The Myth of Moderate Islam?

By Molly McCarroll

In the past week, I have received far more feedback than usual from readers in response to an article suggesting that there is another dimension to the war on terror beyond the confrontation between the West and radical Islamists. There is also a tug-of-war between the radical and moderate factions within Islam and, if the wrong side wins, our efforts may never be successful.

In response, several readers have indignantly suggested that the idea of moderate, peaceful Islam is a myth. They argue that, at its heart, Islam is a religion bent on violence and domination. They are eager to cast the war on terror as a fight without subtlety and an unqualified contest between the West and Islam. They believe that statements by researchers, commentators, and politicians asserting that Islam is a religion of peace are only misguided attempts at politically correct avoidance of the real problem.

Such people are not alone. There is a collection of writers who argue that the visions of Islam represented by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Saudi-funded Wahhabis are glimpses into the heart of the religion. Their ideas and arguments find ready supporters in individuals who compare the recent track record of Islam with other world religions, tally up the number of suicide bombers in each, and then make blanket assumptions about the ideologies behind the actions. They feel that attempts to present an Islam with a human, moderate face are little more than avoidance tactics.

It is not difficult to understand how these beliefs can begin. Countless people have been hurt in the name of Islam. They have seen loved ones killed by terrorism, they have had their psychological sense of safety shattered, and they have fled their native lands, fearing persecution for their beliefs or actions if they stayed. There can be no doubt that something frightening and dark is happening in the heart of the Muslim world, geographically and ideologically defined, and that this phenomenon endangers all who stand before it.

But it is inappropriate, inaccurate, and insensitive to suggest that this is the face of Islam. In the 21st century, the barriers that once kept cultures apart have crumbled. The United States is not the homogenous place it once was and we all know a Muslim family down the street or coworker in the next cubicle. Our Muslim neighbors work hard at their jobs, struggle to raise a happy and well-adjusted family, and contribute to their community. They love and trust in their faith and strive to live a life that will lead them to salvation. They work to fulfill Islam’s Five Pillars, which do not include jihad or war against infidels. They live in all the world’s countries, including both the United States and the most fundamentalist of nations. They want only to be good people and would never consider raising a hand against another in anger.

Will we ignore these millions? It does not matter whether they are the majority or the minority, only that they exist. We must defend ourselves – as must they – against the forces of fundamentalism that would fight in fits of frustration against all who stand against them. But to deny the presence of the quiet multitudes who live lives of respectability and peace is to silence their voices. It is impossible to know the relative percentages of Muslims on either side of the fundamentalist divide, but we can know, with empirical certainty, that the divide exists.

The history and reality of Islam is complex and unquantifiable, as is that of every other historical force or community. Atrocities have been and will be committed in its name. But Muslims are the ones who know their religion best and their example should be far more instructive than our own suspicions. If we deny the example of all those Muslims who truly are peace-loving people, who live down the block and around the world, we deny reality and harm ourselves, our neighbors, and our future all at once.

This article excerpted form the Family Security Matters Website


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I no longer update this weblog due to academic and other preoccupations. However, feel free to browse through its older entries. Thanks.
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