Monday, August 23, 2010

What Makes A Moderate Muslim?

There was no widespread backlash against American Muslims after the 9/11 attacks. This was an inconvenient truth for some on the American left as it flew directly in the face of the progressive movement’s most important narrative--the idea that a large swath of the America population suffers from xenophobia and racism caused by ignorance and an irrational fear of the unknown. To the contrary, the vast majority of Americans bent over backwards after the 9/11 attacks to assure the world that we understood the difference between everyday Muslims and the murderous Jihadists who had killed 3000 of our fellow Americans in the most horrific way imaginable. This proved that the picture of the “intolerant” America that liberals had worked so hard to paint over the last several decades was grossly inaccurate.

In the Cordoba House Ground Zero Mosque brouhaha, the Left has seen an opening. Having lost nearly all of its credibility on economic issues over the last two years, the progressives have jumped at the opportunity to divert attention from their incompetence by returning to their favored fall-back strategy--labeling as agents of intolerance anyone who takes a position contrary to their own on matters that involve ethnic minorities. This should come as no surprise to anyone.

Meanwhile, the rest of America--the majority of the nation consisting of moderates, independents and conservatives--is engaging in a far different type of conversation. The debate over the proposed Ground Zero mosque has encouraged many in this country to re-examine what they had previously believed was a well-defined line between savage Islamic radicals and those who the government and the media have consistently told us are “moderate” members of the Muslim faith.

The extremes on either side remain of the issue remain fixed. There are undoubtedly some Americans who have never been willing to give any Muslims the benefit of the doubt and who have remained insistent that Islam in all its forms poses a danger to the values of the United States and humanity as a whole. These are, for the most part, creatures of the Right.

On other side are individuals who feel the need to apologize for Islam in almost every circumstance and have always worked hard to find some way to excuse violent or otherwise provocative actions by blaming American policy itself for the behavior. These are individuals and groups who believe that the War on Terror is, in actuality, a war on Islam itself and point to our actions in Iraq and Afganistan as evidence. These are views held primarily by those residing on the far-left of the American political spectrum.

The vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in between these two misguided extremes. While this is evidence of the thoughtfulness and moderate nature of the American majority, the truth is that most Americans really don’t know much about Islam at all--either as a religion or as a political force. Most Americans simply haven’t had a desire to examine carefully the various beliefs of a religious group that is not really part of the mainstream of American society. In keeping with the American tradition of open-mindedness and tolerance, these well-meaning and compassionate Americans have adopted the standard assumption that most Muslims reject violence and extremism but that the religion has been hijacked by a handful of nuts who have horrendously misinterpreted the basic teachings of Islam.

But since the Ground Zero Mosque controversy erupted, a great deal of focus has fallen upon the mosque's founder, one Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Rauf has been sold to the American public by mosque advocates and some in the U.S. government as the definitive Islamic “moderate.” The kind of Muslim that is representative of the “good” Islam; an ally of the U.S. who stands beside us in our battle against the Islamic killers who seek to terrorize our society; a leader with the capacity to educate the American public about the true nature of Islam and thus foster understanding and tolerance towards the religion among Americans who remain skeptical of the religion’s beliefs and motives.

However, as the mosque controversy heated up, questionable statements made by Rauf began to trickle out. It was discovered that Rauf has repeatedly made comments laying a great deal of the blame for the 9/11 attacks on the United States itself. While condemning the 9/11 bombers, his condemnations are heavily sprinkled with moral equivalence between the U.S. government’s actions in the Middle East and the acts which caused the civilian deaths on 9/11.

"We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims."

According to Rauf, Osama Bin Laden’s terror was a product of U.S. actions. But in order to make this claim, one must truly believe that Bin Laden was justified in his opposition to the U.S. military’s efforts to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991--the event that provided the impetus for the founding of Al-Qaeda. In order to sympathize with this belief one must share at least a portion of the warped view of Islamic sovereignty that Osama Bin Laden used to justify his anti-American attitudes.

Rauf points to C.I.A actions in the Middle East in the 1980s as an early justification for Bin Laden’s hatred of America, conveniently forgetting that had it not been for U.S. assistance, much of Afghanistan--and in all likelihood many of its Muslim neighbors--would be speaking Russian right now.

Rauf has refused to condemn Hamas, a terrorist group directly responsible for countless civilian deaths.

Despite all of this, Rauf’s defenders continue to cite him as a perfect example of a “moderate” Islamic leader, simply because he has condemned the actions of the 9/11 terrorists and frequently throws around words like “peace,” “tolerance” and “understanding” when speaking to audiences around the world. To his credit, he does advocate the idea of equality for women and rejects some of the more barbaric practices carried out in the name of Islam in the Arab world. But believing that women should not be stoned to death for adultery does not make you a paragon of Islamic temperance.

This raises an essential question that Americans have failed to address since 9/11: what constitutes “moderation” when it comes to defining Islam and those who adhere to its tenets?

Very few people consider themselves to hold views that are “extreme.” “Extremist” is a label that is bestowed upon an individual when there is a consensus that his or her views fall far outside the political or social mainstream. Many of my liberal journalism professors sincerely thought that the New York Times was a politically “moderate” or even “right-leaning” publication. In other words, just because one is “moderate” compared to say, the Taliban, doesn’t mean that everyone else must take this self-proclaimed “moderation’ at face value.

That being said, how many Americans would consider Rauf’s statements to be within the mainstream of American thought? Probably not many.

There must be some kind of litmus test applied before we bestow the “moderate” label on Islamic clerics and activists who seek to play a leadership role in mainstream America. Condemning terrorist acts alone is not enough, particularly if that same individual is supportive of historical narratives and moral equivalency that has long served to foment the very terrorist actions they now seem to be condemning.

Since 9/11, Americans have wondered why no high profile Islamic “peace” movements have evolved. It’s a good question. We don’t need such a movement to prove that most Muslims deplore terror tactics, but such a movement could certainly be an effective way to bring Muslims out of the shadows and to examine exactly how they view the post-9/11 world.

Do they support Israel’s right to exist? Are they sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah? Do they support the tactics of these groups? What are their views on Sharia law? Americans deserve answers to these questions. It would be foolish and dangerous to assume that American-style tolerance and religious acceptance is the default position of most in the Islamic world if we have no idea where Muslims stand when it comes to these important geo-political issues on which America has based its foreign policy and national security principles.

In order to fight Islamic extremism, we must fully define it and be able to identify it when it rears its ugly head. We must also understand that just because an individual isn’t blowing up bridges it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be put in charge of building them.

-Dan Joseph

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Anonymous said...

Moderate American Muslim here. Flaming liberal too (even though being so may be in conflict with some of my religious beliefs, I also believe that only God can judge anyone else, and us imperfect human beings cannot effectively enforce 1,400 year old divine law on other human beings. Jesus said "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." Wise words from a wise man (who is a major prophet in Islam), which I believe and adhere to, and would use as a basis against other flawed humans trying to enforce divine law upon me. Most of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world follow a similar "live and let live" concept, more or less, but do not know how to or care to effectively articulate this -- mainly because they are just trying to live their day-to-day lives. But I digress, sort of, as everything I said will come full circle at the end.)

Anonymous said...

You concluded with: "In order to fight Islamic extremism, we must fully define it and be able to identify it when it rears its ugly head." But you spent an entire blog post dismissing this Imam's attempts to fully define Islamic extremism. He took into account not just religious doctrine, but also gave some historical background tothe issue. After 9/11, many Americans asked "Why did this happen to us? Why are they so mad?" This question was quickly overtaken by a revenge-based rhetoric, where the terrorists' reasons did not matter. They attacked us, so we had to be strong and destroy them. A legitimate response, but the question of "why did this happen?" should not have been removed from the conversation.

You call it a "warped" view of Islamic sovereignty that Osama bin Ladin used to justify his attacks on America. However, we (America) capitalized (no pun intended) upon this very same "warped" view to our advantage to defeat Russia in Afghanistan and ultimately win the Cold War, securing our position in the oil-rich Middle East. Operation Cyclone ( was a success. However, as the late Bennazir Bhutto, the former, much-loved PM of Pakistan who was assasinated in 2007 (likely at the hands of conservative Islamists) reportedly said to George H.W. Bush, "You are creating a Frankenstein." Indeed, we utilized this "warped" view of dispelling "Western" imperialists from their nations to our advantage, gave them sophisticated weaponry and training, and then left them to on their own once the job was done. Those who stayed in Afghanistan maintained their super-conservative viewpoints and formed the Taliban government (which, by the way, despite their tyraanial ways, had no intention of attacking the U.S.). Many, however, were not from Afghanistan, and upon returning home with their "warped" viewpoint of Islamic soverieignty, new weapons training, and a renewed sense of fervor that they CAN be victorious, they decided to lash out at the imperial powers that were present in their countries. But who was it now? Not Russia. It was us, the United States, and our oil companies, using our influence to create greedy, corrupt puppets in the Arab nations. Combine all of this ("warped" viewpoint, sophisticated training, feeling of victory) with the ultra-conservative ideals of Islamic world domination and the re-institution of a Caliphate, and we've got the makings of al-Qaeda. With the Iraq-Iran war and the first Gulf War, as well as our indirect influence in the region, it is likely true that we do have more blood on our hands than al-Qaeda. And did we really "help" Afghanistan? All we did was stop them from becoming Russian, which was in our interests, not necessarily theirs.

I do not think that he refused to condemn Hamas. He refused to label them terrorists just because the American government did. Indeed, terrorism is a complex subject, because one man's "freedom fighters" (Osama to America during the Cold War) is another man's "terrorist" (Osama to America after the Cold War). And how do we really define terrorism? Killing civilians? Don't we do that consistently during "war"? Doesn't Israel when bombing Lebanon? I believe that his decision to not answer the question was wise, lest he lose the credibility of peaceful Palestinians who believe that, despite it's militant activities, Hamas is their elected party that America and the EU did not recognize. How can he effectuate peaceful solutions from within if he labels their democratically elected party terrorists.

I believe this is the nature of his "double-speak" -- trying to find a common ground to approach "both sides" while aiming for the more worthy goal of peace, and I wholeheartedly agree with its use.

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about this imam that outsiders to the religion would not recognize is that Muslims in the Arab world or even in America probably do not even like him. For one thing, he practices Sufiism, which is a "mystical" form of Islam as that is accepted to the mainstream Muslims about as much as Kabbalah is to Jews (not much). In addition, conservative, non-violent "evangelical/proseletyzing" Muslims (or non-violent "Islamists") wonder what the heck is wrong with him for starting all of this trouble, and wonder why he doesn't use the $100 Million dollars to build 100 mosques, as opposed to one "community center" with a swimming pool and gym. Violent Islamists likely look at him as a pawn of America, particularly since he works with and for the government, and of no help to their cause. He's written books and focuses much of his energy on the "peaceful Islam" and "Islamic reform." Violent Islamists (terrorists?) don't like that verymuch. Basically, what people outside of Islam don't realize is that this Imam really is the LEAST of their concerns and is actually leaning on liberal, not moderate, with his religious beliefs.

But hey, keep hating him, keep blasting things he said making him seem extreme, keep bringing out the Christian zealots who are not just opposed to the mosque, but Islam on the whole. That's what Al-Qaeda's goal was. To bring about such turmoil and attention that the world would be split into "Muslims" and "Non-Muslims", thereby starting a global war. Keep letting Americans who want America to be a Christian nation speak out (despite it's religious freedoms). Al Qaeda will have won, faster than they anticipated.

You stated that "there must be some kind of litmus test applied before we bestow the “moderate” label on Islamic clerics and activists who seek to play a leadership role in mainstream America." Coming from self-proclaimed onservative (I believe), this is interesting. "Moderate" muslims actually share most of the same values as the conservative right. they are not moderates, but conservatives. The main different is the way they worship God and their beliefs on American foreign policy (largely because they are still first generation immigrants who have close ties to their homeland...or ties to the Arab nations due to their religion, just as Catholics feel like they must defend the Vatican or Jews feels the must defend Israel). What would this litmus test be based upon? Your questions? They involve foreign policy, but I can answer them for myself, an "educated, liberal" moderate Muslim, and give the likely answer of the "non-educated conservative" masses.

Anonymous said...

Do they support Israel’s right to exist?
I do. Notwithstanding its faults, and there are many, it is a thriving, developed, semi-democratic nation that has many people living there. At this point, we cannot simply say that it cannot exist. It exists, and aint going nowhere, so we gotta deal with that and move on. that does not mean, however, that we blindly support Israel in everything it does. Things like settlements and human rights violations against the Palestinians do exist, so they HAVE to be adressed.
The world's Muslims either care a lot less about Israel/Palestine than most people think, mainly because there are 1.5 billion Muslims who come from various parts of the world. They are too far removed from the issue to really care, and to the extent that they do, they believe that Israel has an unfair advantage in the situation, and that Israel continues to utilize a form of apartheid in its country, blindly supported by our government due to a strong Israeli lobby and the need to have an "ally" in the region to secure our oil positions and spy on the surrounding nations. do they support it's right to exist? Depending on what's going on over there (war, civilians on either side dying), the answer may change. At the end of the day, they don't give a hoot and want the whole situation to just be over with and laid to rest.

Are they sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah?
I am supportive of their peaceful goals, and do not support their killing of innocent civilians. for the rest of the Muslims, see above on how they come from various parts of the world. If you speak to those connected to the Arab countries, they probably are very sympathetic, mainly because they see the "good" that these groups do for their communities, and are their democratically elected leaders, despite their militant activities. A Lebanese girl once told me that Hezbollah is not what the news makes it out to be. In her country, they actually do a lot of good community work. I've never been there, so I cannot confirm.
Do they support the tactics of these groups?
I think across the board, if it's violent, no way.

Anonymous said...

What are their views on Sharia law?
As I said earlier, I believe that flawed men cannot effectively enforce "divine law", so let's leave the separation of church (including the Christian church) in place.
Most moderate Muslims don't have an opinion because, as I said, they are just trying to live their day to day lives.
Moderates who support it actually support an "arbitration" type system which people voluntarily utilize scholars and judges in Islamic law for civil issues such as inheritance rights, divorce, etc. These types of arbitration systems already exists for Jewish Hallakich law, known as "Beth Din" courts.
Ultra conservative Muslims want to see sharia law rule the land.
I disagree with the institution of Sharia law in any form because I feel that the American legal system allows sufficient freedom of contract that one can create an arrangement that does not offend one's religious beliefs.
Sharia law, like most religious law (see Old Testament) calls for archaic punishment for crimes like adultery, fornication, drinking, idol worshipping, etc., usually int he form of corporal punishment that would be deemed cruel and unusual by modern human rights standards. Again, however, I am STRONGLY opposed to sharia law being instituted in a criminal law sense because I would not allow flawed men to even have the remote chance of suggesting that they want to institute their interpretation of divine law that is not subject to change on me. They can go to hell, figuratively, or if they so wish, banish me there, but I will not let them do it.
Expecting a religious Muslim to denounce sharia, however, which they believe is the word of God, is about as unreasonable as asking a Christian to denounce the laws of Jesus Christ. Ask either one if they would like to see Sharia law or the laws of Jesus Christ rule the world, and both would probably say "ideally, yes."

Anonymous said...

In order to fight Islamic extremism, two things must happen. First, we (America) should take a close look at our foreign policy and stop meddling in their affairs over there. This involves not being dependent on Middle East oil. Good luck to us on that. Second, “moderate” American Muslims must start to speak out against terrorism and try to reform their religion, which is about 400 years behind other major religions on the world. Keep in mind, Islam was not part of the Enlightenment. There must be sort of an Islamic Enlightenment. I sincerely believe that people like this Imam and others in the West are doing their best to achieve this. But they face significant challenges. These challenges include the people they are speaking to being first generation immigrants who do not yet feel a sense of American nationalism, American foreign policy leaving a bad taste in their mouths, Islamic clerics telling them that they should guard themselves from Western values because it will corrupt their spirit, “xenophobia and racism caused by ignorance and an irrational fear of the unknown” -- yes it DOES EXIST -- we see examples of it every day with the mosque protesters who say “Go back to your country”, “USA is a Christian country”, etc., and finally, being attacked by people like yourself who want them to take an “all or nothing” approach. But, despite these challenges, I have faith that this reform is bound to happen. We’ll see. Moderate American Muslim out.