Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World
Vali Nasr
Simon and Shuster, 2009
$34.00 (hardcover) $20.93 E-book, 308 pages

In Forces of Fortune, Vali Nasr argues that the political dynamic unfolding in Dubai, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan is “different from the compelling but fundamentally flawed story of an intractable clash of civilizations.”

The importance of his observations is found in geography. Iran and Pakistan border Canada’s present area of operations (AOR) in Afghanistan, Turkey is an ISAF ally, and Dubai is home to Canada’s key logistical support base for our participation in the region. As the drawdown of Canadian forces in Regional Command South looms closer, the ongoing transformation in these countries must be taken into account.

The lens through which Nasr, the acclaimed author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, examines the transformation of the Islamic world is clearly identified in the opening chapter, “The Power of Commerce.”

Nasr, a professor of international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, argues there is a “pragmatic move away from militant agitation.” That is not to say that the Islamic faith is not important. Piety is combined with pragmatism of a capitalist nature. Indeed, Nasr claims “pious pragmatism is the most potent foe of extremist fundamentalism.” He compares revived Muslim fundamentalism to the Protestant Reformation and the Islamic capitalist response to the rise of Dutch Calvinist mercantilism.

In “Prophets of Change,” he identifies some of the Islamic religious leaders who are acting as agents for this transformation. It is no surprise to see Turks numbered among these as Nasr also devotes a chapter to the so-called Turkish model. Not only does Turkey have the Nurcu movement which he claims produces a leader such as Fethullah Gulen, a religious figure who anchors Islam in modern institutions. Turkey is also home to transformation as demonstrated by the municipality of Kayseri, which apparently “applied to the Guinness Book of World Records for the most new businesses started in a single day – 139!” Major exports include Levi Strauss blue jeans. Kayseri supports Nasr’s thesis that Turkish democracy is built on an economic transformation but without the sacrifice of Islamic values.

In a chapter on Pakistan, titled “Horror and Hope,” the hope is found in the quote of a Pakistani businessman who says the most important aid that the United States could provide would be to “lift all those tariffs.” As Canadians assess our contribution, it’s worth asking how we might help grow the economies of Pakistan, North West Frontier Province and, indeed, Afghanistan. Our immigration policies welcome the Pakistani middle class, in particular those with sufficient wealth to start a business. After reading Nasr, one can’t help but wonder whether this gain for our economy is a setback for the region and the so-called war on terror.

The Iranian-born professor concludes that “over time the profit motive will be our strongest ally” and that “it will lead the growing middle class to push increasingly for business-friendly reform and reliable rule of law, as well as the opening up of their economies to trade with the world.”

If such a worldview is correct, then the transformation of Canada’s military instrument will not be enough. Other Canadian organizations will have to transform as well.

– Reviewed by Major (Ret’d) Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA(RMC), a graduate of the Pakistan Army Staff College who served a 1989 UN tour in Afghanistan.