In his landmark Cairo address, President Obama explained that “human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.”
Alas, the Arab world did not share that vision. But it was not because the Middle East’s Muslims wanted to lurch backward in time. Like George W. Bush, Obama was right to sense that the era of secular strongmen was ending in the region. And like Bush — and so many others — Obama failed to understand that globalization and modernization would exaggerate religious fervor and strengthen religious identity, rather than accelerate Western-style liberalization.
As the Islamic State has made obvious, some manifestations of this new religious movement clearly despise some values we associate closely with modernity. That has helped blind us to seeing the radical modernity of religious revival inside and outside the Muslim world.