An eloquent plea for defanging terrorism with rights for Muslims, both in the West and the Middle East.
Iranian-born Aslan (Creative Writing/Univ. of California; No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, 2005) offers an attention-grabbing proposition: George W. Bush got something right in the Middle East. The former president correctly said that only by extending democratic freedoms to oppressed Muslims in the Middle East could we quell the appeal of terrorism. Yet Bush failed to back up his words, looking the other way in 2006 as Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, an American ally, crushed political opposition. This was a missed opportunity, the author declares, because Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood had proved itself willing to work within the parliamentary system rather than push for a theocracy. Aslan also cites Turkey, where the ruling moderate Islamist party, once given political participation, drew away popular support for extremists. Radical groups like Hamas can be given more governing authority only with restrictions, Aslan admits, though he doesn’t spell those out. His main thesis is that the West errs in demonizing al-Qaeda and other jihadists as cosmic evildoers rather than an “international criminal conspiracy to be brought to justice.” The author wisely notes that America’s openness to religion has spared the United States the violence some Muslims have committed in secular Europe, where their religiosity is frowned upon, and he applauds recent British efforts to overturn the economic and racial discrimination faced by its Muslim community.
Even readers who believe a fight with terror requires throwing some military punches will learn from Aslan’s endorsement of soft-power approaches.