September 3, 2002

FAREED ZAKARIA argues that Islamic fundamentalism is on the ropes:

The youth of the 1970s and 1980s, who came from villages into cities and took up Islam as a security blanket, are passing into middle age. The new generation is just as angry, rebellious and bitter. But today’s youth grew up in cities and towns, watch Western television shows, buy consumer products and have relatives living in the West. The Taliban holds no allure for them. Most ordinary people have realized that Islamic fundamentalism has no real answers to the problems of the modern world; it has only fantasies. They don’t want to replace Western modernity; they want to combine it with Islam.

It sounds like what the Islamic world needs is someone who can present the scary new stuff in a way that’s not too threatening — sort of the function served by Norman Vincent Peale-style Christianity in the mid-20th Century. Or, heck, maybe what we need is an Arab Elvis.

UPDATE: More support for the Elvis theory can be found here:

Not that many young Iranians were there to hear the Ayatollah’s words. Less than 1.4 % of the population ever bothers to attend Friday prayers, according to Iran’s ministry of culture and guidance.

“No one wants the mullahs, not even Khatami, who no longer seems to have any power,” said Farideh, a medical student at the university, as she tottered down Val-i-Asr street in a pair of platform heels.

Clearly taking delicious delight in displaying as much hair as possible from beneath her headscarf, she added: “A lot of us dream of moving to the USA”. . . .

“In Iran,” said one British-educated businessmen, as we sipped cocktails and danced to Hotel California at his home, “we do everything – sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s just that we do it behind closed doors.” . . .

“No one is saying it out loud, but the secret hope of many Iranians is that if the US army takes neighbouring Iraq, it will come and straighten out this place as well.” For young Iranians, he said, the prospect of a US invasion was “nothing short of liberating”.

More support for the theory that the cure for fundamentalism is to put the fundamentalists in charge. It’s a case of how are you going to keep ’em on the farm — after they’ve seen the farm.

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