Pro-democracy protests in the
Q. One question that has come out of the
A. We don't know. The early indicators are that political Islam is a factor, but is not dominating the scene. Political Islam groups, like the
All the other groups might be less cohesive and less ideologically organized, hence they might not be as ready for elections as the Brotherhood. [These] groups also are taking the temperature and the pulse of the region, and they've recognized that the [earlier versions of] political Islam is not going to work: It hasn't worked well in
Q. There's talk in these countries about looking to the Turkish model, or at least the ruling AKP's version. Is
A. The Turkish experiment of the
Of course, many people in the Arab Middle East are impressed by the Turkish model and saying, "Wow, why don't we go that way?" The reason they are looking at [
[But] we should not overestimate Turkish influence, because
Q. What support will there be for keeping Islam in the social, rather than the public, arena?
A. It is an interesting argument, religion being in the social sphere rather than the political sphere. In other words, people don't feel obliged to have a religious mandate on which legislation will be built. So that legislation would be on the basis of transaction, negotiation, agreement, what is in the best interest of
Q. In countries such as
A. The Bahraini government has lost a golden opportunity to work with the momentum of freedom. They have prosperity in
I was in
From what I've seen of young people in the region, they're not going to see too much value in playing out these ancient hatreds [when] they know that there are other, bigger threats against their way of life, their values, the way that they can be stable and prosper. Instead of sectarianism, these kinds of theological differences should be celebrated as theological pluralism -- which becomes the foundation for political pluralism and political diversity.
Q. What space do you think there is for smaller religious minorities, like Jews, Christians, and Copts?
A. It depends where we're talking about. In much more complex, bigger countries -- such as
The more nouveau-riche Gulf states don't have very complex histories of diversity. In those statelets, there is very little space for tolerance. They can't even get the Sunni-Shiite thing right. Any kind of concessions to Christians, Ahmadiyya [a sect of Islam considered to be blasphemous by some Muslims], or Buddhists will be very hard-earned and can only happen through some kind of political compact, or companies or immigrants in that area insisting that they must have some space, [or] from outside countries putting on pressure for the recognition of diversity.
The absence of religious diversity is bad for Islam. It's bad for Muslims if they don't know who other people are in the world. If they don't have Jewish and Christian and Buddhist neighbors, there is a predisposition for Muslims to become cocky and believe that they have the only truth. And they become absolutist, and dangerous.
Q. In what way does the debate over the role of religion help and hurt these political movements?
People are going to be cautious with religion -- [but] there are people who are going to throw religious fire bombs into the public square. One hopes that people are not intimidated by that and will talk back to people who throw these [rhetorical] incendiary devices precisely to silence any kind of contestation. That's one of the dangers of bringing religion into the public space -- you have dogma and belief instead of arguing over the nature of moral truth. [It would be good] if religious groups in the democracy movement in
What is so magical about this uprising was that it didn't turn into violence. The violence came from the tyrants. This is an amazing moment in the history of the Arabs that they have taken up non-violence with such a passion. This is unprecedented in a culture where people felt that their defense was to cry jihad, and jihad means "resist with a fist."
Q. What should policymakers do to improve the U.S. image in the region and bridge the gap with Muslims?
A. In the last ten years and in the previous administration, America squandered its moral standing to the extent that anything that is remotely connected to the
Just as every policymaker needs to know the ABCs of diplomacy, they need to understand the ABCs of culture. And a deep knowledge of the culture is the knowledge of religion. Lacking that, there can be all kinds of faux pas. Important military divisions and wings of our government [have shown] that there is a tremendous knowledge deficit.
It's not as if our country does not have resources to educate. There are very few countries in the world that have the knowledge about Islam that
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