Wednesday, February 2, 2011
The Rise of Islamic Capitalism with Vali Nasr
Do get this book and read it. It is profoundly hopeful and it clarifies today’s changing reality in the
Middle East. Even
my own long held faith in the ultimate dominance of the middle class has been
reawakened and in the end fears of the dark side of Islam will go to the same
dustbin of history reserved for communist authoritarianism.
It really was middle class aspirations, awakened through universal education that doomed Communism and will now doom radical Islam and the cult of the dictator.
It is hard to be brave in the face of reckless Islam, but the future cannot belong to their petty hatreds.
This book refreshes our viewpoint and shows that the best is now rising in the Muslim world through middle class pietism and enterprise.
We are today witnessing the shaking off of authoritarianism and the rise of democratic ideals. Everyone knows it is going to be messy but been held in penury is no longer acceptable and the inevitable casualties of a revolution now seem a small price to pay to be free.
The middle class will be free and the government will be their servant.
By MICHAEL J. TOTTEN
Published: January 22, 2010
The Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb believed the West — in particular the
— posed an existential threat to
Islam. He feared that globalization, spearheaded by the American colossus,
might eventually destroy Islam by tempting pious Muslims with freewheeling
capitalism, the separation of religion from government and the unleashing of
decadent “animalistic desires.” Qutb, in word and in deed, took up the sword
against Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular government. Nasser hanged him in 1966, but
Qutb’s ideas transformed the world by inspiring Osama bin Laden’s Qaeda
FORCES OF FORTUNE
The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World
By Vali Nasr
308 pp. Free Press. $26
Vali Nasr, in his outstanding new book “Forces of Fortune,” shows that Qutb was at least half wrong. Globalization, free trade and market economics aren’t a threat to Islam per se. What they are a threat to is the totalitarian vision of Islam that Qutb’s followers hope to impose.
Nasr, a professor at the
School of Law and Diplomacy ofTufts University, writes that
the Middle East will liberalize when it is
transformed by a middle-class commercial revolution. “The great battle for the
— and for the soul of the region as a whole — will be fought not over religion,
but over business and capitalism,” he says. Iran
What he calls the “
effect” is only just beginning to be felt around the region. The cutting-edge
skyscrapering emirate is hardly a normal society; neither is it a democracy or
(as we now know) a country free of its own economic problems. But middle-class
people from all over the Muslim world continue to travel there; they admire its
business-friendly regulatory environment and its respect for personal liberty.
They often go home and wonder why their own countries are so poorly governed. Dubai
One place, Nasr argues, has already been successfully transformed. After losing their long struggle against the militantly secular Kemalist elite,
Turkey’s Islamists abandoned
their call for an Islamic state and mellowed, more or less, into mainstream
Western-style conservatives like Europe’s
Christian Democrats. Their heartland-based Justice and Development Party
champions free- market capitalism, minority rights and membership in the European Union. Turkey’s
religiously conservative businessmen and traders, the middle-class supporters
of the Justice and Development Party, yearn not for Islamic law but for a
healthy respect for Ottoman and Islamic traditions. They aren’t the decadent
animals of Qutb’s feverish imagination, nor are they little Mahmoud
Ahmadinejads bent on the subjugation of women and the destruction of . Israel
The region’s middle classes are rather small outside
, yet once freed from
dependence on the state for their economic well-being, they tend, Nasr says, to
make similar political demands as their counterparts in the West. There is an
enormous gulf, after all, between practicing Muslims with a stake in society
and violent reactionaries at war with the world. The Turkey Middle
East’s professionals and entrepreneurs need stability, access to
foreign markets and a modicum of freedom to live their lives and run their
businesses without interference from secular or religious authoritarians.
Nasr brilliantly narrates the tortured histories of the middle classes in Pakistan and Iran, torn between secular dictators like Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and Gen. Pervez Musharraf on one side, and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic and the Taliban on the other. The road to a new Middle East, where
is the norm rather than the
exception, will be a long and perilous one. Even so, “Forces of Fortune” is as
hopeful as it is sobering, and Nasr makes a convincing case for optimism
tempered with caution and patience. Turkey
Michael J. Totten is a freelance foreign correspondent specializing in the