The tragedy and the hope

We’re a bit late linking to this column from yesterday’s Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria. The column is called “Glimmers of Hope in the Arab World,” and it seems to me that Zakaria finds more than just glimmers. His view is that Islamic extremism is losing throughout the Muslim world, and that serious reform is taking place in a number of Muslim countries. He cites, in particular, the Persian Gulf states, Jordan, and Morocco.
Unfortunately, reform is proceeding much more slowly in Egypt and not at all in Syria. Zakaria finds it ironic that these large Arab states, once considered in the vanguard of modernization, are lagging. I would characterize it as more tragic than ironic.
One source of the tragedy is Europe. Commentators have explored the connection between Europe’s twin statist-totalitarian doctrines — Communism and Fascism — and Islamic extremism, citing the Muslim Brotherhood as a key link. However, it can be argued that the worst legacy of bad European ideologies in the Arab world was their influence on Arab “reformers” of the 1950s and 1960s, most notably the Baathists. Their embrace of statist models provides the best explanation of why, in Zakaria’s words, “countries such as Syria appear to be stuck in the Stone Age,” and have been surpassed by states that not long ago were “backward Bedouin societies.”
UPDATE: Barry Rubin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, finds addtional grounds for hope in the Arab world. According to Rubin, “the year 2004 may well be remembered as the time the Arab reform movement really got going.”

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