Reza Aslan and the Myths of the Arab Spring

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With Col. Moammer Gaddafi as the most recent dictator to fall victim to the Arab Spring movement, it was only perfect timing to have Reza Aslan, religion scholar, activist and best-selling author of No God, but God and Beyond Fundamentalism , to come to ASU to discuss what’s going on in the region.

Aslan was invited to lecture on Thursday at ASU’s law school as part of the Alternative Visions speaker series held by the Center of the Study of Religion and Conflict (where I am a current communications intern).

At a separate discussion with the religious studies department, Aslan said that the Arab Spring was a means of pushing back against dictatorship, colonialism and hegemony, much like what political Islam wanted to do and because of its success, jihadism is now a “dead philosophy.”

“In a span of a few months, the use of non-violent methods of the youth did more than what jidhadist have been trying to do for 30 years,” he said.

After the wave of Islamism and jihadism, now comes a new wave of the future which Aslan believes will create the possibility of an Islamic democracy, which will consiste of dedication to the rule of law, human rights and pluralism but whos moral framework is based on Islam, the religion of the majority of the state’s citizens. He likens this model to the United States, which although is a democratic county with separation of church and state, is still “deeply steeped in Christian/Protestant morality.) This is acceptable and tolerated here and it works, so why shouldn’t this be the case in an Islamic country as well, Aslan asks.

During his lecture, Aslan addressed the five myths about the Arab Spring.

1) It was a surprise

For anyone who was paying attention to the Middle East over the years, it was not a surprise. There were many signs of this uprising such as the high populations of young people, rising unemployment rates, poverty, corruption of the government, spread of communication technology

2) It’s not about democracy

Polls done in the region ranked democracy as the number one demand over jobs and wages for people in the Middle East/North Africa region. Stability over democracy leads to neither stability or democracy. Paying off dictators to serve America’s interests instead of supporting democratic structure and politics was wrong and only fueled anti-American sentiment and Islamism and other nationalist ideology

3) It’s the 1st step to Islamization

The countries in the Middle East are going to become more religious but it’ll be a good thing because they will be more democratic and the oppression of religious expression that was present in many of these countries by the leaders will finally be allowed to be celebrated and practiced freely. Democratization is the best thing to fight extremism.

4) It’s bad for Israel

In the short term, it will be bad because Israel will now have to face the people of the countries and not the dictators who are paid off by the United States. They won’t be able to get away with the occupation and settlements in Palestinian territories and avoid compromise and negotiation. Israel will have to be accountable to the other democracies surrounding it. Aslan also said this statement about the effect on Israel shouldn’t even matter because everything is not about pleasing Israel which is already the strongest country in the area with billions of aid given to it by the US.

5) It’s bad for America

Again, short term, maybe so, because we won’t be able to use the region as our “personal gas station.” We can’t bribe a democracy to do what we want the way we did with a power-hungry dictator. Long term, having democracies will be good because they will fight against the forces of extreme political ideologies, will moderate and regulate the people and will result in better educated and stable societies.

To learn more about Aslan and buy his books, you can visit his website, follow him on Twitter and read news from Aslan Media.