Finally, in the human rights realm, while the last few decades saw a momentous global movement towards freedom and democracy, the Islamic world was generally left behind. Common freedoms of opinion, expression, association, gathering, movement, residence are all too frequently abrogated. Indeed, only 1/5 of those countries with Muslim majorities are democracies. Not one of the Arab states have governments that are chosen by their own people. As a result, there are also higher levels of repression and lower levels of human rights in the Islamic world, relative not just to the West, but now to other parts of the world.
The danger of these dynamics lie not just with the failings status quo, but the threat that the future brings if we do not alter courses. Muslim states are in the midst of some of the world?s most rapid growth in population, such that youths under the age of 24 now make up 50%-65% of the population of the Middle East. In an ideal setting, this generation would offer the chance for a great leap forward, as a bulk of the population will enter the prime of their productivity. For example, countries like Taiwan and South Korea were able to leverage similar population patterns in previous decades to jumpstart their economies. However it appears that the ruling regimes in the Arab world will be unable to do so, primarily because of their shortsighted failures to invest in their own people?s human capital.
Our supreme fear must be that this generation will grow up disconnected, unemployed, humiliated, and increasingly angry. Not only will this anger express itself in greater violence towards the West, but it also appears that its rage is expanding towards internal targets. The recent attacks in Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and of the UN and Jordanian embassies in Iraq all bode the latest trend of terrorism, with Muslim cities and regimes being added to the hit list. Indeed, when a young al Qaida killer, recruited from local slums, slits the throat of a Muslim security guard, so that he can explode a bomb in a restaurant filled with well-off Muslim diners (as happened in Casablanca), the contours of a new and even more violent instability are drawn.
In sum, the crisis is not just that of U.S.-Muslim relations that should scare us. It is a crisis within the Islamic world as well. It is driven not just by U.S. policy, but also by a crisis of opportunity, which has served to limit the hopes of the Islamic world and now sustains the forces of radicalism and chaos. Indeed, even we get to the end of the ?road map? and all our hopes of peace in the Middle East were achieved, much of the tension might be lifted, but the underlying social, economic, and security problems would remain.
It is for this reason that a new cornerstone of U.S. relations with the Islamic world is needed. To be successful, we must locate our policies on the side of change, not the failing status quo. We must identify ourselves with the positive, supporting prosperity and opposing repression. In short, our goals must be to meet local needs and close the crisis of opportunity that is holding us all back.
An important realization is that needed change is not simply about changing regimes through invasion. To be self-sustaining, a vision cannot be imposed from the outside, but must create local opportunity and support those positive forces on the ground that are pushing for progress. An excellent starting point for the U.S. is to seek a partnership based on answering the various needs identified by the Arab Human Development Report. The U.S. strategy towards success would seek to aid Muslim communities in the development of human capital that will make them winners in the competition of globalization. Programs such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and expansion of free trade zones are nice starts, but must be expanded if we are to get serious.
In conclusion, what is striking is about all these vexing challenges is that they are shared. While relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world are increasingly strained, we have a joint interest in resolving them. This makes them more difficult, but also perhaps ultimately more manageable.