Contributed by Michael Levin, BusinessGhost

A year ago, I stopped at a filling station in Fountain Valley to get gas and a snack.  The station owner saw me pondering the Vitamin Water, stepped out from behind the counter, and approached.

            “Are you a Jew?” he asked, studying me carefully.

            “Yes,” I said, surprised.

            And then I was even more surprised when he put his arms around me and hugged me.

            “I am Moslem!” he declared.  “We are brothers!  We must be friends!”

            This unexpected gas station embrace came to mind while reading the most hopeful and hardheaded book on modern Islam I’ve ever read, Rock The Casbah, by veteran foreign correspondent Robin Wright.  The book paints a portrait of what could be called the Islam nobody knows.

            Wright writes of an Islamic revolution sweeping North Africa and the Middle East that rejects both the violence of jihad and the ways of the West.  Instead, this developing approach to Islam embraces the joy of finding God in both traditional and high tech ways.  Wright offers portraits of an emerging generation of educated Moslems who don’t embrace the West but don’t want to destroy it, either.

            These young Moslems embrace the smartphone and the chador with equal vigor.  They want political freedom–and they’re attaining it in country after country.  They use rap songs and hard-hitting comedy, both Western imports, to express their contempt for violent interpretations of their religion.  Social media tools enable them to publicize government-sanctioned murders of the innocent in ways unimaginable in a pre-YouTube, pre-Facebook world, destroying the ability of despots to operate in the dark.

            They want Islam on their own terms, turning to mellow Islamic televangelists and pop singers as their spiritual leaders and role models.  And they want jobs, which the kleptocratic dictators could never provide for them, but the free market can.

            Despite their adapting of Western technology and cultural vehicles, they are not in love with the West.  They want to live by their own values, instead of taking cues from Hollywood or Washington about how to dress, how to vote, or how to think.  They want democracies infused with Moslem values just as the West incorporates Judeo-Christian ideals into its national narratives.  They want neither Obama or Osama; they want both freedom of religion and freedom from religion–that is, religious views imposed upon them by others.

            Wright’s book is heartening because the War On Terror, ultimately, is doomed to the same failure as the War On Poverty (poverty won) or the latter day War On Drugs (drugs are way ahead).  We can’t stay angry and afraid of a group that counts more than a billion and a half people.  We have to find a partner for peace.  The good news is that Wright describes, in her meticulously reported work, a rising Moslem majority that wants to live in peace and practice their faith on their own terms.

            These are the individuals putting their lives on the line in Syria, in Yemen, in Iran, and once again in Egypt, and in other nations throughout the region.  But they are also our Moslem neighbors here in California and throughout the U.S.

            Wright is not naive enough to suggest that the next generation of Moslems can overlook the West’s support of Israel against the Palestinians.  Or that they can easily forgive America’s longterm tolerance of the very dictators, like Mubarak and Gadhafi, they have worked to remove.  These issues mean that the West may never enjoy much credibility or sway with the next generation of Moslems.  But the desire for self-governance, which led to the Arab Spring, means that these young people aren’t naively risking their lives simply to trade secular dictators for Islamist regimes.

            Rock The Casbah ought to be required reading in Orange County, home to a growing — and deeply misunderstood — Moslem population.  They didn’t dance when the Twin Towers fell and they don’t send money overseas to support terrorists.  They are raising their children to be doctors and lawyers, not suicide bombers.  They want the same thing the rest of us want — the right to be left alone, the right to worship without suspicion, the ability to live in peace in Irvine or Huntington Beach or wherever they please.

            I’m not naive.  I know that not every Moslem seeks the same embrace with the West, let alone with Jews, that the gas station owner wanted with me.  But Wright offers a valuable lesson:  that millions of Moslems are just as tired of jihad as is the West.  And in a world wracked with dissension, turmoil, and economic unrest, that counts as good news.

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