- 1 Cultural Memes
- 2 What is a ratchet?
- 3 Islam as a ratchet
- 4 Nazism and Communism
- 5 Pushing the ratchet beyond its limits
The analysis of culture, religion and other societal norms from a Darwinist perspective has lead to the term ‘cultural memes’. These are analogous to genes or competing organisms undergoing a process of natural selection. This has lead to insight into the alternative ways that ideas can spread. This article deals with one particular way, for which the analogy of a mechanical ratchet is used.
What is a ratchet?
A ratchet is a mechanical device, usually used to prevent a wheel from turning backwards. Familiar examples include a boat winch and the handbrake on a car. You can pull the handbrake on easily enough, but you have to release the ratchet mechanism before it will go the other way to release the break. Zip ties (cable ties) are also a type of ratchet. The analogy of a ratchet is often used in economics, for example to describe a fee, tax or salary that can be increased under certain circumstances but never decreased.
Ratchets in nature
Ratchets also occur in nature. The closest to a mechanical ratchet is a snake jaw. Snakes open their mouth very wide to swallow large prey, but do not have the ability to do this unless they have something to get their mouth around. This can be contrasted with a fish mouth, with has a bone structure and muscles that allow it to be rapidly forced open, sucking prey in. A snake’s top and bottom jaw are mechanically separate, as are the left and right jaws. A snake’s teeth point backwards, so food can only travel easily in one direction. A snake forces one jaw forward at a time, then uses it to pull the other jaws forwards. In preparing to eat a mammal or bird, a snake carefully orients the prey so that it is swallowed head first. Otherwise, the hair on the animal may prevent it from passing easily, causing it to get stuck and potentially trapping the snake with a meal in its mouth that cannot move forwards or backwards. A ‘wait-a-while’ bush is similar to a ratchet, though the intention is not to trap, just irritate. Even a cobweb can be compared to a ratchet, as a fly tends to get itself stuck faster the more it moves.
A faith ratchet, or ideological ratchet, is a belief system that incorporates a mechanism for preventing dissent. A faith ratchet grows in a fundamentally different way to most ideological movements. Rather than being adopted at a faster rate than it is abandoned, it grows by preventing people from abandoning it, meaning that the idea will spread no matter how slowly it is adopted, or how limited the circumstances are in which it is appealing. A faith ratchet typically presents two faces, one to the outside world to which it is attempting to appeal intellectually, and the other internally, where it employs a very different technique to maintain its grip. That is, the mechanism by which it spreads is very different to the mechanism by which it prevents abandonment. This article explains the analogy to a ratchet, then gives examples of a ideological ratchets in action, including the historical spread of Islam, Nazism and Communism.
The concept of an ideological ratchet is perhaps best introduced with examples of ideologies that do the opposite. Many successful ideologies actually contain the seeds of their own destruction. They only succeed in being adopted on an individual basis and enacted collectively with significant support from people. The best example is pacifism, which is unlikely to last in the face of a competing ideology or institution that permits the slaughter of its opponents. Pacifism only gained broad support relatively recently. Other examples include democracy and freedom. Democracy is fragile in the sense that with every election cycle, any group that is intent on destroying democracy is given the opportunity to gain power in a bloodless coup. Freedom has even bigger problems, as it protects the rights of people to promote far more sinister ideologies. This explains the phrase “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” and also the familiar arguments over whether it makes sense to restrict people’s rights in order to protect freedom. Birth control, women’s rights and population reduction movements have the potential to ‘breed themselves out of existence’ over long time scales, though they generally spread much faster and bring other advantages.
Islam as a ratchet
Islam can be considered an ideological ratchet because it incorporates several mechanisms for preventing dissent and anchoring the ideology in a way that allows people to adopt Islam but prevents people from rejecting it. Note that this explanation should be interpreted in the context in which Islam grew – as a single, expansionist, military empire, rather than as the fragmented movement it is today. In fact, the fragmentation and internal violence we see today is analogous to the catastrophic failure of a ratchet when it is forced to move backwards.
The geopolitical ratchet
Islam spread in a fundamentally different way to other historical religions. To begin with, we introduce the concept of the house of peace and the house of war. This is how Islam views the world, with the house of peace being the Caliphate (historical Islamic empire) and the house of war being everything outside the empire. The borders of this empire are the first ratchet, and they mark the boundary between two fundamentally different faces of Islam. Outside its borders, Islam spread in a similar way to political parties. Islam permits lying and deception in the context of war, and the only limitation to this appears to be what Muslims can get away with (see Deception of Non-Muslims). The ratchet-like nature of the political boundary of Islam resolves any theological problems that would otherwise arise with encouraging followers to deliberately lie about the religion. In effect, it does not matter what lies were told, because once a region is incorporated into the empire, the ‘correct’ version of Shariah law is imposed and people figure out soon enough what Islam is really like. Muslims often promote the idea that the Islamic empire spread due to the popularity of its lower taxes, even though non-Muslims pay extra tax.
Exploiting disaffected minorities
Muslims exploit disaffected minorities and often promote stories of the slave becoming the master. Obviously this applies to racial groups, but not social groups such as homosexuals. In Australia, Islam busily recruits in jails    and aboriginal communities. Similar patterns are seen in the US.  Islam’s laws regarding arranged marriages with pre-pubescent girls are no doubt popular in the pedophile wings of modern prisons. Islam’s laws regarding women’s rights would be popular with wife beaters and many rapists. It would also appeal to men who have had their children taken away from them. Muslims have attempted to re-write Australian history to a version that paints aborigines as glorious victors  , academics, worldly travellers etc, all with the assistance of friendly Muslim visitors. According to this story, aborigines should have been more violent and hostile to European immigrants.
The Islamic empire spread in a similar way to other historical empires, by taking advantage of every opportunity that arose. It showed now particular preference for militant conquest, threat of force, or diplomacy. Muslims often attempt to misrepresent the militant expansionism as entirely peaceful and based purely on self defense, no matter how absurd the argument becomes. (see Rewriting history) They paint Islam and Muslims as the perpetual victims or the glorious victors, depending on the impression they are trying to paint at the time, but never as an aggressor or oppressor. This allows Muslims to replace their history and identity with an elaborate fantasy, and to present this fantasy to the rest of the world. Muhammad and his successors slaughtered anyone who changed their mind about Islam once faced with its reality. (see Collective_Punishment_and_Genocide). Muslims consider any land that was once incorporated in the empire as still belonging to the empire and consider it natural that it will one day be recaptured in a military sense in the name of Islam. This includes Spain, Israel, India etc. Muslims consider peace treaties to only be temporary and Islam compels them to resume hostilities after 10 years of peace (see War). Any mistreatment of Muslims is considered to be justification for invasion. Muslims would not tolerate the kind of treatment they impose on non-Muslims within the empire if they were in a position to invade. These ‘rules’ create conditions where the empire will spread outwards far easier than it will contract – thus the analogy of the ratchet.
The legal ratchet
Just because a region comes under Shariah law does not mean that the people become Muslim immediately. No doubt Shariah law was implemented gradually and spearheaded by local converts, to avoid a sudden shock between how Islam was promoted outside the empire and how Shariah law is enforced from within. A brutal death awaited anyone who openly campaigned against Islam or Shariah law (see Blasphemy/free speech). Islam’s legal and economic system employs every trick in the book to disadvantage non-Muslims (see Justice).
The faith ratchet
The grinding oppression of non-Muslims creates an incentive for people to at least pretend to be Muslims. Whether the conversion is genuine or fake does not matter to the outcome – the individual now faces the death penalty for apostasy if he changes his mind. Children of Muslims inevitably become Muslims themselves and it is hard to imagine a child standing up to his community and rejecting Islam before being faced with the death penalty for apostasy (if this is even possible). Islam considers that people are born Muslims. They do not ‘convert’ to Islam, but rather ‘revert’. Obviously the death penalty for apostasy only applies to Muslims who abandon Islam. The abandonment of other religions and political ideologies is encouraged, if not imposed - hence the analogy of the ratchet. In this way Islam moves from underhanded political tactics, to military tactics, to legal tactics to grow as a political movement, as an empire, and then as an ideology or faith. At each stage, anyone who goes against the flow faces the death penalty (see apostasy, blasphemy and collective punishment). There are several additional mechanisms employed by Islam to spread for which a ratchet makes a good analogy.
The sex ratchet
Islam uses sex as a weapon both for internal control and for militant expansionism (see rape and love). It creates a slavery - rape and pillage complex  that further facilitates the spread of Islam. Islam permits men to marry up to four wives. Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women, but not vice versa. Muslim men may also have sex with their slaves (concubines). The offspring of such rape are considered to be Muslims. A slave woman may gain her freedom by bearing her owner a male son.  The age of ‘consent’ is usually set at puberty (see pedophilia), though Muhammad never made any attempt to prevent pedophilia during his reign. Islam permits arranged marriages of pre-pubescent girls, considers marriage itself to be a form of consent to sex, and considers God’s consent to sex to be more important than that of the woman involved. The only legal way to obtain slaves under Islam is through war. Muslims will point out that many men are inferior and simply not up to the job of looking after a wife.
The impact that this has on society would be dramatic and the problems it creates are still evident across much of the middle east, including sex slavery and large numbers of men being unable to afford a wife. To start with, if men can marry up to four women, there will not be enough women to go around and there will be large numbers of young men to whom the situation seems hopeless. These men are the cannon fodder of Islam. Islamic society rejects the western view of love and replaces it with arranged marriages and large dowries. This means that the rich and well connected (ie upper class, Muslim) men are likely to have multiple wives. In fact, even Australian converts to Islam adopt the belief that many men are simply too inferior to have and support a wife. For the desperate men, one way out of this is to capture a wife or sex slave in battle. In this way Islam can produce large numbers of young men to fight wars. Fighting in these wars is compulsory under Islamic law – unless of course you are rich enough to buy your way out of it. So as well as being able to afford multiple wives, the upper class avoid military service. The empire has a seemingly endless supply of soldiers and the family units (harems) are not broken up by war, thus ensuring the women continue to produce offspring (who are Muslim by definition if the father is Muslim, regardless of the mother’s opinion). This is facilitated by strict control of women’s lives, including covering their bodies in public, not leaving the house without a man’s permission, and not interacting socially with an unrelated male (see Women’s rights).
Islam’s rules regarding war create the antidote to the problem of a shortage of women. Women captured during battle can be taken home as sex slaves, and the children born from the sex slavery must be raised as Muslims. Many men from both sides will die. Prisoners of war may be executed en masse if it suits the interests of the empire. Muslims also have the choice of expelling the people they conquer, allowing them to remain in the land after forfeiting possession of everything they own, or allowing them to remain as slaves, with the women inevitably becoming sex slaves. So for the most part women are faced with a choice of sex slavery or death by starvation and misadventure. Again, the decision is based on what is in the interests of the empire at the time. Muslims consider it a generosity on their part to take the women from the other side as wives.
In addition to compulsory military service, the prospect of sex itself is used as a recruitment tool for new soldiers, and Muslims go to extreme lengths to hide their women away from unmarried fellow citizens. Even today, "sex Jihad" is a real problem, with Muslim women freely signing up to travel to war zones to have sex with Muslim soldiers, often returning pregnant and with diseases such as AIDS. All wealth is also taken by the empire – the whole gamut of rape and pillage is permitted, so a Muslim man with no hope of marriage, family or wealth can achieve all these things by slaughtering non-Muslims.
This facilitates the geopolitical ratchet by providing a steady supply of cannon fodder. If all else fails, Muslim men are still compelled to perform military service. It also facilitates the ideological ratchet within the borders of the empire. Allowing Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women (but not vice versa) and also to take sex slaves, and demanding that the children all be raised as Muslims (and thus face the death penalty for apostasy) provides an additional mechanism by gradually breeding out other religions. The deprivations imposed on non-Muslims and the eagerness of Muslim men for multiple wives through arranged marriages ensures that some of the non-Muslim citizens will be forced into effective prostitution by marrying off women in exchange for a large dowry, in order to survive.
Muslims also use sex to attract newcomers to the religion, by claiming that there are many women converting. 
The incest ratchet
Islam encourages and facilitates consanguineous marriages (ie incestuous, between blood relatives). These cause a number of health issues among children of these marriages, as well as a significant reduction in IQ. This reduction in IQ is likely to make Islam more attractive as an ideology. See main article. This article presents the Quranic support for incest, evidence of the actual rate of incest by country, the health effects on children of incestuous marriage, the impact this has on IQ in Muslim countries, and an argument for how this lowering of IQ makes Islam more popular.
The slavery ratchet
In addition to sex, slavery itself is a form of ratchet under Islam. The only way for a man to escape slavery is to convert to Islam. Women may also escape slavery by bearing their owner a son. Whether Muslims, slaughter, expel, impoverish or enslave people conquered in war is dictated by the needs of the empire at the time. Both expulsion and slavery enable forced dislocation of conquered people, as slaves can be sent to any part of the empire.
Some more history
Islam is a political system similar to a dictatorship or theocracy that maintains a tight grip on power. For most of its history, Islam existed within an empire, taking whatever opportunities arose along its borders to spread. The spread of the ideology followed the political borders. Once incorporated into the borders, a community was effectively trapped. Note that the ratchet analogy applies more readily to the land than to the people, as the people were not prevented from fleeing. No other ideology in history had its growth so closely aligned to the growth of a state. In contrast, most other successful ideologies spread fluidly and were adopted across a variety of cultures and nations. The Islamic empire grew from AD 622 to 750 to incorporate Spain, north Africa, the middle east, and into Pakistan, after which it’s growth was much slower and the vast empire was subject to internal fractures. Where the borders of the Islamic state stopped growing, Islam stopped spreading. However, within those borders, Islam gradually established itself in a religious and cultural sense and then maintained a tight grip on power. Some Christian and Jewish communities survived, as these are specifically ‘protected’ by Islam. However most of them disappeared. Muhammad himself slaughtered many Jews on the weakest of pretexts. Other religions and cultures mostly vanished (paganism is a crime in Islam). One notable exception to this general rule is the far east of the empire, where Islam spread into modern day Indonesia. The Islamic movement in this region was more recent, far more fractured and did not persist long enough to eradicate other religions (not for lack of trying). Modern Muslims in this area tend to be far more tolerant of others. Around its borders, Islam presented its two faces. Outside, it used every political trick available to drum up support and undermine confidence in neighbouring state governments, as many Muslims do today. Muslims had over a thousand years to get this down to an art form, and the modern promotion of Islam reflects an astute political movement that makes other religious leaders look politically naive. Of course, this did not always work. Conveniently for Islam, it considers any mistreatment of or hostility towards Muslims as grounds for military invasion. On this pretext, Muslims often attempt to characterise the growth of the empire as growth through continual self-defense and voluntary surrender to the Islamic empire by neighbouring people who preferred its taxation or economic arrangements.  Part of the political face Islam projects externally is that of the perpetual and hypersensitive victim. Modern Muslims attempt to portray Islam as the historical victim even as the empire spread across most of the known world within a few centuries. They use any incorrect criticism of Islam to perpetuate the image of victim-hood, while at the same time refusing to clarify unpopular aspects of Islam, again playing the victim card with accusations of unfair questioning, unfair hostility etc. Muslims reinforce any misconception about Islam that might make it appeal to non-Muslims. For example, modern Muslims may constantly attack freedom and democracy and portray the intention of freedom as the encouragement of bad choices. For example, they claim that anyone who speaks out for women’s rights is only doing so because they want to be able to take advantage of vulnerable women. They may even concede that Islam is hostile to freedom and democracy. Yet the same Muslims will turn around and pretend that Islam is tolerant or even supportive of freedom and democracy if they find an audience willing to believe this. Inside its borders, Islam uses every trick in the book to suppress dissent. These mostly revolve around discrimination against, or outright hostility towards non-Muslims, and very severe punishments for saying or doing the wrong thing.  Worshiping the state, and demanding such worship, is a good way to maintain patriotism. The death penalty for apostasy or paganism is a good way to establish the state religion. Islam replaces private banking with Islamic banking on the pretext of outlawing usury. However, this makes obtaining a loan very difficult and subject to the whims of Islamic community leaders. Muslims tend to be hypersensitive to criticism or mockery, as the global outrage over the Muhammad cartoons demonstrates. Lynch mobs can be very effective at discouraging the promotion of any political, economic, religious or cultural idea that is at odds with Islam. Islam outlaws genuine democracy. It does permit consensus or voting to choose leaders, however, only Muslim men are allowed to vote and the winner only has a mandate to implement Islamic law. Islam even incorporates procedures for deposing any Caliph who strays from Islamic law.  Women are treated as second class citizens, as are non-Muslims with ‘protected status’ (ie, Christian and Jews - Muslims must refrain from killing them). For example, the testimony of a non-Muslim in an Islamic court is considered inherently untrustworthy, putting justice out of reach of non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are forced to pay a special tax.  These various forms of discrimination no doubt resulted in many people claiming to be Muslims just to get by, however the price was very high. It included the death penalty for changing your mind, compulsory military service, 5 prayers a day, Islamic schools and a myriad of laws governing the minutia of everyday life.
The ratchet in action
Malaysia is a good example of the Islamic ratchet in action in modern times. Malaysia lies on the eastern extremity of Islam's historical reach, and is often cited by western Muslims as an example of a liberal Muslim society. The need to survive among politically strong Hindu populations in India as they moved east made these Muslim communities some of the most tolerant and savvy in the world, yet the nature of Islam is still revealed through their actions.
Ethnic Malays are mostly Muslim and make up roughly 61% of the population. Ethnic Indians and Chinese make up the rest of the population and are mostly of other religions. Malaysia was part of the British empire and inherited a secular Westminster style democracy as well as constitutional protection of freedom of religion. Most of the Indian and Chinese immigration occurred during the British rule. Though they only barely form a majority of the population, those Muslims who support Shariah law are gradually using their power base to undermine democracy and the rights of non-Muslims, using many of the techniques described above. Some examples:
- Islam is the official state religion.
- The Malaysian government forces all citizens to carry identification cards that state their religion. The Malaysian government considers all ethnic Malays to be Muslim. Thus the figure of 61% Muslim may significantly over-estimate the number of Muslims. As an indication, a recent Pew survey showed that 86% of Malaysian Muslims support Shariah law, though it is unclear whether the Pew survey used self-identified Muslims as the basis or the Malaysian government's classifications, or how much difference that would make.
- For the most part, Muslims are forbidden from apostasising (rejecting Islam). Conversion to Islam is a simple and quick process. It takes only a few minutes and converts are given a financial allowance. Conversion from Islam is effectively impossible. Apostates are currently sent to 're-education' camps. In the 1990's, one state with a high proportion of Muslims even passed a law (with democratic support from locals) to execute apostates, however this was struck down by Malaysia's federal government on constitutional grounds.
- Malaysia has two separate, parallel legal systems - one for Muslims based on Shariah law (as defined by the religious leader in each state) and a secular law for non-Muslims. Where there is a jurisdictional conflict, Muslims usually force non-Muslims into the Shariah system.
- Non-Muslims are actively discriminated against by government employment rules. The judiciary, civil service and police have quotas for the ethnic majority Malays (who are considered Muslim by the government). Prestigious government run residential schools only offer places to ethnic Malays, and they are also favoured in tertiary education.
- Muslims cannot marry non-Muslims. Given that it is impossible to renounce Islam, Muslims seriously suggest that one of the spouses convert to Islam, despite the fact that in such circumstances it is likely that both people are not Muslim. 
If pro-Islamic movements gain strength, the Malaysian example of Muslims tolerating multiculturalism and freedom of religion has a very bleak future (not that it is a particularly good example to begin with). The British democratic and constitutional heritage can not survive against a population that is hostile to democratic ideals.
Malaysia also provides an interesting demonstration of the two faces of Islam. Outside of Malaysia, Muslims work tirelessly to misrepresent what Malaysian Muslims are doing in the name of Islam. For example, when presented with evidence in the form of a survey that that majority of Malaysian Muslims support the execution of apostates and stoning adulterers to death    , an Australian Muslim claimed to know from personal experience how Malaysians "really felt" about the issue.       This is despite the fact that this person had never actually asked any Malaysian Muslims what they think about applying the death penalty to these "crimes". Correction and apology: Gandalf now insists that he did ask them what they think, but refuses to reveal what the response was, preferring instead to explain why it is not necessary for him to actually ask them, and to pretend I never asked him whether he put the question to them in person. 
Some of the claims made include:
- Malaysian Muslims only indicated support for these barbaric laws because they were presented in an abstract sense. They would have a different view if they were actually voting on the issue.
- Although the majority of Malaysian Muslims support the punishments, it would never become law because they are not motivated to achieve that.
- There is no serious debate on the issue in Malaysia.
- The laws have never come to pass because Malaysian Muslims do not actually support them (although just over 50% of Malaysian Muslims support these laws according to the survey, they make up less than 1/3 of the total population).
- If they truly supported these laws, they would have achieved them by now.
- If there ever was a serious attempt to introduce these laws, the public debate would expose Muslims to the true barbarity of them and they would change their mind.
- Non-Muslim Malaysians support the "right" of Muslims to apply these laws to "themselves" (even in the context of executing apostates). One cannot assume that they oppose them without evidence. This argument was made to support the case that it is lack of motivation or lack of actual support among the 1/3 of the population who support the laws (according to the survey) that is the real reason that Malaysia does not have these laws.
- An explanation is needed for why Malaysia has not already passed these laws (other than the fact that Malaysia is a democracy in which 2/3 of the population oppose the laws).
- Malaysia only has a "handful" of rehabilitation camps for apostates, and the laws are easy to get around. 
These points were strongly argued until it was pointed out that one particular state with a higher proportion of Muslims had already passed the death penalty for apostasy into law during the 1990's (it was struck down by the federal government on constitutional grounds).
The spread of Islam west across North Africa and into Spain, as well as east to Pakistan, closely reflects the 'faith ratchet' presented here. Islam did however spread much further east, and today there are large numbers of Muslims in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. This eastern spread lacks the initial military conquest and 'top down' imposition of Islam that makes the current Western extent of Islam match the original Caliphate so closely. The more recent spread into Southeast Asia may be partly due to a clash of cultures in which Muslims from the west had more advanced technologies - similar to European conquest of the new world, but on a much smaller scale due to the less significant cultural differences. Islam has a much shorter history in the east than it does in the territory captured by the first Caliphate.
The spread of Islam without political imposition is not without doctrinal precedent. Muhammad's early career shows his effective promotion of Islam from a very weak political position. During this time Muhammad preached what could (very loosely) be described as pacifism and tolerance. Modern (and historical) Muslims that find themselves as small minorities tend to present this face of Islam. It was not until Muhammad gained unchecked power that the 'rape and pillage' aspects of Islam were revealed. There is clear doctrinal guidance for interpreting the apparent contradiction: the later, more violent aspects 'abrogate' (ie, replace) the earlier more tolerant aspects. Although the illusion of pacifism is shattered by terrorist attacks in the west, modern Muslims spreading Islam in the west employ many of the strategies used in Muhammad's early career, as did those who spread Islam east from Pakistan. Modern Muslims for example manage to claim victimhood status in the west despite the high death toll from their co-religionists.
Aceh province in Indonesia is a good example of this process. Aceh was the first place that Muslims settled in South East Asia. Although modern Aceh is associated with violent Islamic separatist movements and one of the most traditional and conservative Islamic societies , it was originally settled by Sufi Muslims. Sufism is the 'inner, mystical dimension' of Islam. Sufis are generally regarded as more peaceful and tolerant - almost the 'Hare Krishna' version of Islam (with some notable exceptions ). It is ironic then that today, Sufis in Aceh face the dual threat of bans on their schools (and the basis of blasphemy) and terrorist attacks .
Nazism and Communism
Though less successful, Nazism and Communism are also ideological ratchets. Nazism has clear mechanisms for destroying dissent. Although communism and socialism are predominantly economic ideologies, as a broader movement communism incorporated the suppression of dissent. In contrast, aspects of socialism have been adopted to varying extents by all modern democracies. Nazism has a lot in common with Islam, though it rose and fell on a much smaller time frame. The Nazi party rose to power democratically, which is not too dissimilar from the narrative of Muhammad’s initial rise to power. The Nazis then disbanded democracy and killed or threatened political opponents, much like Muhammad. Under Hitler, the Nazis expanded their reign further in a military sense, while at the same time cementing their internal control. The anti-Semitism of the Nazis is also eerily similar to that of Islam. A key difference may be that Hitler did not confine his expansionism within achievable limits, however this may have more to do with his opponents allying against him rather than over-ambition. Divide and conquer was not as simple to implement in 20th century Europe as it was in Muhammad’s time. Had Hitler been able to hold onto power, he may have established his desired thousand year reign, much like Muhammad’s, particularly if he had put his plans into a book that could later be turned into a state ideology that combines religion, politics, economics, culture, law etc.
Pushing the ratchet beyond its limits
Obviously no ratchet is perfect. If it actually works, then it will continue to grow until something snaps, or until it takes over the world. Fortunately for us, something has always snapped. Like the failure of a mechanical ratchet, this was not always a pleasant event, though it was better than the alternative. Communism’s failure is largely attributable to the economic failure of the economic system, which weakened the USSR and made people reluctant to adopt the ideology. Both Nazism and communism simply grew too big in a geopolitical sense. Despite the genuine success of the Nazis, they tried to take over too much and spread themselves too thin. The Islamic empire grew to take over much of the known world. Unlike Hitler, Muhammad achieved his ‘thousand year reich’. This was in a time where practical limitations on communication and transport made the management of such a large empire difficult. Thus it was inevitably subject to internal fractures resulting from power struggles and different versions of the ‘one true faith’. If your religion incorporates politics and tells you to kill anyone who attempts to misrepresent your religion, then arguments over religion and government inevitably turn nasty. Islam was a victim of its own success in other ways. The communities at the heart of the empire did not face war for many centuries. When the Mongols broke through the hostile border of Islam, they easily marched into Mecca. However, they too fell victim to the faith ratchet and the Islamic empire rose from the ashes. It did not completely collapse until relatively recently.
Unravelling the Islamic ratchet
The ongoing violence across the middle east and beyond is the unravelling of the Islamic faith ratchet. The first nail in the coffin was the abolition of slavery, which occurred in the dying decades of the empire under pressure from Great Britain. Islam is a religion of power and success, and did not have any robust means of handling the obviously far more powerful and successful nations of the world, including Great Britain, the US and even Russia and China. Earlier defeats of Islam were almost always followed with a reconquest and victory (Spain being a notable exception). Islam even has a rule that a negotiated peace treaty with non-Muslims may only be honoured for up to a decade – the only options are victory or ongoing war (see war). However, for the last few centuries Islam has known nothing but serial defeat. The response in many parts of the Muslim world has been to continue to fight in the face of defeat and abject suffering, with faith in an inevitable, if distant victory for Islam and the re-establishment of the empire. The internet and rapid communication is making traditional methods of suppressing dissent difficult. Where stoning an apostate to death in the past may have frightened everyone else into submission, today it gets posted on the internet and the whole world criticises Islam. Now, Islam is faced with the establishment of democracy and individual freedom in its traditional heartland. Conservative Muslims are not going to let this happen without a fight. It would be naive to assume that this will be a peaceful transition, or even that the violence will end as quickly as it did elsewhere in the world (eg the French revolution, the American war of independence). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are turning into protracted civil wars between fledgling democratic governments and various Islamist groups (mostly Sunni and Shia) pushing competing versions of Islamic utopia. Muslims are still terrorising people into submission within Islam’s borders, for example by openly threatening with death anyone who uses the new justice system in Afghanistan. Outside of Islam’s borders, they are still presenting Islam as the eternal victim, claiming that the Iraqi and Afghan people simply want to be left in peace to return to their preferred method of government and that the election outcomes are rigged and not a true representation of the will of the people. The faith ratchet still has a tight grip on these pieces of land and will take a lot of skin with it as it unravels.
Modern Muslim communities still seem lost without the Caliphate. So many Muslims are openly hostile to democracy (which is forbidden by Islam) that it is virtually impossible for democracy to gain a foothold in the middle east. There are many groups attempting to impose their own version of Shariah law. Unfortunately these laws include killing anyone who openly promotes alternative versions of Shariah law. The outcome is of course that dictatorship eventually prevails and different Muslim groups undermine or openly attack each other as soon as one groups appears close to impose their own version of Islamic utopia. Islam forbids the very mechanism that would allow these people to get along in peace. In addition, Islam was a complete political, social and economic system that guided Muslims on every aspect of their lives. However, without the structural support of the state, modern Muslims are at a loss as to how to behave. For example, Islam forbids democracy, compels Muslims to rebuild the Caliphate, compels them to perform military service on behalf of the Caliphate, but also commands them to achieve these goals using the same methods that Muhammad used 1400 years ago when he was bringing together warring Arab tribes. Perhaps it is no surprise that conservative Islam has survived so well in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Elsewhere, Muslim countries are basket cases with few prospects. Muslims reject the dictatorships they live under, but also reject democracy, and the alternatives provided by religious extremists of the ‘wrong’ variety. Any interference by foreigners is rejected, even if it is to help the locals or to prevent home grown problems from spreading (eg terrorism). To keep this in perspective, many Muslims do support democracy and socially progressive movements, but there are far too many conservative Muslims who oppose these things on religious grounds and are willing to kill to get their own way.