Many of their customs and rituals are too archaic, and many of their beliefs are, as well. It is a land where women are treated as second-class citizens, and that may be one of the biggest reasons Islam and the Arab world may never be completely modern. Belief systems have to change for a country or a religion to modernize. Other religions have done it, and they still remain viable. Other religions, such as the Shakers, have not modernized, and it has decimated and even eliminated their numbers. For example, the Catholic Church is far removed from its roots in many ways, even though it still retains the ritual and many of the belief systems it was founded upon. Catholicism has had to change with the times to remain viable, but sects of Islam still resemble medieval religions, at best.
However, the biggest impediment to change may be the people themselves. Author Horwitz writes one young Yemeni says, "We want to be Yemen. We do not want to hurry up and be like the West" (Horwitz 20). All throughout the Middle East, this same resistance to change seems to exist. The people want to hold on to their archaic beliefs about women and the western world; they do not want many of the comforts modern life could bring. There is a difference between modern Arabs and those who follow the fundamentalist path, and this is another way Islam is used illegitimately, especially in controlling women. Author Brooks writes of an Islam woman educated at Harvard who gradually falls under full control of her increasingly conservative fiance. She adopts Islamic dress, allows him to control all aspects of the wedding, including buying the dress, and another "liberated" woman who refused to marry a Christian she loved but would not convert to Islam (Brooks 64). The most conservative sects of Islam are so strict they control every aspect of the people's lives, and politicians and officials use these edicts to control their countries. Islam can be perverted, and many take advantage of it in that way.
The authors' views are quite clear in both books. Early in his text, author Horwitz notes, "And I understood that Cairo was a city I could never come to love" (Horwitz 12). It is easy to see why - Cairo sounds like a noisy, dirty, and ugly place - somewhere many people would not want to call home, and Yemen is even worse. It seems that the further into the Arab world the authors travel, the more backward in time the Middle East becomes. If the Middle East is really going to be competitive in the modern world, it must modernize and throw off some of the ancient customs and routines that bind it. The authors make this perfectly clear. By showing the reader real life pieces of existence in the Middle East, it becomes abundantly clear how different our cultures are, and how far behind the Middle East is in innovation, modernity, and change. The Middle East will always be behind the rest of the world until they modernize their culture and their religious beliefs, because the two are intertwined, and one cannot grow with the maturation of the other. The modern world views the Middle East with a mixture of distrust and hope. Hope that perhaps they will someday manage to get along, and distrust because they seem so far different from the West and modernization. It is a violent society in general, so it is no wonder the violence spills over into the West.
In conclusion, these two books paint a disturbing picture of the Middle East. It is still steeped in violence, ancient religious doctrine, and old-world cities that seem to have stepped back in time. Some areas of the Middle East have modernized, such as the Persian Gulf and Dubai. However, many Arabs view these "westernized" countries with disgust. Even in these modern countries, there are signs that the old ways are difficult to give up, like the camel racers in the Persian Gulf and the References
Brooks, Geraldine. Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.