Russell and Duenes

Who are “Moderate Muslims?”

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I had to drive three hours to a wedding a couple of weeks ago, so I needed something to listen to in the car on the way. Having taught a unit on Islam to my high school students in previous years, and knowing a bit about Robert Spencer’s work, I picked up his “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades” from the local library. What I heard was so trenchant and powerful, I decided to purchase a copy for myself.

As you might expect, Spencer is villified by many, but so is just about anyone who wants to speak truthfully about Islam these days. While I certainly believe that thinking well about Islam and treating Muslims righteously and with love requires more than just reading books from Robert Spencer, one could do a lot worse than reading his book and the other non-PC books he recommends throughout his work.

Legions of posts could be written about Spencer’s analysis of the Crusades alone, but perhaps his best discussion centers on the topic of “moderate Muslims.” In the West, the idea of finding, exalting, and mainstreaming the so-called “moderate Muslim” is a major project, particularly where Western journalists are concerned. We fall over ourselves trying to find “moderate Muslims” who we hope will confirm us in our false belief, though we think it true, that Islamic terrorism is simply a product of a few bad men who have misinterpreted the Koran and “hijacked true Islam” for their own murderous purposes. But as is the case with most important topics today, our public discourse about Islam is long on generalized platitudes and mantras and short on careful definitions and distinctions. For we don’t really want to get at reality. Yet Spencer shows the vacuousness of our thinking about “moderate Muslims,” while asking the all-important question: What IS a moderate Muslim? He writes:

Whether a moderate Muslim majority exists depends on how you define “moderate Muslim.” Is it one who will never engage in terrorist acts? That would make moderates an overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide. Or is a moderate one who sincerely disapproves of those terrorist acts? That would reduce the number of moderates. Or is a moderate Muslim one who actively speaks out and works against the jihadists? That would lower the number yet again. Or finally, is a moderate Muslim one who actively engages the jihadists in a theological battle, trying to convince Muslims that jihad terrorism is wrong on Islamic grounds? That would leave us with a tiny handful? (p. 198)

This is precisely the kind of questioning and thinking that needs to go on today, but again, as with other topics, it requires real courage, intellectual honesty, hard work, and humility. Spencer punctuates his point:

Ibn Warraq put it well: “There are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate.” Too many Muslim reformers think they must defend Islam at all costs, whatever mental contortions they have to perform in order to do so – even if it means glossing over and refusing to face the elements of Islam that jihad terrorists use to justify their actions. It is only “bad Muslims,” we’re told – Wahhabis, other extremists, you name it – who are responsible. Yet these very same “bad Muslims” seem to be those who most fervently accept, in every area of life, the actual teachings of Islam, while the more relaxed, unobservant, and above all non-literal minded believer treats women better and is committed to pluralism and peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. (p. 203)

This is the crucial distinction. As with any group of people, there are some who are good and some who are bad, some who live consistently with the teachings they claim as their authority, and some who don’t. We wouldn’t expect to find all Muslims adhering to the tenents of the Koran any more than we expect to see all Christians or Jews adhering to the Bible in precisely the same ways. But none of this changes the actual teachings of the Koran, or the Bible, for that matter. The trouble with Westerners is that we wave off religious belief as being on the same level with knitting or playing golf on the weekends, and so we think that it really doesn’t matter what the Koran and Haddiths teach about Islam, because after all, a religious book “means whatever you want it to mean.” It’s a cynical and arrogant error, and an increasingly deadly one.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Duenes, Islam

Tagged with , ,

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