Islamic Fundamentalists v/s Moderates.

Islamic crescentWe are often told that if  Islamic moderates are encouraged to have a larger voice, then the fundamentalists will be marginalized. To keep them in our corner, the thinking goes, we need to ensure that they are not alienated by any of our actions. It proceeds from this that we need to be circumspect in our approach towards any issue pertaining Islam because if we offend / alienate the moderates, we have, in effect, squandered away the only buffer that lies between us and the foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists.

Words like “Fundamentalists” and “Moderates” have gradually gained currency and validity when referring to religious fervor. Civil society tends to frown upon fundamentalists and fawn upon the moderates – even to the point of mollycoddling their sensitivities.  In this post, I will try and show how intellectually bankrupt this approach is.

Fundamentalists are not necessarily violent. I know of several christian evangelists / organizations that are considered “fundamentalists” without any of them having resorted to naked violence. However, they are intensely devout and act out their devotion even if it intrudes upon upon the lives of others. They consider scripture to be the final arbiter of what is good and accurate even when presented with scientific evidence to the contrary. A case in point are creationists who think “Evolution” is a fabrication.

Moderates, on the other hand, are also devout persons but their devotion is lukewarm – one that is tempered by wisdom of the time and information. These are people who may well know the penalties prescribed for certain crimes (e.g. execution for idol-worship or polytheism or pre-marital sex) but they choose not to implement them. These are the good folks who pick a benign strand from here and a benevolent strand from there and weave their own version of their faith and convince themselves that this contrived model-of-life is indeed THE “true version”.

In short, the fundamentalists claim the whole fabric of scripture intact and moderates pick some threads (and ignore others) and weave them together using their own (kind) sensibilities. So one looks like a whole cloth and the other looks like a net (structurally there but with lots of holes in it).

It is not hard to see that the fundamentalists – repulsive as their world-view may be – are the ones that are honest to scripture while the moderates have actually re-fashioned the faith according to their (kind) world-view. Whatever one may say about their “goodness of heart”, it is plainly clear that they are not talking about “true” Islam (or Christianity or Hinduism….). Whether we like it or not, “authenticity” has an appeal that “pretense” can never even aspire for.

How can we then expect that these moderates will have any appeal with extremists? The truth is that the moderates NEVER did have a constituency outside their own sensibilities. An extremist is an extremist because he rejects the intrusion of these (modern) sensibilities upon the dictates of scripture.  On what theological basis can a moderate muslim dissuade an extremist jihadi from blowing up a room-full of infidels? The answer is ‘None’.

The coherent reasoning against mindless violence is *exactly* what the extremist rejects. He considers secular constructs such as common humanity and generally accepted norms of ethics a manifestation of the satanic evil of the west. What then, is the reason for us to fret that an unabashed critique of Islam would be too rash and would cause the moderates to lose ground – and having lost ground, they would also lose the argument against extremists? They have NEVER been arguing with extremists! They have ONLY been arguing with us (the secularists)!!

Soon after the initial shock and anger at a terrorist strike, eminent persons of moderate Islamic faith emerge from all quarters wearing the badge of “moderate Islam”. They decry “Jihad” and some even dress it up in new-age Deepak Chopra-esque mumbo-jumbo as some kind of a “spiritual struggle for self-betterment”. Who are they addressing this deceptive crap to? Do these guys have any constituency with the suicide-bomber community? No.  They solemnly dish out this bullshit to us and we are lulled into thinking that such a “domesticated” Islam, if given more room to play, could stem the Jihadi tide.  In fact, we even demure from a critique of rabid Islamic tenets because we think this could weaken the hand of moderates.

I submit to you that in reality we have only weakened our own hands by tying them together. The moderates (despite their good hearts) are no insurance against the extremists but they are a potent barrier against forceful anti-Jihadi discourse. Since anti-Jihadi discourse will inevitably be seen as being anti-Koranic (since Jihad is fundamentally a Koranic concept), we avoid this discussion so as to keep the moderates in our corner. Unfortunately this tactic only ends up painting ourselves into a corner.

10 Responses

  1. Nice blog!
    Keep it up.

  2. Glad you like it so far. Stay tuned …..

    Cheers & Merry Christmas

  3. Wow…brilliant insight. You’ve just put into words the root of my husband’s and my frustrations of trying to discuss extremism with our moderate (kind) Muslim cohorts in Pakistan. We could hardly discuss Islam with them (unless we were playing uber respectful curious about the ‘nice’ Islam), and the way they buried their heads in the sand about Islamic extremism was bang-your-head-on-a-wall frustrating. We definitely felt that they considered us (no matter how good a friend we were superficially) a greater enemy than the Taliban. They got rather defensive as well as dismissive when we tried to discuss Maulana Fazlala, the leader of the Swat fundos, who has now completely taken over the area with government sanction.
    Living in that world really was so bizarre!
    Thank you for this article. I’m already addicted to Kafirgirl and will add you to my RSS feed.
    Cheers, Kathy :)

  4. I fully agree with you that the moderates will never restrain the fundamentalists, but I’m doubtful about a few things. I’m all for giving it to Islam (and every other religion, both the moderates and fundamentalists), but I’ve been wondering, will this alienate the moderates and push more of them towards fundamentalism in the long run? Secondly, what exactly does forceful ant-jihadi discourse achieve? They’re not listening to us any more than they’re listening to the moderates.

    • Garret,

      Welcome to my blog. You ask a pertinent question when you ask if a robust response will alienate moderates and convert them to extremists. Frankly – its not a matter of strategy but a matter of principle.

      There are some principles that are non-negotiable and we cannot be seen to be ambiguous about them just to please a moderate base when they have no influence over the extremists base.

      In fact, in my opinion, Moderates tend to (inadvertently) aid and abet extremists and hence the moderates should not be excused from this debate. In fact, if it is true that thee are more moderates than extremists then focusing on them winning them over is paramount. However, winning them at the expense of principle is not winning at all. We should engage with moderates but keep reason and rationality as the basis for engagement.

      Of course they will crib and complain – but if we compromise on reason, we will have nothing else to offer except capitulation.

      You are seeding me with a thought for my next (or next to next) post.

      • Actually, the point was not to compromise for the sake of avoiding offence. Rather, I think attacking religion is necessary, but the tone needs to be different. All-round offence may only serve to alienate moderates and therefore what is more important is to calmly sow doubt in people’s minds. The fanatics deserve to be mocked and ridiculed, because there is no reasoning with them. But to take this approach with all religious people may be faulty. It’s great for a laugh, but in the long run it strengthens their faith and sense of martyrdom. Principles are important, but so is strategy. Anyway… these are ideas I’ve only recently started to form. I’m not sure yet. Am looking forward to your post(s).

  5. Very good article, I agree that moderates are “lukewarm”. They are “filtered thin”. I don’t like the term at all. What I would like to have in existence is the term “Democratic Muslims”. Who combine their religion with a fully fledged Democratic movement. Who are with other democrats against dictatorially minded co-religionists.

    Maybe the real Islamic “moderates” are the “sleeping” ones, Muslims in name only, far too busy with their own life and problems to consider their religion much. They need not worry us too much. We democrats have such “moderates” in abundance also.

    Caroline Glick from Jerusalem Post just the other day mentioned that Islamist parties are winning elections, want to win them or could be winning them in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt. She sees this as a danger because they really want war and conquest. And OK, could well be.

    But look, once democracy is in, the bluff is out. The winning party has to perform. And it most often can’t deliver for long. So then other parties gain the upper hand.

    Look the most committed wins, and we should not be committed to a goal merely aiming to let our democracies survive the onslaught, stopping Islam. Such a goal depresses me. We should go for Democracy Worldwide in my view, in most Islamic countries. And now I hear it is already dawning there from Mrs. Glick!

  6. […] expressed this sentiment. I am including a quick excerpt below and you can see his full comments here and here . “Will this (robust criticism of Islam) alienate the moderates and push more of them […]

  7. Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!

    I’m Out! :)

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