The Rise of Islamic Capitalism with Vali Nasr

Doget this book and read it.  It isprofoundly hopeful and it clarifies today’s changing reality in the Middle East.  Evenmy own long held faith in the ultimate dominance of the middle class has beenreawakened and in the end fears of the dark side of Islam will go to the samedustbin of history reserved for communist authoritarianism.

It really was middle class aspirations, awakened throughuniversal education that doomed Communism and will now doom radical Islam andthe cult of the dictator.

It is hard to be brave in the face of reckless Islam, butthe future cannot belong to their petty hatreds.

This book refreshes our viewpoint and shows that the best isnow rising in the Muslim world through middle class pietism and enterprise.

We are today witnessing the shaking off of authoritarianismand the rise of democratic ideals. Everyone knows it is going to be messy but been held in penury is nolonger acceptable and the inevitable casualties of a revolution now seem asmall price to pay to be free.

The middle class will be free and the government will betheir 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 toIslam. He feared that globalization, spearheaded by the American colossus,might eventually destroy Islam by tempting pious Muslims with freewheelingcapitalism, the separation of religion from government and the unleashing ofdecadent “animalistic desires.” Qutb, in word and in deed, took up the swordagainst Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular government. Nasser hanged him in 1966, butQutb’s ideas transformed the world by inspiring Osama bin Laden’s Qaedatheology.

The Rise ofthe 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 area threat to is the totalitarian vision of Islam that Qutb’s followers hope toimpose.

Nasr, a professor at the FletcherSchool of Law and Diplomacy ofTufts University, writes thatthe Middle East will liberalize when it istransformed by a middle-class commercial revolution. “The great battle for thesoul 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 “Dubaieffect” is only just beginning to be felt around the region. The cutting-edgeskyscrapering 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-classpeople from all over the Muslim world continue to travel there; they admire itsbusiness-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 abandonedtheir call for an Islamic state and mellowed, more or less, into mainstreamWestern-style conservatives like Europe’sChristian Democrats. Their heartland-based Justice and Development Partychampions free- market capitalism, minority rights and membership in the European Union. Turkey’sreligiously conservative businessmen and traders, the middle-class supportersof the Justice and Development Party, yearn not for Islamic law but for ahealthy respect for Ottoman and Islamic traditions. They aren’t the decadentanimals of Qutb’s feverish imagination, nor are they little MahmoudAhmadinejads bent on the subjugation of women and the destruction of Israel.

The region’s middle classes are rather small outside Turkey, yet once freed fromdependence on the state for their economic well-being, they tend, Nasr says, tomake similar political demands as their counterparts in the West. There is anenormous gulf, after all, between practicing Muslims with a stake in societyand violent reactionaries at war with the world. The Middle East’s professionals and entrepreneurs need stability, access toforeign markets and a modicum of freedom to live their lives and run theirbusinesses without interference from secular or religious authoritarians.

Nasr brilliantly narrates the tortured histories of the middle classesin Pakistan and Iran, torn between secular dictators like Shah Mohammed RezaPahlavi and Gen. Pervez Musharraf on oneside, and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic and the Taliban on the other. Theroad to a new Middle East, where Turkey is the norm rather than theexception, will be a long and perilous one. Even so, “Forces of Fortune” is ashopeful as it is sobering, and Nasr makes a convincing case for optimismtempered with caution and patience.

Michael J. Totten is a freelance foreign correspondent specializing inthe Mideast.

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