The ‘problem’ he’s referring to is a reference to the collective maladies of the Arab/Muslim world: stifled education, poor health care, antiquated infra-structure, economical underdevelopment, corruption, stagnating culture ..etc..
And despite the obvious fact that the region isn’t a monolith (evident by the presence of economically developed cities and regions especially in the Arab Gulf, and the ethnic diversity of the Levant and Northern Africa), the Arab speaking world share a good amount of symptoms that indicate a common root cause.
Furthermore, I believe the non-Arab Muslims do not share a large chunk of these problems with us. One look at how far Malaysia have come since their independence is enough proof. If Islam was the problem, then American Muslims would be on average earning less (and of a less education) than their fellow citizens, but numbers show the opposite: American Muslims are on average more educated and earn more money.
Back to Kristof’s article: There has been a wave of disapproving comments about the title and the content of his column. Accusations of racism and Islamophobia have been directed at Nick for his choice of words and phrases like “backwardness” and “psychological problems”…etc
I honestly do not know whether Kristof is racist or not, and one wouldn’t care if Kristof was racist or not if Kristof wasn’t an influential columnist (like his colleague, Tom Friedman) in the United States. And one would further not care about the impact of a racist or biased influential columnist in the United States if Arabs had put their act together and had their independent, self-evident representation. You see: the mere point that Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman et al have to be politically correct and fair to us in order for us not to be misjudged and mistreated in this world proves a point Kristof was trying to make: that there is a problem.
It is also notable that whenever we want to prove Nick (or anyone) a bigot, we’d ask: would he dare say ‘backward’ about Africa? ….
An interesting choice, this Africa. We know it is because Africa is probably about the only place left in the world that is more backward than we are. (yes, I said it: Africa is backward. Check the global average life span if you don’t believe me)….
But what are we gonna do when we’ll get overrun by Africa as well?
Who are we going to cite as the region that Nick Kristof wouldn’t dare point at and describe as backward?
Perhaps a great deal of hesitation and rejection of the likes of articles like Nicholas Kristof's is because of this: the underdevelopment and lack of progress in the Arab world have always been a justification co-opted by the racist Zionist Entity (aka 'Israel') in order to kill, maim and subjugate Palestinians at large and with impunity. Let us be clear about this: no matter how backward, primitive, ignorant, unproductive or regressive a population is, its individuals deserve the same human rights (individually and collectively as a nation entitled to its right of determination and national aspirations) as everybody.