This great column from Tariq Ramadan, a professor at Oxford University, calls for several radical changes in the Arab world. Read the whole thing, but I wanted to highlight a few points. First, he lays out a few facts:
The United States and its European allies would be well advised to examine why Muslims are seething. Withdrawing from Afghanistan, respecting United Nations resolutions and treaty obligations with regard to Palestine, calling back the killer drones and winding up the “war on terror” would be excellent places to start.
However, the time has come to stop blaming the West for the colonialism and imperialism of the past. Muslim-majority societies must jettison their historic posture as victims and accept that they are empowered actors, as millions of Arabs demonstrated last year by coming out into the streets and changing the course of history.
So, yes, America has certainly contributed to the damage in the Arab world, but its not the sole root of all the regional problems. Ramadan then goes on to outline the larger issue:
The Arab peoples, like those throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, cannot, and do not want to, disregard the cultural and religious traditions that have long defined and nurtured them. As they pursue values like freedom, justice, equality, autonomy and pluralism, and new models of democracy and of international relations, they need to draw on Islamic traditions. Islam can be a fertile ground for political creativity — and not an obstacle to progress, as Orientalist thinkers in the West have so often claimed.
The Arab world, and Muslim-majority societies, need not only political uprisings, but also a thoroughgoing intellectual revolution from within that will open the door to economic change; to spiritual, religious, cultural and artistic liberation; and to the empowerment of women. The task is not an easy one.
Important points. And Islam is certainly not an impediment to this goal of intellectual liberation.
Ramadan then concludes with some suggestions for change:
There can be no true democracy in the Middle East without a profound restructuring of economic priorities, which in turn can come about only by combating corruption, limiting the prerogatives of the military, and, above all, reconsidering economic relations with other countries and the gross inequalities of wealth and income within Muslim countries. The emergence of a dynamic civil society is a precondition of success. Concern for free and critical thought must take the form of educational policies to build schools and universities, revise outdated curriculums and enable women to study, work and become financially independent.
The Arab world has shaken itself out of its lethargy after decades of apparent resignation and silence. But the uprisings do not yet amount to a revolution. The Arab world must confront its historical demons and tackle its infirmities and its contradictions: when it turns to the task, the awakening will truly have begun.
This re-building of the education system in the Arab world is key to any change. If my experience in the United Arab Emirates is any indication, the radical change in education curriculum has yet to occur, even in one of its most seemingly progressive countries. Too many topics are still taboo and no true academic freedom exists. It’s impossible to cultivate an “intellectual revolution” in a climate of fear. My arbitrary firing, for instance, sends a stark message to other Western professors that its probably better to self-censor your lessons if you’re interested in keeping your job. This environment exists because the leaders of the country tolerate it.
It’s impossible to foresee any true ‘Arab Spring of ideas’ while so many Arab leaders still appear satisfied with the status quo.