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Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World
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From Publishers Weekly
Nasr (The Shia Revival) offers a fresh look at the future of religious extremism in the Middle East, suggesting that the great battle... for the soul of the region will be fought not over religion, but over business and capitalism. He posits that a rising middle class—seen most dramatically in Dubai, but a force across the whole Muslim world—is far more interested in economic success than in fervent religiosity, even as many bring a distinctly Muslim approach to the business they do. He points out that while the Reformation created the modern world, it wasn't that era's intolerant faith that made the transformation but rather trade and commerce, adding that values gain currency when they serve the economic and social interests of people. His in-depth analysis of the failures of various governments to provide for their people, as well as special focus on what is working in Turkey, and what is crippling Pakistan, helps drive his thesis home. Nasr's analysis can't help being somewhat hobbled by the fact that it depends heavily on the shifting sands of history-in-the-making, but his approach is sensible, well-argued and deserves close attention. (Sept.)
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"Vali Nasr masterfully articulates his argument through comprehensive research and vivid reporting. A must read." -- Senator John F. Kerry
"Vali Nasr's new paradigm about the rise of a new Muslim middle class will be embraced by a broad spectrum of experts: because it is a startling truth hiding in plain sight that Nasr brilliantly reveals and elaborates." -- Robert D. Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts and Imperial Grunts
"With his unique credentials and bold insights, Vali Nasr has written a landmark work at a pivotal time. It's a rich and exciting read." -- Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East
"In this fascinating and timely book, Vali Nasr argues lucidly that free trade, not sanctions, is the key to a democratic awakening in the Muslim world. Forces of Fortune seems bound to be influential." -- Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad
"Take American chips away from the endlessly hypocritical and fruitless diplomatic games and rhetoric, our weakest hand, and put the chips on our strength -- helping Middle Eastern and Muslim countries with economic growth. That's the way to ultimately defeat the terrorists, build the middle classes, loosen ties to Arab autocrats, and develop democracies. That's Vali Nasr's brilliant message. It's the only way to rescue U.S. foreign policy from disasters." -- Leslie H. Gelb, former New York Times columnist and senior government official, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations
“Nasr has written a rewarding and impressive book. He is a lively guide to a maze of issues that rarely get discussed, and he uses the fruits of his wide travels in the Middle East with great skill ? full of knowing insights and subtle personal portraits. Judging by this book, it is no mystery that Nasr has risen to such prominence in U.S. government circles as a preeminent explainer of the complex phenomena that define the modern Middle East.”
“Vali Nasr's important new book helps us understand the positive power of commerce in the Muslim world. He shows how growing economies and a new business class will be more important than extremist ideologies in determining how the Middle East interacts with the world. This is a wonderful combination of historical analysis and insightful reporting.”
—Walter Isaacson, CEO of The Aspen Institute and author of Kissinger: A Biography
“In recent years, much of the discussion about the Muslim world has focused on the role of Islam in politics, especially the rise of extremist groups. In this informative book, Middle East expert Nasr challenges our commonly held assumptions about the dynamics of the contemporary Middle East. Relying on examples from countries ranging from Iran to Turkey and Pakistan, he demonstrates that that is a commercial revolution in the Muslim world fueled by the emergence of dynamic and upwardly mobile middle-class entrepreneurs and reformers?It is this “critical mass,” he says, that will define the contours of Middle Eastern politics and the broader Muslim world and not the marginal extremists that have dominated news coverage of the region. This book should be read by all concerned citizens and policymakers in the West.”
“Nasr offers a fresh look at the future of religious extremism in the Middle East. He posits that a rising middle class is far more interested in economic success than in fervent religiosity. Nasr's analysis ? is well-argued and deserves close attention.”
“[A] humane and clear-eyed narrative?”
—Harvard Business Review
Top customer reviews
Nasr's thesis of empowering the middle class of the Middle East to spur democratic reform throughout the region depends on a single assumption: the adoption of a neoliberal world view. Neoliberalism is a perspective within international relations that states economic interdependency and the adoption of democratic norms will reduce conflict throughout the globe. This is essentially Nasr's argument. As the middle class of the Middle East is allowed to progress economically, political reform will follow and tensions between the Middle East and the West will decline.
There are numerous counters to this perspective. For example, Japan and the United States were highly integrated economically before World War II yet this did not prevent them from going to war. Realism, the other dominant world view in international relations, would assert that states are inherently self-interested since there is no global power that can monopolize force. Even though the middle class of the Middle East may spur economic development, these states will persistently pursue their self interest. Since the survival of any given country is never assured, national interests are built on a foundation of increasing one's relative power compared to other states.
The answer is most likely somewhere between the two perspectives. Nasr's policy perspectives will most likely decrease conflict within and from the region. However, conflict should not be expected to be completely negated. There are no foundational "peace" theories within international relations, and for every model of peace, there is contrasting examples of that model leading to war. In short, Nasr's policy recommendations are likely to increase long-term development, consolidate democratic norms, and reduce tensions, but they cannot be expected to bring complete stability and peace to the region.
Vali Nasr presents an incredibly informative book. Forces of Fortune is, hands down, one of the best primers on the Middle East. While there are numerous topics not discussed like the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Nasr focuses on the underlying dilemmas within the region that underpin today's tensions. Anyone that has an interest in the Middle East must read this book. For those that have already studied the Middle East at depth and are familiar with the concepts of neoliberalism, this book won't provide much in the way of new insights however.
For more reviews and an in-depth summary of Nasr's book, find us at Hand of Reason.
The book implicitly claims that there is only one alternative to "Islamic terrorism" which is the enrichment of the middle class in the muslim countries. The west should concentrate on this and try to help liberate the market and political environment of these countries. Shortly, the west should do its best to make those islamic countries as capitalist ones. One may easily doubt that this idea is supported by the muslim intellectualism who bases its political outlook onto Koranic principles and sees capitalism as non-islamic. There are ideas for bringing peace to the region and to the whole world without having to resort terrorism or capitalism.
It needs a major update after the Arap Spring that took place in the last two years. There are some clues of the Arab Spring but I am not sure that events happened as predicted in the book.
Surprised to see some factual errors. For Turkey example, name of the political party of Erbakan is not correct (i.e. Selamat for Saadet.) Welfare Party is wrongly introduced as the first step of National Outlook although it was the third. I hope this is limited to the Turkish case. Guess the whole book needs a careful revision.
There are a few editing issues, as well, which I found surprising- improper tenses drive me mad and are not infrequent.