Will globalization win the war on terror?

Michael J. Totten turns over some ideas in Vali Nasr’s new book, The Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World:

Nasr, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts 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.

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