The Shopping Cure

From The New York Times:

Shop 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. 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 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.

More here.