Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Just how moderate is "moderate" Islam?

That's the question that Lawrence Wright raises, no doubt inadvertently, in yet another piece on the variously named Ground Zero Mosque/Park51/Cordoba House, titled, with bludgeoning simplicity, "Intolerance". After a dubious comparison with the Danish cartoon uproar -- how many people opposed to the project have called for beheading the Imam and his followers so far? -- Wright goes on to to argue not for tolerance as a virtue in itself, but rather for "tolerance" lest we alienate the great masses of "moderate" Muslims, who apparently are always just on the edge of regarding America as their enemy, and hence turning into those extremist Muslims (who aren't supposed to be real or true Muslims at all, but apparently that doesn't cut much ice with these unstable "moderates"):
The most worrisome development in the evolution of Al Qaeda’s influence since 9/11 is the growth of pockets of Islamist radicalism in Western populations. Until recently, America had been largely immune to the extremism that has placed some European nations in peril. America’s Muslim community is more ethnically diverse than that of any other major religion in the country. Its members hold more college and graduate degrees than the national average. They also have a higher employment rate and more jobs in the professional sector. (Compare that with England and France, where education and employment rates among Muslims fall below the national averages.) These factors have allowed American Muslims and non-Muslims to live together with a degree of harmony that any other Western nation would envy.
The best ally in the struggle against violent Islamism is moderate Islam. The unfounded attacks on the backers of Park51 and others, along with such sideshows as a pastor calling for the burning of Korans, give substance to the Al Qaeda argument that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam, rather than against the terrorists’ misshapen effigy of that religion. Those stirring the pot in this debate are casting a spell that is far more dangerous than they may imagine.
Of course, if we're talking about the interpretation of signs, many ordinary people would point out that flying planes into buildings, blowing up trains, subways, nightclubs, sawing off the heads of Westerners on video, and mass demonstrations of screaming hordes calling for the death of Western writers, cartoonists, or film-makers -- these little things might actually give substance to the argument that Islam is waging a war against the U.S. and the Western world generally.

But I'm not one of them. Yet. No, I'm one who still believes that moderate Muslims really are moderate and are, at worst, intimidated by the violent extremists among them who are a real enough threat that outspoken critics need armed guards. Not Wright, though, who exudes a nervous apprehension that the mass of Muslims are merely quiescent for now, but are always looking for some passing excuse to launch into anti-West jihad. Unlike Wright, in other words, I think truly moderate Muslims have the same sort of awareness of possible sources and causes of conflict that everyone else does, and have no more wish to give unnecessary offense than most non-Muslims. Here, for example, is Irshad Manji, a Muslim reformist, making better use of the same comparison with the Danish cartoons that Wright did:
Let me be blunt about my own emotions: I am offended by its proximity to the site of 9/11. I am also disappointed that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf—who is not an Islamist—has nonetheless played crass politics unbecoming of a man of dialogue.
So far, the imam has rebuffed accusations of insensitivity. Yet he made those very accusations about the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. In a February 2006 press release, Imam Rauf announced that he was "appalled" by the drawings. He called it "willful fomentation" and "gratuitous" to republish them throughout Europe. In the following weeks, almost no U.S. newspaper printed the caricatures.
So the question comes back to just how moderate so-called "moderate Islam" actually is. If we actually believe, contrary to Wright, that the extremists are alien to Islam, then how is it supporting the likes of Manji to cave in on this issue, as we caved on the cartoons or on other cultural issues? (As far as I know, by the way, Manji still requires bodyguards to move about.)  But even if you're as frightened concerned as Wright and fellow liberals about the violence lurking in the "moderate" Islamic masses, what would make you believe that appeasement is an effective response?

Thanks to Itzik at BasmanRoseLaw for the link to the Wright article

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