Tomorrow my Apologetics class is going to examine Islam, so today we went to Calvin’s January Series to hear Rezla Aslan speak on “The Future of the New Middle East.” Aslan is the Iranian-born author of No god but God, and while I’m pretty sure he doesn’t share my views on many topics, he is an engaging and dynamic speaker. I was glad we went to hear him.
Aslan’s talk addressed the “Five Myths of the Arab Spring” (the democratic movement that began in Tunisia and toppled governments in Egypt and Libya as it spread across the Middle East). Here are his five myths:
1. The Arab Spring was a surprise. Aslan said that anyone who was paying attention could have seen this coming. Social media broke the monopoly that the government had on communication, and now the kids could communicate directly with each other. He meant to say kids, as half of everyone in the Arab World is under the age of 25.
2. The Arab Spring isn’t about democracy but only about economics—the young people merely want the good life that everyone else has. Aslan said that survey after survey in these countries find that the people want democracy more than anything else. Islam is not incompatible with democracy, for the six largest Muslim countries are democracies and one third of all Muslims live in democratic states.
3. The Arab Spring is being hijacked by radical Islam, which is strangling the rise of democracy. Aslan said that for a long time the U.S. was blackmailed by Arab dictators such as Mubarek. We propped up their regimes because we feared that democracy would fuel the rise of radical Islam. What we got for our money was the rise of radical Islam, for the Arab people blamed us for not having a voice.
Aslan conceded that the Muslim Brotherhood will rise to power in Egypt’s initial elections, for this oppressed group under Mubarek’s regime has curried favor with the people by caring for the poor. He suggested that their rise to power will be a good thing, for political participation always moderates radicalism. Governing requires compromise, forming alliances, and a focus on sweeping the streets. Who has time to make bombs? Aslan said that it’s time to give the Muslim Brotherhood their shot, and see if they can succeed. If they do, then good for them. If they don’t, then they will be seen as losers.
4. The Arab Spring is bad for Israel. Aslan said that it will be difficult for Israel in the short-term, but their weakened hand will force them to negotiate with the Palestinians, which will ultimately turn out to their benefit. In ten years there will be more Palestinians than Israelis living within the borders of Israel, so Israel will have to decide if she wants to be an Israeli state or a democracy.
5. The Arab Spring is bad for America. Aslan said that it will be difficult for us in the short-term, as it is easier to control a dictator than to negotiate with a democratic government (note how democratic Turkey voted to not allow the U.S. to invade Iraq from its land). But the Arab Spring will ultimately defeat the ideas that fuel Al Qaida, for young Muslims will realize that they have hope for an improved life. Votes work better than guns.
During the Q and A, a man from Turkey said that he disagreed with much of what Aslan said. For example, his friends in Turkey said that they would be fired from their government posts if they refused to attend the Mosque each Friday. So how democratic and free is Turkey?
Aslan replied that what the man said was entirely untrue, for such a thing would not happen in modern Turkey. I wondered how Aslan could know this, and it made me think that he may be underestimating the power of religion in the region. For example, The Muslim Brotherhood Creed states, “I believe the Muslim has the responsibility to work to revive the glory of Islam, in promoting the revival of its peoples, in restoring its legislation. I believe that the banner of Islam should dominate humanity, and that the task of each Muslim consists of educating the world according to the rules of Islam; I commit myself to fight as long as I live to fulfill this mission, and to sacrifice all I possess to it.”
This stated mission makes me less sanguine than Aslan for the inevitable rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. I have less faith in democracy than he seems to possess, but I really hope he is right.