Religion is a growing force in the Arab awakening. Westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy Economist
THE sight of corrupt old Arab tyrants being toppled at the behest of a new generation of young idealists, inspired by democracy, united by Facebook and excited by the notion of opening up to a wider world, has thrilled observers everywhere. Those revolutions are still in full swing, albeit at different points in the cycle. In Tunisia and Egypt they are going the right way, with a hopeful new mood prevailing and free elections in the offing. In Libya, Syria and Yemen dictators are clinging on to power, with varying degrees of success. And in the Gulf monarchs are struggling to fend off demands for democracy with oil-funded largesse topped by modest and grudging political concessions.
So far these revolts have appeared to be largely secular in character. Westerners have been quietly relieved by that. Not that they are all against religion. Many—Americans in particular—are devout. But by and large, they prefer their own variety to anybody else’s, and since September 11th 2001, they have been especially nervous about Islam.
Now, however, there are signs that Islam is a growing force in the Arab revolutions (see article). That makes secular-minded and liberal people, both Arabs and Westerners, queasy. They fear that the Arab awakening might be hijacked by the sort of Islamists who reject a pluralist version of democracy, oppress women and fly the flag of jihad against Christians and Jews. They worry that the murderous militancy that has killed 30,000 over the past four years in Pakistan (see article) may emerge in the Arab world too.