Ten Things to Think When Thinking of Muslim "Moderates"

by Hugh Fitzgerald (originally published Nov. 2004 at Jihad Watch)

1. Not only Muslims, but "islamochristians" objectively promote and push the propagandistic line that disguises the Jihad (evidence of which can be found worldwide), and mislead as to both what prompts that Jihad (not "poverty" or "foreign policy" but the precepts of the belief-system of Islam) and what will sate it (not Kashmir, not Chechnya, not the absurd "two-state solution," not continued appeasement in France and Holland -- there is nothing that will sate or satisfy it, as long as part of the globe is as yet resistent to the rule of Islam). "Christians" such as Fawaz Gerges or Rami Khoury, or someone who was born a Christian, such as Edward Said, are Arabs whose views are colored by that self-perception. Their loyalty to the community and history of Arabs causes them to be as loyal to the Islamic view of things as if they had been born Muslim. They stoutly defend Islam against all of Western scholarship (in Orientalism), or divert attention away from Islam and constantly assert, in defiance of all the evidence, from Bali to Beslan to Madrid, that the "problem of Israel/Palestine" -- the latest, and most sinister formulation of the Jihad against Israel -- is the fons et origo of Muslim hostility and murderous aggression throughout the world. Save for the Copts and Maronites, who regard themselves not as Arabs but as "users" of the "Arabic language" (and reject the idea that such "users" therefore become "Arabs"), many Arab Christians have crazily embraced the Islamic agenda; the agenda, that is, of those who have made the lives of Christians in the Middle East so uncertain, difficult, and at times, imperilled. The attempt to be "plus islamiste que les islamistes" -- the approach of Rami Khoury and Hanan Ashrawi -- simply will not do, for it has not worked. It is Habib Malik and other Maronites in Lebanon who have analysed the problem of Islam in a clear-eyed fashion. Indeed, the best book on the legal status of non-Muslims under Islam is that of the Lebanese (Maronite) scholar Antoine Fattal.

Any "islamochristian" Arab who promotes the Islamic agenda, by participating in a campaign that can only mislead Infidels and put off their understanding of Jihad and its various instruments, is objectively as much part of the problem as the Muslim who knowingly practices taqiyya in order to turn aside the suspicions of non-Muslims. Whoever acts so as to keep the unwary Infidel unwary is helping the enemy.

Think, for a minute, of Oskar Schindler. A member of the Nazi Party, but hardly someone who followed the Nazi line. But what if Schindler had at some point met with Westerners -- and had continued, himself, to deny that the Nazis were engaged in genocide, even if he himself deplored it and would later act against it? Would we think of him as a "moderate"? As someone who had helped the anti-Nazi coalition to understand what it was up against?

Or for another example, think of Ilya Ehrenburg, who in 1951 or so was sent abroad by Stalin to lie about the condition of Yiddish-speaking intellectuals whom Stalin had recently massacred. Ehrenburg went to France, went to Italy. He did as he was told. "Peretz? Markish? Oh, yes, saw Peretz at his dacha last month with his grandson. Such a jovial fellow. Markish -- he was great last year in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District -- you should see how it comes across in zhargon, Yiddish..." And so it went. Eherenburg lied, and lied. He was not a Stalinist. He hated Stalin. He of course hated the destruction of Peretz, Markish, and many others who had been killed many months before -- as Ehrenburg knew perfectly well. When he went abroad and lied to the editors of Nouvelle Revue Francaise, what was he? Objectively, he was promoting the interests of Joseph Stalin, and the Red Army, and the Politburo. We need not inquire into motives. We need only see what the results of such lying were. And the same is true of those Christian Arabs who lie on behalf of Islam -- some out of fear, some out of an ethnocentric identification so strong that they end up defending Islam, the religion of those who persecuted the Christian Arabs of the Middle East, and some out of venality (if Western diplomats and journalists can be on the Arab take, why not Arabs themselves?), some out of careerism. If you want to rise in the academic ranks, and your field is the Middle East, unless you are a real scholar -- Cook or Crone or Lewis -- better to parrot the party line, which costs you nothing and gains you friends in tenure-awarding, grant-giving, reference-writing circles. There is at least one example, too, among those mentioned, in a situation where an Arabic-speaking Christian, attempting to find refuge from Muslim persecution, needed the testimony of an "expert" -- which "expert," instead of offering a pro-bono samaritan act, demanded so much money to be involved (in a fantastic display of greed) that the very idea of solidarity among Arab Christians was called by this act permanently into question.

2. The word "moderate" cannot be reasonably applied to any Muslim who continues to deny the contents -- the real contents, not the sanitized or gussied-up contents -- of Qur'an, hadith, and sira. Whether that denial is based on ignorance, or based on embarrassment, or based on filial piety (and an unwillingness to wash dirty ideological laundry before the Infidels) is irrelevant. Any Muslim who, while seeming to deplore every aspect of Muslim aggression, based on clear textual sources in Qur'an and hadith, or on the example of Muhammad as depicted in the accepted sira -- Muhammad that "model" of behavior -- is again, objectively, acting in a way that simply misleads the Infidels. And any Muslim who helps to mislead Infidels about the true nature of Islam cannot be called a "moderate." That epithet is simply handed out a bit too quickly for sensible tastes.

3. What of a Muslim who says -- there are terrible things in the sira and hadith, and we must find a way out, so that this belief-system can focus on the rituals of individual worship, and offer some sustenance as a simple faith for simple people? This would require admitting that a great many of Muhammad's reported acts must either be denied, or given some kind of figurative interpretation, or otherwise removed as part of his "model" life. As for the hadith, somehow one would have to say that Bukhari, and Muslim, and the other respected muhaddithin had not examined those isnad-chains with quite the right meticulousness, and that many of the hadith regarded as "authentic" must be reduced to the status of "inauthentic." And, following Goldziher, doubt would have to be cast on all of the hadith, as imaginative elaborations from the Qur'an, without any necessarily independent existence.

4. This leaves the Qur'an. Any "moderate" who wishes to prevent inquiry into the origins of the Qur'an -- whether it may be the product of a Christian sect, or a Jewish sect, or of pagan Arabs who decided to construct a book, made up partly of Christian and Jewish material mixed with bits and pieces of pagan Arab lore from the time of the Jahiliya -- or to prevent philological study (of, for example, Aramaic and other loan-words) -- anyone who impedes the enterprise of subjecting the Qur'an to the kind of historical inquiry that the Christian and Jewish Bibles have undergone in the past 200 years of inquiry, is not a "moderate" but a fervent Defender of the Faith. One unwilling to encourage such study -- which can only lead to a move away from literalness for at least some of the Believers -- again is not "moderate."

5. The conclusion one must reach is that there are, in truth, very few moderates. For if one sees the full meaning of Qur'an, hadith, and sira, and sees how they have affected the behavior of Muslims both over 1400 years of conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims, and in stunting the development -- political, economic, moral, and intellectual -- of Muslims everywhere, it is impossible not to conclude that this imposing edifice is not in any sense moderate or susceptible to moderation.

What must an intelligent Muslim, living through the hell of the Islamic Republic of Iran, start to think of Islam? Or that Kuwaiti billionaire, with houses in St. James Place and Avenue Foch and Vevey, as well as the family/company headquarters in Kuwait City, who sends his children to the American School in Kuwait, and boasts that they know English better than they know Arabic, helps host Fouad Ajami when he visits Kuwait, is truly heartsick to see Kuwait's increasing islamization? Would he allow himself to say what he knows in public, or in front of half-brothers, or to friends -- knowing that at any moment, they may be scandalized by his free-thinking views, and that he may run the risk of losing his place in the family's pecking order and, what's more, in the family business?

The mere fact that Muslim numbers may grow in the Western world represents a permanent threat to Infidels. This is true even if some, or many, of those Muslims are "moderates" -- i.e. do not believe that Islam has some kind of divine right, and need, to expand until it covers the globe and swallows up dar al-harb. For if they are still to be counted in the Army of Islam, not as Deserters (Apostates) from that Army, their very existence in the Bilad al-kufr helps to swell Muslim ranks, and therefore perceived Muslim power. And even the "moderate" father may sire immoderate children or grandchildren -- that was the theme of the Hanif Kureishi film, quasi-comic but politically acute, "My Son the Fanatic." Whether through Da'wa or large families, any growth in the Muslim population will inhibit free expression (see the fates of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and the threats made to Geert Wilders, Carl Hagen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and many others), for politicans eager to court the Muslim vote will poohpooh Muslim outrages and strive to have the state yield to Muslim demands -- for the sake of short-term individual gain. And Muslim numbers, even with "moderates," increases the number of Muslim missionaries -- for every Muslim is a missionary -- whether conducting "Sharing Ramadan" Outreach in the schools (where a soft-voiced Pakistani woman is usually the soothing propagandist of choice), or Da'wa in a prison. The more Muslims there are, the more there will be -- and no one knows which "moderate" will end up distinctly non-moderate in his views, and then in his acts.

And this brings up the most important problem: the impermanance of "moderate" attitudes. What makes anyone think that someone who this week or month has definitely turned his back on Jihad, who will have nothing to do with those he calls the "fanatics," if he does not make a clean break with Islam, does not become a "renegade" or apostate, will at some point "revert" not to Islam, which he never left, but to a more devout form, in which he now subscribes to all of its tenets, and not merely to a few having to do with rites of individual worship?

6. The examples to the contrary are both those of individuals, and of whole societies. As for individual Muslims, some started out as mild-mannered and largely indifferent to Islam, and then underwent some kind of crisis and reverted to a much more fanatical brand of Islam. That was the case with urban planner Mohammad Atta, following his disorienting encounter with modern Western ways in Hamburg, Germany -- Reeperbahn and all. That was also the case with "Mike" Hawash, the Internet engineer earning $360,000 a year, who seemed completely integrated (American wife, Little League for the children, friends among fellow executives at Intel who would swear up and down that he was innocent) -- until one fine day, after the World Trade Center attacks, he made out his will, signed the house over to his wife, and set off to fight alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (he got as far as China) against his fellow Americans. In other words, if fanatical Muslims exist, it does not mean that they all start out as fanatics. Islam is the necessary starting place, and what sets off a "moderate" may have little to do with anything the Infidels do, any question of foreign policy -- it may simply be a crisis in an individual Muslim's life, to which he seeks an answer, not surprisingly, in ... more Islam.

7. Much the same lesson can be drawn from the experience of whole societies. In passing, one can note that the position of Infidels under the Pahlevi regime was better than it had been for centuries -- and under the regime that followed, that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that position of Infidels became worse than it had been for centuries. "Secularism" in Islamic countries is never permanent; the weight and the threat of Islam is ever-present.

The best example of this is Turkey since 1924, when Ataturk began his reforms. He tried in every way he could -- through the Hat Act (banishing the salat-friendly fez); commissioning a Turkish translation of the Qur'an and an accompanying tafsir (commentary) in Turkish; ending the use of Arabic script for Turkish; establishing government control of the mosques (even attacking recalcitrant imams and destroying their mosques); giving women the right to vote; establishing a system that discouraged the wearing of the hijab; encouraging Western dress; and discouraging, in the army, preferment of any soldier who showed too great an interest in religion. This attempt to constrain Islam was successful, and was reinforced by the national cult of Ataturk.

But the past few decades have shown that Islam does not die; it keeps coming back. In Turkey, it never went away, despite the creation of a secular stratum of society that amounts perhaps to 25% of the population, with another 25% wavering, and 50% still definitely traditional Muslims. Meanwhile, Turks in Germany become not less, but more fervent in their faith. And Turks in Turkey, of the kind who follow Erdogan, show that they may at any moment emerge and take power -- and slowly (very slowly, as long as that EU application has not been acted on, one way or another) they can undo Ataturk. He was temporary; Islam is forever.

8. That is why even the designation of some Muslims as "moderates" in the end means almost nothing. They swell Muslim numbers and the perceived Muslim power; "moderates" may help to mislead, to be in fact even more effective practitioners of taqiyya/kitman, for their motive may simply be loyalty to ancestors or embarrassment, not a malign desire to fool Infidels in order to disarm and then ultimately to destroy them.

9. For this reason, one has to keep one's eye always on the objective situation. What will make Infidels safer from a belief-system that is inimical to art, science, and all free inquiry, that stunts the mental growth, and that is based on a cruel Manichaean division of the world between Infidel and Believer? And the answer is: limiting the power –- military, political, diplomatic, economic power -- of all Muslim polities, and Muslim peoples, and diminishing, as much as possible, the Muslim presence, however amiable and plausible and seemingly untroubling a part of that presence may appear to be, in all the Lands of the Infidels. This is done not out of any spirit of enmity, but simply as an act of minimal self-protection -- and out of loyalty and gratitude to those who produced the civilization which, however it has been recently debased by its own inheritors, would disappear altogether were Muslims to succeed in islamizing Europe -- and then, possibly, other parts of the world as well.

10. "There are Muslim moderates. Islam itself is not moderate" is Ibn Warraq's lapidary formulation. To this one must add: we Infidels have no sure way to distinguish the real from the feigning "moderate" Muslim. We cannot spend our time trying to perfect methods to make such distinctions. Furthermore, in the end such distinctions may be meaningless if even the "real" moderates hide from us what Islam is all about, not out of any deeply-felt sinister motive, but out of a humanly-understandable ignorance (especially among some second or third-generation Muslims in the West), or embarrassment, or filial piety. And finally, yesterday's "moderate" can overnight be transformed into today's fanatic -- or tomorrow's.

Shall we entrust our own safety to the dreamy consolations of the phrase "moderate Muslim" and the shapeshifting concept behind it that can be transformed into something else in a minute?

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Hugh Fitzgerald contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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