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Rising Muslim Middle Class Vital in Combating Religious Extremism, says Vali Nasr in New CFR Book

September 15, 2009

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"The Middle East is a place of struggling and thriving economies, where new classes and business elites are elbowing their way higher in the power structures of many countries, changing religious, social and political life along the way," writes Vali Nasr, former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. It is time to look past Islamic "fundamentalism's hard-hitting rhetoric and the venom spewed by extremists" because change is coming to the Middle East through an upwardly-mobile middle class of entrepreneurs, investors, professionals and consumers, he asserts in his new book, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World. Nasr reveals that it is this rising business class, and the thriving world of Islamic finance (banking and financial services compatible with sharia regulations) that are the emerging centers of power in the Middle East; they are instrumental to tipping the scales of power away from Islamic extremism, he argues.

Currently senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nasr explains that the blending of Islamic values and economic vitality is an "important development in the Muslim world that should shape [the United States'] approach to building better relations with the region." He demonstrates that these devoutly Islamic, yet highly modern Muslims, of the "critical middle" (particularly in Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey) constitute the middle class the region has desperately needed. They are building a whole new "Muslim world economy"―as demonstrated in the rapid growth of capitalist Dubai. Their distinctive blend of Islam and capitalism is crucial to bringing lasting reform to the region, says Nasr.

If the global values of "peace, security, democracy, freedom and human rights, moderation, and religious tolerance," have not yet taken hold in Muslim lands, concludes Nasr, it is not because of the "fundamental nature of Islam," but because the "commercial class that must spearhead the process of propagating [those values] is still too small." Helping this "critical middle" grow and come to "dominate their societies is the best way of making sure those global values will take deep root as Muslim values, paving the way to democracy."

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Advance Praise for Forces of Fortune:

"A brilliant guide to the complex landscape of the Middle East...about the good news made not by governments but people. The rise of trade, capitalism, and merchant life is the most important trend at work there, one that could counter the pernicious force of religious extremism."

Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World

"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

"Vali Nasr has spent a lifetime thinking, debating, and writing about some of the most complicated and difficult issues to broaden our understanding of the Islamic world, and once again he challenges old thinking and unexplored questions by zeroing in on the growth and potential of the Islamic middle class to transform an entire region and change attitudes. Vali understands the region's past, present, and future and masterfully articulates his argument through comprehensive research and vivid reporting―a must read for policymakers seeking a better understanding of the correlation between economic status and extremism."

John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator, D-MA

"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

"Forces of Fortune is an enormous contribution to the policy quandary over how to deal with the many faces of the Islamic world, from aspiring democrats to violent extremists. 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

"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, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, author of Power Rules

To order, visit: www.cfr.org/forces_of_fortune

Vali Nasr is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University and a former adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as a senior fellow of The Dubai Initiative run by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nasr is also the author of the bestselling book The Shia Revival.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

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