The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Free Press))

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9781416589693: The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Free Press))

Leading authority on the Islamic world and influential advisor to the Obama administration Vali Nasr shows that the West’s best hope of winning the battle against Islamic extremists is to foster the growth of a vibrant new Muslim middle class. This flourishing of Muslim bourgeoisie is reshaping the mind-set, politics, and even the religious values of Muslims in much the same way the Western bourgeoisie lead the capitalist and democratic revolution in Europe. Whereas extremism has grown out of the dismal economic failures of the authoritarian Islamic regimes, Nasr explains, the wealth and aspirations of this Islamic “critical middle” put them squarely at odds with extremism. They have ushered in remarkable transformations already in Dubai, Turkey, and Indonesia, and they are the key to tipping the balance in both Iran and Pakistan. As he writes “the great battle for the soul of the Muslim world will be fought not over religion but over market capitalism.”

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Born in Iran, Vali Nasr is a professor of international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a senior fellow of The Dubai Initiative at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  His book The Shia Revival was a New York Times bestseller. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time and appeared on Anderson Cooper 360, The Situation Room, Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Today Show, and Charlie Rose

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

CHAPTER 1
THE POWER OF COMMERCE

It all happened quickly. The Muslim world changed dramatically in the short thirty-two months that separated the Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Iran on February 1, 1979, and the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Cairo on October 6, 1981. During that time of remarkable upheaval the forces of Islamic revolution seized Iran; Pakistan proclaimed itself an Islamic state; the Soviet Union touched off a jihad by invading Afghanistan; and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by radical fundamentalists. Since those fateful years, many more violent revolts, deadly clashes, terror attacks, and bloody suppressions have followed, along with deepening conservative Islamic attitudes and anti-Americanism across a vast swath of countries from North Africa to Southeast Asia. Extremism has come of age in this cauldron, giving rise to al-Qaeda, and its cult of violence and dark vision of the future.

In the face of all of this tumult, and in response to the rise of terrorism, America's most abiding objective in the Middle East since 1979 has been to contain and defeat Islamic fundamentalism. That object has determined how America sorts its allies from its adversaries, which fights it has taken on, and whether in pursuing its interests it will champion reform, promote democracy, or look to dictators and military solutions. It has also led America perilously close to reducing everything in the Middle East to the fight against fundamentalism, and to seeing every expression of Islam as a threat. The U.S. leadership has seen the fundamentalist challenge largely as a new kind of cold war. That sort of clarity can be a great help, but it can also grossly oversimplify, obscuring vital aspects of the situations within countries and regions that provide opportunities for improving relations.

Looking at the Middle East as it is today—caught in the web of violent conflicts, seething with anger and anti-Americanism, and vulnerable to extremist ideas—it is difficult to have hope for the future. But, however difficult, that is just what we must do. In his perceptive book The Age of the Unthinkable, the strategist Joshua Cooper Ramo argues that by intensely focusing on that which is before us, we miss important trends—some barely detectable—that will shape the future.1 The paradigms that dominate today may matter little tomorrow. We will do ourselves a disservice if we think of our future with the Muslim world only in terms of today's conflicts. These conflicts are serious, and we must prevail in them, but we should also recognize that there are other forces at work in the Muslim world and they too deserve our attention—they may ultimately matter more to us.

Take the case regarding the paradox of Iran, a brutish theocracy lording over a restless population that is also a rising power with ambitions to match its glorious ancient history, and a keen sense of purpose honed by decades of confrontation with the West. An examination of the ironies of Iranian power, and the fault lines within the country—on display in the recent presidential election—offer a particularly revealing starting point for rethinking the true challenges, and prospects, in transforming relations with the Muslim world. Iran's saber-rattling, and the Bush administration's hard-line stance—now being softened by the Obama administration—have diverted attention from important truths that belie the received wisdom regarding the Iranian threat, and those truths speak volumes about opportunities around the wider region.

The recent history of Iran's relations with the West is surely deeply troubling.2 Iran's revolution empowered a particularly uncompromising brand of Islam that has turned anti-Americanism into an article of faith in much of the Muslim world, and Iran's rulers have steadily supported terrorism with money, training, and weaponry. Iran also now openly seeks great-power status and is building a nuclear program. Making matters worse in recent years was the more antagonistic approach to dealing with Iran that was adopted by the Bush administration, and the badly managed prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For much of the past three decades, the United States and Iran were locked in a stalemate, with no diplomatic relations, but also not much in the way of direct confrontation. America was content to isolate Iran as much as possible while waiting for the clerical regime to succumb to perceived inevitable internal pressures for change. In the wake of 9/11 that approach changed. The Bush administration believed it could nudge history along. Veterans of Reagan era cold war politics—the so-called neoconservative hawks who gathered around Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—drew confidence from what they perceived as the U.S. role in helping to toss communism onto the ash heap of history. They believed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the rise of a reasonably stable, democratic new Iraq next door to Iran would stir Iranians into revolt and sufficiently unnerve the country's clerical rulers to provide that opening. The bitter irony was that when American troops showed up in Iraq, the grip of Iran's ruling clerics was strengthened.

By breaking the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001, toppling Saddam, and then uprooting Baathism in Iraq, the United States removed local rivals that had contained Iranian power to its east and west. Since the Shah's time and more so after the Islamic Revolution, Saddam's military had been the main barrier to Iran's expansionist aims. Today there is no indigenous military force in the Persian Gulf region capable of containing Iran. What's more, in the political vacuum that followed Saddam's fall, Shia Iran quickly extended its reach into the predominantly Shia lands of southern Iraq. Many of Iraq's new leaders had spent years of exile in Iran and relied on Iranian support during the dark years of Saddam's rule. It was no coincidence that Iran was the first of Iraq's neighbors to recognize its new government and to encourage Iraqis to participate in the political order established by the United States. Now Iran runs extensive intelligence and political networks that give the Islamic Republic influence at every level of Iraq's bureaucracy, clerical and tribal establishments, and security agencies—impacting election results, the flow of trade, and the tempo of violence.

Iranian leaders are keenly aware of how their regional influence has grown since 2001, and especially since 2003.3 Former president Muhammad Khatami, the onetime great hope of the reformers in Iran, captured this sentiment when I asked him in 2007 about how he assessed Iran's place in the region. “Regardless of where the United States changes regimes,” he observed, “it is our friends who will come to power.”4 True enough, Tehran has more impact on Arab politics—especially in the critical zones of Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine—than it did ten years ago. Not only does Iran's influence in Iraq far exceed that of any Arab government, but since the war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006, Iran has gained more say in Lebanon's domestic politics as well—pushing for Hezbollah's interests and constricting politicians favored by the United States or Iran's Arab rivals. The clerical regime has also kept up, if not jacked up, its meddling in Palestinian politics through its support for the extremists of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as cultivating ties with Syria. By excoriating Israel and taking advantage of Arab frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process, Iran seems to curry more favor these days on the Arab street than the tired old Arab dictatorships in charge. So it is that Iran's Supreme Leader confidently boasted that no problem can be solved in the Middle East without Iran's consent and help.

Iran's hubris was fueled by soaring oil prices in 2007 and the first three quarters of 2008, which eventually topped out at close to $150 a barrel. Flush with petrodollars, Iran's rulers were confident they could afford their shopping spree for influence in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Iraq by supplying their allies and clients with funds, weapons—including rockets and missiles—and training. There is worry across the Middle East that all this activity will only increase if Iran goes nuclear. Then Tehran will have little fear of reprisal for its boldly aggressive policies, which is one reason why a host of Arab nations now contemplate nuclear programs of their own to temper Iran's surging influence.

Talk of military action against Iran was rife in the Bush administration throughout 2007 and 2008, but the United States had too much on its plate in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the deepening political crisis in Pakistan, to take any such step. All of this seems to indicate that Iran has become a juggernaut. But as the recent upheaval shows, the reality is more complex.

For the West, the most often used measure of Iran's regional influence is the flow of arms and influence from Tehran to its allies and clients. In order to gauge how much weight Iran is throwing around, America looks to metrics such as those above about the dollar amount Tehran promises Hamas, the volume of weapons it smuggles to Hezbollah, and the numbers of those trained in terrorist tactics by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' shadowy Quds Brigade. There is plenty of this activity to alarm America and its Arab allies, and worse, those ties are becoming stronger. If Iran goes nuclear there is no telling what havoc might be wreaked by means of Iran's minions. There is no denying, then, that Iran's hard power and influence have been growing. But viewing Iranian power from that angle alone makes it look more inevitable and ominous than it really is.

Economics has more to do with determining the pecking order in the Middle East than the region's miasmic tumult of feuds, wars, and saber rat...

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