"The tragedy of the Arabs: A poisoned history … A civilisation that used to lead the world is in ruins-and only the locals can rebuild it": "A THOUSAND years ago, the great cities of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo took turns to race ahead of the Western world. Islam and innovation were twins. The various Arab caliphates were dynamic superpowers-beacons of learning, tolerance and trade. Yet today the Arabs are in a wretched state. Even as Asia, Latin America and Africa advance, the Middle East is held back by despotism and convulsed by war.

"Hopes soared three years ago, when a wave of unrest across the region led to the overthrow of four dictators-in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen-and to a clamour for change elsewhere, notably in Syria. But the Arab spring’s fruit has rotted into renewed autocracy and war. Both engender misery and fanaticism that today threaten the wider world. Why Arab countries have so miserably failed to create democracy, happiness or (aside from the windfall of oil) wealth for their 350m people is one of the great questions of our time. What makes Arab society susceptible to vile regimes and fanatics bent on destroying them (and their perceived allies in the West)? …

"[R]eligious extremism is a conduit for misery, not its fundamental cause. While Islamic democracies elsewhere (such as Indonesia) … are doing fine, in the Arab world the very fabric of the state is weak. … [T]he outlook is bloody. But ultimately fanatics devour themselves. … Pluralism, education, open markets: these were once Arab values and they could be so again." See the cover. econ.st/1scY2Jy