We 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.