Note: This article is a joint venture between Patheos and AltMuslim, which has a tradition of publishing the best “good news” stories at the end of each calendar year. I thank Altmuslim editors for working with me on writing and producing this.
Sometimes it seems Muslims can’t get a break, and 2011 was no exception. The “creeping sharia” paranoia in the US continued unabated (despite any evidence that there is any real threat of sharia law supplanting the Constitution) with the passage and/or introduction of anti-sharia legislation in over 20 states, and alleged threats posed by Muslim Americans were brought up at nearly every Republican debate this year. But step back a bit and you’ll see that Muslims in America as generally feeling more hopeful than ever, and the wave of people power that washed over the Middle East has inspired Muslims all over the world to take control of their destiny, whether it be political, social, or cultural. So in that spirit, and continuing in our decade-long tradition, we present to you the top ten “good news” stories of 2011. (See altmuslim’s “Top Ten” lists for 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.)
1. People power wins out in the Arab world
In the end, a simple slap in the face was enough to ignite a popular revolution that engulfed nearly the entire Arab world. The revolutions that followed in early 2011 – Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and likely more to come – proved that massive peaceful resistance was sufficient to topple the paper tigers that had ruled with an iron fist for decades. More significantly, the will of the people expressed in the streets was a direct challenge to al-Qaeda and other extremists who believe that violence and terrorism were the only way forward. While there is still much uncertainty regarding the eventual outcome – Tunisia has successfully seated a transitional government, Egypt’s democratic transition is sputtering, and blood is still being shed in Syria and Yemen – the masses are keeping the pressure on the powers-that-be to ensure that the world knows that the people are in charge, and will never again settle for anything less.
2. Brutal dictators fall like dominoes after decades in power
Time Magazine declared 2011 to be the Year of the Protestor, but an equally powerful, results-based assessment might be that 2011 was the Year that Dictators Fell. The revolutions that swept through most of the Arab and Muslim World were a testament to the power of the people to bring down dictators who had ruled kingdoms of power, corruption and oppression for decades. In Tunisia, vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, fed up with being pushed around by the government, lit himself on fire in protest on Dec. 17, 2010, leading to a dramatic upsurge of social and political unrest as Tunisia awoke to its brutal reality under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. A mere 28 days later, on January 14, 2011, Ben Ali officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia. Arab countries took note of their Tunisian brothers and sisters, and the Egyptian revolution was soon underway, with Tahrir Square at the heart of the protest. Eventually, longtime president Hosni Mubarak also resigned under pressure. Protests erupted into a full-scale bloody civil war in Libya, leading to the ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, after 42 years of power. Leaders in other Arab countries are also teetering on the edge, as Syria, Yemen, Bahrain – among others – continue to be engulfed by people-driven protests brought on by years of high unemployment, corruption, a lack of basic freedoms and poor living conditions.