Muslim Middle Class at Odds With Extremism
The Muslim future lies in the rising middle class not in extremist fundamentalism. So argues Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, in his book "Forces of Fortune: The Rise of a New Muslim Middle Class and What It Means for Our World," published by last month by the Free Press.
GUEST BLOGGER: Vali Nasr
Eight years have passed since 9/11 and we still worry about Islamic extremism. It has become easy for us to see everything in the Muslim world from that perspective. But if we are looking for new trends, extremism is not it.
There is another story; one that will define the future. It's the rise of a new middle class in the Muslim world. A new economy is taking shape with the mixing of traditional Islamic values and free-market capitalism. The trend is changing mind-sets, politics and even religious values. Many middle class Muslims are devoutly religious and their wealth and aspirations put them squarely at odds with extremism. These middle class Muslims look to the market to create and maintain their wealth -- not to the government.
This marks a new development in the Muslim world -- a genuine bourgeoisie with the same wants and preferences as other similar groups elsewhere. These Muslims are a force for change and a force helping to integrate the Muslim world into the global economy. The rise of this "critical middle," is every bit as powerful and important as extremism -- and more so, for it holds the key to changing hearts and minds in the Muslim world, and once and for all putting fundamentalism out of business.
Extremism in the Muslim world has grown out of the failed economies of authoritarian states that are tightly-regulated and isolated from the world. People outside of the global economy who see little hope for progress and prosperity become easily enamored of extremism and its gospel of violence. The up-and-coming middle class has been sprouting in the nooks and crannies of the government-controlled economies, and its dynamism will eventually loosen the suffocating grip of the state and challenge the dark vision of extremism.
Will the Muslim businessmen -- entrepreneurs in finance, manufacturing or trade in Karachi, Jakarta, Tehran or Cairo -- lead a capitalist revolution much as Protestant burghers did in Holland four centuries ago? If European history is any guide, only a robust breed of capitalism driven by this rising middle class will bring true modernization to the Muslim world. Those leading the change will not be secular dictators, enlightened clerics or liberal reformers, but businessmen.
The great battle for the soul of the Muslim world will be fought not over religion but over market capitalism. How do we know that? We can look at the remarkable transformation that has swept Dubai, Turkey and Indonesia. Freed of the clutches of government control the private sector has boomed, and Muslims have shown themselves to be capable capitalists. That the blending of Disneyland and Las Vegas with Arab culture in Dubai became such a hit should convince us that if given a chance Muslims will play well in the global economy, and then it will be Dubai not al-Qaeda that will capture their imagination.
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