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Work would better the Arab world

For the past few weeks I've tried to lay out the tactics we in the West can adopt to strengthen the moderates in the Arab-Muslim world to fight the war of ideas against the forces of intolerance within their civilization _ which is where the real war on terrorism will either be won or lost. But if there is one thing I've learned in examining this issue it's this: Ideas don't just spread on their own. Ideas spread in a context. So often, since 9/11, people have remarked to me: "Wow, Islam, that's a really angry religion." I disagree. I do agree, though, that there are a lot of young Muslims who are angry, because they live in some of the most repressive societies, with the fewest opportunities for women and youth, and with some of the highest unemployment. Bad contexts create an environment where humiliation _ and the anger, bad ideas and violence that flow from it _ are rife. In short, it is impossible for us to talk about winning the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world without talking about the most basic thing that gives people dignity and hope: a job.

"For a long time now, I've felt that what we're really facing is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of generations," argued David Rothkopf, a former acting U.S. undersecretary of commerce. "You have an aging developed world, particularly Europe, that is trying to protect its jobs, and you have a young, job-seeking, job-needing emerging world, particularly the Muslim world, that will go anywhere and do anything to either seize the job opportunities or express their frustration with not having opportunities."

Of the 90-million Arab youth today (between the ages of 15 and 24), 14-million are unemployed, many of them among the 15-million to 20-million Muslims now living in Europe. "There's not enough jobs and not enough hope," Jordan's King Abdullah told the Davos economic forum. According to the 2003 Arab Human Development Report, between 1980 and 1999 the nine leading Arab economies registered 370 patents (in the United States) for new inventions. Patents are a good measure of a society's education, entrepreneurship, rule of law and innovation. During that same 20-year period, South Korea alone registered 16,328 patents for inventions. You don't run into a lot of South Koreans who want to be martyrs.

I was at Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley a few days ago, and they have this really amazing electronic global map that shows, with lights, how many people are using Google to search for knowledge. The region stretching from Morocco to the border of India had almost no lights. I attended a breakfast at Davos on the outsourcing of high-tech jobs from the United States and Europe to the developing world. There were Indian and Mexican businessmen there, and much talk about China. But not a word was spoken about outsourcing jobs to the Arab world. The context _ infrastructure, productivity, education _ just isn't there yet.

So what to do? A lot of help can and should come from Europe. Although America is often the target, Europe has been the real factory of Arab-Muslim rage. Europe has done an extremely poor job of integrating and employing its growing Muslim minorities. And Europe has done a very poor job of investing in North Africa and the Middle East _ its natural backyard.

America is far from perfect in this regard, but by forging the NAFTA free trade agreement with Mexico, the United States helped create a political and economic context there that not only spurred jobs and the modernization of Mexico, but created the environment for its democratization. Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo remarked to me: "I don't think I would have been successful in political reform without the decent economic growth we had spurred by Nafta from 1996 to 2000. Those five years, we had average growth of 5 percent." It was in that optimistic environment that Mexico had its first democratic transition from the ruling party to the opposition.

So if you take anything away from this series, I hope it's this: The war of ideas among Arabs and Muslims can only be fought and won by their own forces of moderation, and those forces can only emerge from a growing middle class with a sense of dignity and hope for the future. Young people who grow up in a context of real economic opportunity, basic rule of law and the right to speak and write what they please don't usually want to blow up the world. They want to be part of it.

Thomas L. Friedman is a New York Times columnist.

New York Times News Service