What do we mean by moderate Islam?

Daniel S. writes:

Mark Steyn also weighed in on the conversation at the Corner and said that there is “no moderate Islam in any meaningful theological sense.” I would go a step further and question what is meant by the word “moderate” in the term “moderate Islam.” Do we mean it in the Aristotelian sense of the mean? If so, then, speaking from the point of view of Islam, most of those whom we would call the “extremist” Muslims are in fact moderate by Islamic standards, as they are avoiding the extremes of laxity and excess as seen from an Islamic point of view. Meanwhile, those whom we would describe as “moderate” Muslims would be those who, from an Islamic point of view, have fallen into spiritual and moral laxity.

Also, the term “secular Muslim” is touted by Steyn in the same blog entry to describe what is often meant by the term “moderate Muslim.” Personally I prefer the term “nominal Muslim” for those who identify themselves as Muslims, but don’t take the bulk of the creed too seriously.

LA replies:

This is interesting, and of course those we call the extremist Muslims are the true Muslims by Muslim standards. However, I’m not sure that bringing in the Aristotelian mean is useful here. I do not believe that when Westerners speak of moderate Islam they are thinking of the Aristotelian mean between an excess and laxity of Islam. They are thinking simply of a lax Islam, of people who don’t follow the religion seriously. In any case, you are correct that Muslims must reject the very notion of moderate Islam, since it implies that Islam in and of itself is bad, and is acceptable only if it is softened.

One of the key features of the clueless Western discussion that goes on year after year is that Westerners refuse to take Muslims seriously, on their own terms. In the name of tolerance, we show a profound lack of respect for Muslims, because we are refusing to see their reality and we keep fitting it into a false scheme which would make Islam acceptable to us. This leads the Muslims to feel both indignant at us for our blindness to them and contemptuous of us for the same reason. By contrast, I always say that we should take Muslims seriously and acknowledge their beliefs. We should say to them: “We understand what you believe. You believe X, Y, and Z. We get it. We understand that X, Y, and Z are sacred to you. And because X, Y, and Z happen to be incompatible with our very existence, we must protect ourselves from you, we must deprive you of the power to have any effect on us.”

At present, we liberal Westerners are simultaneously disrespectful of Islam (because we refuse to take it seriously on its own terms and insist on turning it into something it isn’t) and craven before Islam (because we insist on believing that Islam is a nice, moderate thing that ought to be welcomed). Our disrespect gives Muslims a motive to harm us (not that they need any additional motive beyond the teachings of Islam itself), and our cravenness gives them the opportunity to harm us.

My approach is the exact opposite. We should be respectful of Islam (in the sense of taking it seriously for what it really is), and defiant toward Islam (because we understand that Islam means our ruin). Our respect for Islam will make the Muslims take us seriously, and our defiance of Islam will take away their opportunity to harm us.

LA continues:

As a model of how the West should address Islam, see the video of Gov. Christie laying out the real differences between the liberals’ positions on taxing and spending and his.

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David P. writes from England:

This ongoing discussion since 9/11, of moderate Islam or Muslims, as opposed to just Islam and Muslims, is predicated on the belief, or fervent hope, that moderate Muslims will somehow be able to civilise Islam, such that it no longer poses an existential threat to us. Fine

Case 1. Let us consider the situation that all Muslims at present living in the West accepted the call to clean their communities of extremism. They even went further and made the changes in the teachings of the Koran and the jihad. Such an outcome would no doubt come as a great relief to all. But I counter that all such changes were being done merely to protect the ummah while it grows at ever-increasing pace in the West. Once a near majority is achieved, that future generation of Muslims will simply revoke any changes and return to the traditions of the Koran. They will even praise this generation of Muslims for having done what was necessary to protect Islam.

The larger the number of Muslims, moderate or radical, the greater will be the demands for sharia, and politicians will rush to accommodate that demographic. The distinction between moderate Muslims and radical Muslims is therefore meaningless, as it is of no help to us.

Case 2. Let us suppose that moderate Muslims came out of hiding [LA replies: sort of like the 12th Imam?] and utterly trounced their jihadi cousins on what constitutes “true” Islam. Having got rid of “radical” Islam’s main reasons for waging jihad, would not be the end of the matter. Moderate Muslims will demand their price for having kept jihad, the fundamental directive of Islam, at bay. That price will again be the implementation of sharia, initially for Muslims anyway. This will come about as moderate Muslims have not abandoned Islam, and are still dutiful Muslims. Thus we will end up with a kind of permanent social coalition government of non-Muslims and moderate Muslims. Even if we agree to this, the “radicals” will still be out there, and amongst us. To keep them at bay, moderate Muslims will be forced to make ever increasing demands for greater Islamisation. “Good cop bad cop” scenario comes to mind. It will never end.

Placing the future of Western civilisation in the hands of Muslims by making an alliance or coalition with moderate Muslims will be a great mistake—of the same magnitude as allowing Muslims to settle in the West, as future peace will be dependent on the good will of “moderate” Muslims. In other words, we would have placed the future of our civilisation in the hands of Muslims, and trust that they do not become less “moderate” in the future.

Yet again, our distinction between moderate Muslims and radical Muslims, and our attempt to exploit that divide, pose far greater danger than simply ignoring any such distinction, whether it existed or not. In reality, if such a significant moderate Muslim faction did indeed exist, it would be an even greater threat then the straightforward jihadi one.

All that really matters is the size of the Muslim population. What funds and generates the jihad is the total number of Muslims. Radical or moderate Islam or Muslims, is of no help to us.

To reduce this self-inflicted, existential threat, we have to start reducing the Muslim population in the West—that much is obvious. The real problem is what political and social measures we need to initiate now in order to arrive at a social or political juncture where measures to start reducing the Muslim population in the West become politically possible.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 15, 2010 12:46 AM | Send

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