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.

The Shopping Cure


Published: January 22, 2010

The Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb believed the West — in particular the United States — 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 theology.

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 Fletcher 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 soul of Iran — and for the soul of the region as a whole — will be fought not over religion, but over business and capitalism,” he says.
What he calls the “Dubai 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.

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 Turkey, 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 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 Turkey 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.

Michael J. Totten is a freelance foreign correspondent specializing in the Mideast.

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