Thursday, January 12, 2006

Will the real Muslim Moderates Please Stand Up?

On Tech Central Station Daily, Stephen Schwartz offers some useful benchmarks toward distinguishing legitimately moderate Muslims from radical Muslims.

Moderate Sunni Muslims may be recognized in person by asking a simple question: “what do you think of Wahhabism, the state Islamic sect of Saudi Arabia?” Every Muslim in the world knows about Wahhabism, and knows that it is embodied in al-Qaida. If a Sunni Muslim is asked about Wahhabism and states that it is a controversial, extreme doctrine that causes many problems because of Saudi money, the respondent is probably moderate. Denouncing the Saudis alone is not enough; radicals criticize the Saudi monarchy for insufficiently enforcing Wahhabi beliefs. The root cause of Sunni terror is Wahhabism, not the monarchy.

It seems unnecessary to add that those who try to disclaim a link between Wahhabism and al-Qaida, or who blame al-Qaida on American machinations, cannot be considered moderates. If a Sunni denies that Wahhabism exists by saying “there is only Islam,” or tries to cover Wahhabism with an ameliorative term like “Salafism” -- a fraudulent effort to equate Wahhabism with the pioneers of the Islamic faith -- the individual is an extremist. Such a radical will not, under any circumstances, declare his or her opposition to Wahhabism per se. They may even claim that the whole concept was invented by Westerners such as myself.

A parallel example may be cited from the history of Communism. Stalinist Communists would repudiate the charge that they were Communists, calling themselves progressives, liberals, or socialists. They would deny that Communism intended anything malign toward the U.S., portraying America as an aggressor (something Islamists and Stalinists have in common) but nonetheless claiming loyalty to it. They would often argue over whether Stalinism even existed. And they would never denounce Stalin, even though the entire planet knew about the atrocities of the Soviet regime. Neither will Islamist radicals denounce Wahhabism.

Moderate Muslims may also be identified by what they do not do, to contrast them with radicals. And at the top of that list comes the practice of takfir, or declaring Muslims unbelievers over differences of opinion. Takfir also includes describing the ordinary, traditional Muslim majority in the world as having fallen into unbelief.

Schwartz notes that the branding those who don't agree with the Islamist agenda as takfir is an effort to dehumanize them, and one step toward justifying violence against them. This is not unique to Islam, of course. Thoughout the history of Christianity, dissenting thinkers were often labeled as heretics, or denounced for being in league with the devil, by those in power. Such labels led to the Inquisition, torture and burnings at the stake. When Luther's Reformation divided Europe into two religious camps (one of which splintered), each side denounced the other as betraying Christ and more than a century of bloodletting ensued. The ideal of religious tolerance among Christians was hard won, and came only after a horrendous toll of death and suffering.

Schwartz notes that true moderate Muslims are not represented by the most vocal Muslim advocacy organizations often courted by the US media:

Moderate Muslims admit there is a problem in the body of the religion -- not in the principles and traditions of the faith, but among the believers themselves. They recognize that radical ideology and terrorism threaten the future of Islam and must be stopped.

Moderate Muslims do not limit their struggle against extremism to perfunctory statements stating that terror is incompatible with the religion. Rather, moderate Muslims publicly identify, denounce, and combat radicals.

Is the Islamic establishment in the U.S. -- the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA) -- moderate? No, it is not. Not one of these three groups has ever identified or criticized a Muslim radical in the U.S., except to slander authentic moderates by trying to portray them as extremists. To cite a few notable examples: the aforementioned organizations, which I have called “the Wahhabi lobby.”

Mr. Schwartz points to specific cases in which CAIR has engaged labeled dissenting Muslims as non-believers, and its refusal to denounce, or even recognize Islamic radicalism. None of which the ever-PC US media is likely to point out.


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