracy? Because they all argued with each other.
[laughter] WOLPE: Seriously, they all did! That’s like
my friend Joseph Epstein has a great line. He said, “Jews don’t listen. They wait.”
[laughter] WOLPE: And that idea, the disputatious culture
of the Talmud and so on, it’s good for democracy, and I think the culture of submission can
be corrosive to it.