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..."
THE MURDEROUS INFLUENCE OF EGYPT’S SAYYED QUTB
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.
NASR IS RIGHT: A NEW MIDDLE CLASS ALWAYS DRIVES CHANGE
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.
NASR’S THESIS MAY OFFEND IRAN’S FAR LEFT?
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.
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