The uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been widely described as secular rebellions led by middle-class, tech-savvy young people seeking economic and political justice. Protests have generally called for democratic, not Islamic politics, and for the rule of law, not Shariah law. Islamists were late to join the crowds, and they have participated only as one group among many. Because of all this, most Westerners have embraced the revolts. We should not, however, assume that the protesters seek to build replicas of the societies that exist in the West.
That assumption is erroneous because the Arab world is only beginning to debate basic questions of civic and political life””especially what role religion should play in government.
Westerners should avoid the so-called problem of transference: the natural tendency to assume that our historical experience is universal. It is misguided to assume that because the West””after centuries of bloodshed and experimentation””arrived at a broad consensus around democracy and secularism, so has the rest of world. The historical experience of Arab and Muslim societies has been qualitatively different.