A new book should scare all proponents of Islamist rule


by FG

THE BOOK: Vali Nasr's "Forces of Forture: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean to our World.“

THE THESIS: Globalism and free trade are not a threat to Islam, but constitute a major threat to Islamists advocating totalitarian rule under their supervision.    Michael Totten, in a NY Times review, summarizes the key idea

...the Middle East will be 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..."



Qutb, who fathered the Islamist movement, hated the West and blamed it for every problem in the muslim world.  The decisive was a Baptist church social he witnessed while visiting the  conservative Midwest during the staid fifties.  The “immorality“ of boys and girls dancing together infuriated him.   

Islamists produced two kinds of clergy-ruled states.  Both would cause great suffering while corrupting the clerics.  The most austere version is represented by Al Queda, the Taliban and Ansar al-Islam.  Iran‘s (anything but) “Republic” represents a slightly more tolerant but intrinsically fascistic model. 

In Iran, Qutbism made overnight millionaires out of  clerical hucksters.  Yet 70% of workers are mere contract labor, a situation closer to feudalism.  Like soldiers at a medieval bridge, the regime’s toll-takers can be found in every profitable business, taking their cut.  The  urban peasantry survives on crumbs under a wealth eating aristocracy that produces nothing of value.  If anything,  Khamenei’s clergy and his henchmen are the #1 barrier to Iran’s economic and political modernization.  

In fascist regimes having the right “connections” plays a much bigger role than elsewhere.  Ties to a powerful patron count more than inventiveness, hard work or possession of useful skills for anyone who wants to get ahead.    


Whenever a new and productive middle class appears in a society, it will always demand “rights” and a political say proportionate to its contribution to society.  What Islamists blame on the West is a natural and inevitable historical tendency that requires no outside influence to appear.   Thus, even if the West  never existed and assuming Iran had been first to develop a modern middle class instead, the regime would face similar demands.   

It is true that the West probably accelerates the process though that is inevitable for certain reasons which hardly requires spies and alleged media plots.   Revolutions in mass communication, information technology, popular entertainment and mass travel will have their impact.   Let us suppose that Voltaire, Jefferson, Locke and the Western Enlightenment had never existed.  

A similarly middle class, appearing elsewhere and faced with similar rigidity, would have been forced to invent similar arguments to justify its demands.   Having fought a similar battle against similar forces a few centuries earlier, the West has indeed provided useful intellectual resources Iranians draw on.   The appeal of Voltaire is natural in natural in a clergy ruled state. Where can you find a better argument for equality and universal human rights than Thomas Jefferson’s opening paragraphs in the Declaration of Independence?

By the late 18th century Europe--like Iran today--had produced a sufficiently large and productive middle class to grow restive living under governments controlled by absolute rulers and aristocrats (seen as non-productive leeches living by entitlement of birth).  Why would Iranians living under similar consequences not arrive at similar conclusions?  Why would they need outsiders to make them resent it?  

In Iran growing demands of this sort have no more chance of vanishing than they did in 18th century  Europe.  In time all social classes and elements (women, minories, gay)  would demand and win the same rights through greadual extension of the right to vote and hold office. 


The extreme left is identifiable by its dogmatism and dogmatists always insist on trying to fit square pegs into round holes.   If all progess is supposed to come from the working class, how can one tolerate a theory that sees the the middle class or  bourgeoisie playing a highly productive role?

The far left shares many of the regime’s tastes: anti-western and anti-capitalist rhetoric, strong nationalism and even a dangerous willingness to do whatever it takes to protect "sacred" dogma.   This encourages totalitarianism.  Hence, communism and fascism shared many traits as scholars have noted: totalitarian systems,  party-controlled militaries and militias and near identical anti-capitalist rhetoric.

The capitalism of fascist states is theoretically private but hardly similar to Microsoft, Gucci, Winnebago and Universal Studios.   Either d irectly or in disguise, important businesses and industry fall totally under the control of nepotistic, self-enriching cliques  tied to the ruling party. These are doled out like fiefs.   Unable to distinguish between two very different forms of capitalism, no matter how productive or fair, the far left sees both as identical.        




more from FG

Afrasiabi is a bigot,

by vildemose on

Afrasiabi is a bigot, xenophobic, and mentally disturbed hell bent on self-destruction. He is deranged and inspired by vengeance and vindictiveness like Khomeini. He is an arsonist acting like a fire fighter chief.

Sargord Pirouz

Well, let's be honest,

by Sargord Pirouz on

Well, let's be honest, Afrasiabi was equating Dubai's recent negative experiences with its own economic model incorporating elements of "unbridled mercantilism"; he wasn't necessarily providing a theoretical argument for or against pure capitalism. 


The examples of Yemen and Somalia were provided as exceptions to Nasr's overreaching prediction that extremism in the region was on the decline. Nasr's models, moreover, are not theoretical, but are based on what he sees as empirical trends.


Afrasiabi's contention is of a Western-centrism inherent in Nasr's thesis, and that its bourgeoisie nature is in itself, exclusive, and not necessarily desirable to all strata of society, and not necessarily desirable as a model in general to certain peoples in the region. He maintains that independently derived alternatives may offer more workable alternatives, with identifiable advantages not necessarily shared or identified within an emulating perspective of a Western-centric bourgeoisie.


You've read Nasr's book? What did you think of Nasr's characterizations of the Turkish experience? What did you think of his conventional narrative of Iran?


Obvious major holes in Afrasibi's argumentrs

by FG on

1. Dubai.

It was a victim of overdeverlopment and paid the price for it, as Adam Smith would note.  "A" also seems to confuse the unregulated capitalism advocated by Republics with all capitalism.  

Smith said self interest will USUALLY encourage indivduals to do what society wants or needs based on supply and demand.  If they produce things folks don't want or go into fields that are already overcrowded, they will pay the price.  The reverse is also true.

Contrary to common belief, Smith did not say that self-interrest will ALWAYS guide individuals to do what is best for society.  Examples: self-interest may enourage people to form monopolities or oligopolies, pollute the environment, etc.  On the latter issue, see Garrett Hardin's (sp?) short classic, Theory of the Commons. 

Yemen and Somalia?

Is A kidding.  Extremism in those countries has no value in disputing the theory.  It applies where countries have developed or are developing a modern middle class.  That hardly fits either country.  Elsewhere it is a long process. It clearly fits Iran however.

Pro-westernism charges

You can see Qutb's influence here.  Why should an idea be rejected simply because it doesn' t originate at home?   One reason for the West's success is that it never had such a silly ethnocentric attitude that would make it miss a good thing when it sees one.

Second problem: The appeal of rights and democracy is universal.  Thus, had it originated elsewhere and the West were just developing a modern-style middle class, we'd want the same thing rights. Who gives a darn with whom such things originated.  They obviously have intrinsic value.

By comparison what intrinsic benefit do much Iranians get from living under a corrupt, insular, self-enriching thuggish regime in which the masses get the crumbs and the whole society is kept backwards.  Iranians want to move forward, the Islamists want to keep them backwards so they can continue to loot the country's only wealth at present.

One final but related point: Aside from alll else, an open, free and democratic society with checks and balances are essential to avoiding exactly the kind of corrupting, brutality and injustices that the fascist regime in Iran is free to commit.  Those checks include a free press with divergent political points of view.

Note: I didn't even finish A's article and found those 3 points right off the bat.  I suspect I'd find more with further reading.  I suspect he's the sort who really thinks that Ahmadinejad won the last election and that most Iranians still love the regime.

So why did 3 million turn out on one day in June.  And why would the regime fear allowing an unhindered right to demonstrate now with no beatings or arrests?  

Could it be that crowds would be 3 times as big?  Only one way to find out.  I dare you. 


Sargord Pirouz

Book review

by Sargord Pirouz on

Kaveh Afrasiabi has reviewed this book, calling it flawed but still worthy of a read:


I haven't read the book. (I'm currently behind in my personal reading assignments.)

I've found Nasr an approachable academic in the past. Before taking up a post in the USG, we've exchanged email. I enjoyed his work "The Shia Revival." Just before being employed by the USG, I did disagree with some of his later written articles. That said, Nasr always responded to my criticisms.