Thursday, November 29, 2007

We're NOT Number One

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

U.S. Falls to 12th Place in 2007/2008 UN Human Development Index Rankings Report

Each year, the United Nations releases a statistical table that tells us how various nations rank in measurable development. The index reflects life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living. It ranges from the highest ranking (at least in theory, the most desirable nation in the world to live in) to the lowest (the one place you would not want to live) - 187 world nations were ranked in the 2007/2008 report.

Typically, European countries have the highest development index rankings, and this year, Iceland takes the highest spot on the index, followed by Norway, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, respectively.

In all, seven of the ten nations with the highest development rankings are in Europe.

The United States fell from the 8th position to 12th in the 2007/2008 report.

Majority-Muslim nations, however, fared very poorly in the rankings.

Singapore and Kuwait, the two highest ranking nations with predominantly Muslim populations, fell in 25th and 33rd positions, while Indonesia, with the world's largest Islamic population, came in at 107.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, ranked 112; Pakistan came in at 136; Sudan and Nigeria, the two largest majority-Muslim nations in sub-Saharan Africa, were ranked 147 and 158, respectively.

Of course, it's always necessary to note the vast disparities in income and standard of living within nations, as well as between them. It is equally true that "developed" nations, to a large extent, owe their superior level of development, at least in part, to centuries of capital accumulation produced by their domination and exploitation of what is usually termed the "Third World".

But several other things are evident.

The first observation is that military domination does not necessarily bring economic security to a population. Neither Iceland nor Norway, the two highest ranking nations, devotes significant portions of their national wealth to defense spending or international military deployments. The U.S., in contrast, spends in excess of half a trillion dollars (or more) for national defense. But the measurable overall quality of life in America is falling, not rising.

However, the second, and perhaps less obvious reality is that, the enormous oil and mineral wealth of majority-Muslim nations has not provided a rising economic tide that lifts their populations from relative poverty to economic security. Nations like Saudi Arabia, for instance, may possess vast energy resources (and healthy foreign exchange balances), but their relative wealth has not resulted in a re-distribution of wealth to the benefit of poorer Muslim nations.

I believe that for all nations, a practical suggestion for economic and social advancement is the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which offer an ambitious, but attainable, prescription for the educational and social uplifting of the poorest people and nations of the earth by 2015, including the reduction of global poverty by 50 percent within the same period.

We can all do this, provided that there is a collective commitment to economic democracy, effective development assistance, and an end to the global arms race and the obscene ($1 trillion U.S.) annual expenditure for armaments.

And wealthier Muslim nations should obey the religious obligation to uplift the poor, whether those poor people (and nations) are Muslim or not.

All of this, in the final analysis, is perhaps a bit more practical that a mass global migration to Iceland and Norway.

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