Does robust critique alienate moderate muslims ?

But it's OK to bash jews, christians, hindus and other infidels

But it's OK to bash jews, christians, hindus and other infidels

One of the pearls of received wisdom is that Muslim moderates should not be alienated in the process of confronting Islamic belligerence. I received a comment on an earlier article from Garreth where he has 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 towards fundamentalism in the long run? Secondly, what exactly does forceful anti-jihadi discourse achieve?”

Garreth is certainly not an apologist for Islam but he questions whether it would be wiser to have a gentler approach toward moderates while continuing relentless attack on extremists. Firstly, I’d like to thank Garreth for this thought-provoking comment and then explore his question in this post.

What makes a moderate?

Exactly how do we determine if a person is a moderate or not? Is the distinguishing characteristic “violence committed”? Does that make all Al Qaeeda sympethizers who are yet to engage in violence, moderates? Just how steeped should a person be in his/her faith before he/she becomes an extremist? You notice that things start getting a bit nebulous once honest inquiry begins. In my opinion, a moderate is one who, by his/her actions, has created a demonstrable distance between himself/herself and the perpetrators of an incident which he/she purports to find offensive.

When 9/11 occurred, everyone had a clear opportunity to be opposed to Islamic terrorism. The same was the case when 7/7 subway bombings occurred in London. Ditto for Madrid, Bali, Beslan and Mumbai. If moderate muslims do not stridently denounce these acts and its perpetrators, they are being ambivalent about it. When innocent lives are at stake, such ambivalence assumes the complexion of callous disregard (if not subtle endorsement). In such a situation, we cannot, and should not, be saddled with the responsibility of distinguishing between a moderate and an extremist. We should denounce Islam for the wickedness it engenders and not feel any reservation on the grounds that it might alienate the moderates – because the moderates have already decided to withdraw from the issue and thus alienate themselves.


Moderate muslims' silence resembles apathy - or worse - a quiet endorsement

Let me draw a scenario: If after 9/11 (or 7/7 or Bali, or Mumbai or Madrid…), mosques from Bali to Baghdad were to condemn and excommunicate Osama bin Laden; If his effigy were to be burnt in Saudi Arabian mosques after Friday prayers; If the likenesses of Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Zawahiri….. were to be subjected to public indignities in Karachi then moderate muslims would have already marked themselves as starkly different from rabid Islamists. Friend and foe would be clearly distinguishable. Under such circumstances, we would be well advised to fine-tune our critique to focus only on foes (Jihadi extremists). But since the moderates themselves have not made any such distinction, how can we be expected to do it for them? It proceeds from this that if the moderates have not shown any palpable desire to be seen differently from the extremists, why should the commentary be modulated as though such a distinction exists?

Goal of forceful anti-jihadi discourse

Moving on to Garreth’s 2nd question: What does forceful anti-Jihadi discourse achieve?

We are conditioned to believe that religion (especially Islam) deserves special deference. This manifests in withholding criticism about Islamic tenets – no matter how grotesque they are. By offering undeserved respect we have become facilitators for an evil worldview.

The problems we see with the Islamic world are wrongly diagnosed as a conflict with the West. They are a conflict with modernity itself! To resolve this, retrograde ideas and ideologies must be exposed and eventually jettisoned. This cannot be done by treading lightly around these issues. Commentary and analysis must be brutally frank and stark. Undoubtedly some folks would be hurt – but not doing it causes even greater harm.

In my opinion, robust anti-Jihadi discourse breaks the taboo that keeps Islam safe in its sanctimonious cocoon from which it spews its toxic and venomous ideology.

Islamic blood-lust starts early

Islamic bloodlust starts early

How can we call the Koran noble or divine and then deride those that follow its violent instructions? How can we denounce violent Jihad when the very same Jihad is expounded by the Koran and exemplified in the life of the Prophet Mohammed in the Hadith? How can we condemn beheading for apostasy when that is *precisely* what is commanded by the Koran and the Hadith? How can we ask muslims to end their visceral hatred for Jews when that hatred is *specifically* enshrined in Islamic scripture?

There is no need to treat Islam as a holy-cow. Holy-cows yield holy-bullshit – and in unholy amounts. Its time we called a spade a spade! It may be worrisome to some that this would “alienate” moderate muslims but I would hasten to point out that our current practice of pussy-footing around Koranic blood-lust has not tamed the genocidal Jihadi impulse either. In fact it has grown to sinister proportions. If you doubt this, read any Pakistani newspaper headlines highlighting how the Taliban is laying siege to Pakistan.

If you liked this, please also read: Fundamentalists v/s Moderates


33 Responses

  1. I question the premise of this whole discussion. Can you even demonstrate for me that this animal called “moderate Islam” exists? I’m not convinced that it does, at least in any of the important instiutions of the Ummah.

    I propose that the whole notion of “moderate Muslims” is basically a construct of the West, which takes such pains to separate out the majority “good Germans” from the few “Nazis.” (I actually think that this is a very meaningful metaphor; the world today very much resembles the Europe of 1930s, where appeasers assured “peace in our time” while horrifying evil picked up steam in Germany.)

    So why do people subscribe to this myth of moderation? I posit that there are three types of subscribers, and that there is some overlap among them: 1) Ignorant people who just assume that your average, mainstream Muslim wants the same things (liberal democracy, women’s rights, mutual respect among cultures, etc.) that we want. Based on this thinking, there must be a large population–a silent, moderate majority–whom we can engage. 2) People who are too cowardly to admit that there is a horrible evil approaching from just over the horizon–indeed, already seeping over it–and are desperate to find someone we can “do business with,” as Mrs. Thatcher said of MS Gorbachev. 3) People who don’t have the stomach for the vicious, merciless measures (a la Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.) we’re going to have to take against the Ummah.

    The moderates are a fairy tale. Being disappointed that they don’t denounce their coreligionists’ crimes is exactly like being disappointed that Santa doesn’t leave you presents.

    I take that back: It’s not exactly the same. At least, in the Santa myth, the adults step in and deliver the goodies. In the moderate myth, the Ummah offers no adult supervision, and the goodies (peaceful coexistence) never appear.

    Seriously: I would love to be proven wrong! Name one significant institution in the Ummah that espouses moderation. Any major Arab government? Any major Islamic center of learning? Any major mosque?

    I hate to say it–bloodshed really sucks–but the sooner the civilized world gets down to the task at hand, the safer we’ll all be, from Manhattan to Mumbai.

    • Well said Dhimwit.

      We are essentially saying the same thing – but you are more eloquent than me. My basic point is that we cannot and should not tailor the discourse to cater to a phantom entity (i.e. moderate muslims). If such an entity exists then it must manifest in clear and unambiguous actions. If not, then worrying about such an entity is futile.

      • Dhimwit and Rohit,

        I do feel, there do exist moderate Muslims whose proportion I can’t guess, and yes, they do protest against the violent acts, but not on public platforms–for simplest reason–they fear for their safety. The cartoon you posted is impressive, but there’s one flaw, I don’t think those who’d protested to Salman Rushdie’s knighthood ought to be labeled as ‘moderates’.

        But even when I disagree with you on this point, I concede, I don’t know the solution to this problem (which is ultra-grave).

        Yes, but I agree that our criticism of any practice detrimental to larger social good (religious or otherwise) needs to be strongly criticized. There’s nothing wrong with that. Only those who choose to align their loyalties to those irrational principles would take offence, and the critic, then, can’t be held guilty of hurting sentiments as it’d be the fault of one harboring those sentiments. So, by this logic, one’s not alienating moderate Muslims by criticizing practices that are IRRATIONAL by simple logic that if they’d be moderate, they themselves would be critical of them (in their minds, if not vocally so).

        But I don’t think any kind of written, graphic or spoken criticism is going to lessen the evil spewed by irrational thinking. All this protestation might help up vent our frustration, but would change nothing at the ground level.


  2. The idea that, somehow, uncompromising criticism would lead to the result that moderate muslims radicalized crumbles when looking into specifics:

    For example:
    If we, unconditionally demand that moderate Muslims distance themselves from, even expressing their aversion to, their Prophet’s fascination with nineyearolds, would that demand suddenly make a person already troubled by their Prophet’s pedophilia an adherent of underage sex??

    I simply don’t get it..

  3. […] in In the News at 9:33 PM by waltjr Source: My Mind Droppings Posted on May 5, 2009 by […]

  4. What is a moderate any way? The people often called Muslim moderates are no more than apologists, but that’s not to say moderates don’t exit. I guess it depends on how we define the word. It has to be something that can be true for other religions.

    I like the term secular as opposed to moderate because I know many who consider themselves Muslim, but then subscribe to western values. Islam is a private matter for them. How they consolidate the contradictions of Islam with their values is difficult to understand, but Christians and Jews do it all the time.

    Yes, I believe you can alienate secular Muslims. They are already under attack by religious zealots from within Islam and I don’t think it’s productive to make generalized attacks on all Muslims which include those that can be allies.

  5. @Elis:

    To an extent, I agree with your point about nomenclature. The very word “moderate” seems a bit silly, and at least needs to be defined–a point I forgot to make in my earlier post. (Those of you who have read Edward Said will recall his problems with the word “Oriental”; to me, these seem similar to the problems with “moderate.”)

    Where you and I may not agree, though, is on whether “moderates”/”secularists”/whatevers do or do not exist.

    You can convince me easily, though. Please see my earlier post, above. Can you name one significant institution in the Ummah that advocates moderation? For example, by loudly condemning 9/11, 7/7, etc.? Or by condemning child marriage?

    Please tell me where I can find these secular Muslims!

  6. Aside from the established institutions which I consider propagators of hate, Secular Muslims, especially in the Persian Gulf and North Africa are many. Their Arabic blogs and forums litter the net with few having large following. There are also several Arab atheist forums and blogs operating within the region.

  7. In the Gulf, do you mean Iraq or Iran? Or maybe you mean Abu Dhabi, where a half-brother of the ruling Emir was videotaped torturing a business associate? Or the larger UAE, which still rejects the existence of Israel?

    Or maybe you are thinking more of the Maghreb. Here’s a fun link for you:

    In case you don’t feel like following the link, here’s what it shows us: Internet users in Rafat and Casablanca (both in “moderate” Morocco) are the world’s 2nd and 3rd biggest searchers for “jihad.”) (Number one is “moderate” Indonesia.)

    So it’s very nice that a few (by your own admission) progressive Muslims have/read blogs and fora. It’s also quite irrelevant.

  8. dhimwit, I don’t know what google trends prove to you, but here’s one on torture:

    I bet if this Emir’s brother was your friend, you’d call it enhanced interrogation techniques. It’s evil, but I can’t see your point, unless despots exist in larger numbers than the bloggers you dismissed as irrelevant.

    What do all of the things you mentioned prove to you?

  9. Folks (Dhimwit and Ellis),

    This conversation started off rather admirably but I am detecting that over time, it has developed a slightly snarky tone. I want to believe that both of you have your honest convictions and these may never converge – but could we extend each other the courtesy of not pre-supposing intent or disposition. We don’t know enough of each other to draw character-sketches and then savage them.

    Now getting back to the conversation which I am enjoying fully:

    The sense in which the term “moderate muslim” is used is “Practitioners of Islam who reject and repudiate violence and other pernicious dogma even though it is scripturally sanctioned”.

    Dhimwit is asking for (and correct me if I’m wrong) objective evidence of such Moderate Muslims – which goes beyond a smattering of individual progressives. The point being: If discourse has to be circumspect so as to avoid giving offense to moderates, then such moderates must be :

    a. clearly discernible.
    b. in sufficiently large numbers
    c. demonstrably willing to take on extremists that besmirch their faith.

    However, what Ellis is referring to are (and correct me if I’m wrong) Individual progressives that do not personally subscribe to Jihadi impulses but are operating under some kind of self-exile due to cultural, political, religious, familial taboos.

    While its heartening to know such individuals exist, do they exist as a respectable force which warrants the curtailment of robust critique?

    That is the question.

    Over to you Ellis and Dhimwit……

  10. I have a follow-up point:

    If the issue at hand were Apartheid (say in South Africa) the perpetrators of such a vile system were the whites. It is reasonable to presume that even at the height (or depth) of the reign of apartheid, at least some among the whites were progressive enough to know the evil behind the system.

    Should criticism of Apartheid have been curtailed (or at least carefully calibrated) such that those few were not unfairly tarnished and thus alienated?

  11. Imagine if South African blacks ran a newspaper on the evils of South African whites and wondered if there are moderate whites who repudiate the apartheid stance. It’s easy to imply white South Africans are evil without actually saying so, and I believe that’s counterproductive. On the other hand, engaging whites that are not actively pushing apartheid, but are living within its system, and conveying to them how harmful it is might be very helpful.

    The violent aspects of Islam is a source of embarrassment for moderates, as you define them, and many who genuinely believe Islam is a peaceful religion struggle to make sense of it. Those people are both winnable and alienable. On the other hand, clerics that preach those ideas (and their followers) are beyond debate and deserve nothing but condemnation and ridicule.

  12. Ellis,

    As a matter of fact, many South African leaders (including Mandela) denounced Whites in general as the oppressors and did not bother to distinguish between the establishment white-supremacists and other white folks that may have actually been opposed to apartheid.

    Dr. Martin Luther King said that (and I am paraphrasing) “The continued oppression of the negro is not due to the committed racist but due to the indifference of the average white man”.

    This shows that social commentary makes broad statements and does not dwell on making exceptions. It is generally expected that those who are born into the oppressive class have it in them to rise above those boundaries – just like millions of white people in America during the time of the civil rights movement.

    Those protesting institutionalized discrimination in India (of untouchables) regularly rail against the upper-caste oppressors knowing very well that some of the finest reformers have hailed from these very same “upper castes” (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru..).

    Arab communities regularly rail against the US for the Iraq war. Do they make exceptions in that commentary to accommodate the sizeable anti-war segment of the US? Do those Americans or westerners get all heart-broken that the Arab press does not take them into account?

    My point is that muslim moderates need to stop wallowing in self-pity and rise and be counted. If they are as enlightened as you describe (and i want to believe it) then they should be able to understand that robust critique (of Islam) is a healthy thing and not take it personally. They should understand that the world legitimately feels threatened by Islamic blood-lust and if social commentary were to revile such blood-lust then they need not get bent out of shape over it. Moreover, they should join such a critique.

    My dismay lies in the fact that although these good folks are not sympathetic to the the holy beards, they are overly sensitive to legitimate criticism. As a result social commentary is curtailed which in turn leads to giving Islam a free pass.

    I’m just too tired of folks playing the victim card. And that is rather too annoying!!


  13. Yes, I am in accordance with your very good article. I think “Moderates” means literally “less of something”. To me it is even a stupid term.

    But there is something else I like to say, then combine that with your article. In the end we should be FOR something, not AGAINST something, I feel. We are now getting much information and analysing it and that’s great. But when formulating a strategy, it seems important to me to formulate what we are FOR , not what we are AGAINST, which should only be in service of what we are FOR. But that’s just me, of course.

    But what if we for now say we want Democratic rules, human rights, Golden Rule worldwide. Later to work that out tremendously. Then we get: “They” will try to block or stop “us”. Now “we” are trying to block/ stop “them”.

    In this scenario we require from Muslims to be really neutral or help us with democracy against its dictatorial enemies. So we could make the division “Democratic Muslims’ versus “Dictatorial Muslims” or so. We could formulate ever better what our worldwide positive goals are and get ever more dedicated, committed people on our side. We now seem to be so lukewarm, so uncommitted. Our enemy seems so clear in its goals, and so committed.

  14. HD

    you may want to watch this video .

    • Thanks for the video-post NN.

      You notice the sophistry that this CAIR dude (Yunus) is using to justify intellectual cowardice. He keeps asserting that the miscreants are less than 1% of the muslim population and the 99% reject such crap. But he NEVER cares to clarify where these 99% are and what actions they take to marginalize the 1%.

  15. Demsci,

    Democracy in a Muslim majority country is useless without established separation of religion and government. Otherwise you’ll get a country that veils women by law, persecutes gays, and prohibits criticism of Islam… just to mention few.

  16. The problem, according to muslim fanatics, is that there are
    People who don’t have the stomach for the vicious, merciless measures (a la Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.) we’re going to have to take against the Infidels. … I hate to say it–bloodshed really sucks–but the sooner the Islamic world gets down to the task at hand, the safer we’ll all be, from Baghdad to Riyadh.
    and the kaffir fanatic’s answer is to respond in kind: all muslims are evil, evil people must be killed, therefore we need to massacre over a billion people, one sixth of the world’s population. Setting aside any moral questions, this is impossible, and stupid.

    I want no part of either. What we are for is rationality, and these are not rational positions. A rational position is one that produces good results. The simple minded kneejerk response to kill them all does not (as the US has admirably demonstrated).

    This blog eloquently lays out the case for criticizing muslim moderates. To my mind the discussion should move to how best to go about this. What is productive?

    I’d say follow Johann Hari’s advice in promotion of free speech. World opinion, expressed largely via the blogosphere, has caused the Saudi authorities to overrule the beards and annul the marriage of an 8yo girl.
    I’d also welcome any rational muslims as allies. As a significant Muslim institution that espouses moderation I would offer the Jama Masjid Trust, who refused to bury the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre. They should be applauded for their stand on this.
    Finally, I’d demand an answer to the question of what islam “is”, what it means to be a muslim. When most muslims reject the beards the same as most catholics reject the pope’s ravings, we can all relax.

    • Uzza,

      There are many good points that you made (Rationality as a weapon, overwhelming public-opinion as a weapon, freedom of speech as a weapon, acclaim of moderation when it shows up…).

      However, I suspect that there is a tendency for over-simplification whenever military action as a subject is brought into the boundaries of the conversation.

      I concede that those who bring such a subject into the conversation have a special responsibility to ensure that the tone and tenor does not lend itself to an interpretation that resembles blood-lust for the sake of blood-lust.

      However, I also feel that summarily rejecting military actions from the conversation is also a “knee-jerk” reaction.

      I’ll let Dhimwit defend his own statement – but here is what I think:

      Not only are we entitled to criticize Islamic fundamentalists and the Islamic doctrine from which they derive inspiration, we are also within our rights to critique moderates whose passivity permits such outrage to proliferate.

      However, no matter how much we try to contain this menace within the boundaries of civil discourse, there is a significant mortal threat that is gathering steam. And that threat is not interested in public opinion or public discourse. For them killing and dying in the way of Allah is all that matters. You are blogging the Koran and you are intimately aware of this.

      This threat can only be responded to militarily. However, we often find ourselves being tentative in this regard. And the PRIME REASON for this is that we seek to not offend or otherwise inflame the “moderate muslims”. This fixation with the sentiments of moderate muslims often hamstrings us and we (unwittingly) let the cancer grow.

      A case in point is the bombings on the Afghan/Pakistan border. It is abundantly clear that the area is infested with Islamic terrorists of every stripe. We really ought to be taking robust action. But what keeps us from it is collateral damage and how that will affect the “so-called moderate majority of Pakistanis” (whom we need as allies). It is this that permits the Taliban to proliferate.

      Today, Pakistan is taking robust measures and almost half-a-million people are displaced. Would this have been necessary if a robust action were taken 3 or 4 years ago?

      The same applies to Hamas & Hezbollah terrorists. They launch rockets from Gaza for months on end – but Israel is supposed to show restraint as as to avoid civilian casualties. It is this kind of restraint that lets Hamas live to fight another day.

      Let me be clear that I AM NOT ADVOCATING ethnic cleansing. I AM ADVOCATING ROBUST RESISTANCE to the Islamic menace. This resistance covers a wide spectrum ranging from civil discourse to foreign-policy. But it also includes military action as ONE component. Excluding that simply on ideological grounds is also not a rational position.

      I think I may have stated all of this (and possibly better) in an earlier post Confronting Islamic Terror.

  17. Ok, the military option is on the table. But so many Western or Indian people are not even yet awake to the danger, it seems. We are here discussing what the threat precisely is, including the attitude of many of the threathened. Then how to unite, then about our best long-term-strategy.

    As a very small part of the strategy, what about a contract an immigrant has to sign to be for all the relevant democratic rules? What about (s)he is told that undermining democratic rules, helping democracy’s enemies gives us the right to expel him/ her? Besides, in the long run we should demand from the muslims that they unequivocally choose for ALL democratic states, over ALL dictatorial states.

    Although there could well be disproportionate crime from immigrant muslims, I still think that if we protect and expand real democracy, then democracy will protect us. Because 1 of the main advantages of democracy is the high number of watchdogs, what with free speech and constitutional state. Islamic parties, persons can come to power, but not hold on to it if misbehaving or performing low. But of course you really need good democratic watchdogs for this! And yes, that may include the military!

    I also think we need a lot of money, but we may be able to use this money in a constructive way. And there are also many people who are non-Islamic or ex-Islamic, or only superficially Islamic that would very gladly migrate out of Islamic dictatorial countries, next to the inevitable potentially hostile muslims.

    In the end, with money, democratic contracts, and some form of “colonies” we could lure so many people from under Islamic dictatorial regimes into these new colonies, somewhere, “empty” to begin with.

    By and large well functioning democracies shall keep attracting people to them, Islamic dictatorial states always make so many people destitute and desperate enough to leave them. This is our trump-card, our soft power.

    Land where people live is not so relevant, what is much more relevant is a tendency, direction with ever more people moving to, living in, grow up in real democratic countries, if necessary new colonies”. At the cost of people living under dictators, Islamic laws etc.

    I think this because trying to democraticize Islamic countries is a very difficult and slow process, but managing immigrants with the help of building a good economy, contracts for democratic behavior, is the natural thing, because migration is already going on and so one-directional. It also could direct people from where they are poor and unproductive, to more where they are more productive, hence more prosperous.

    Is there really, really, really, no way on earth we could use THIS? This is a positive, building way of “counter-attacking” for the whole 21st century, it aims for ever more people under strong democracy, that’s the main point. Look, I believe they want to “gobble” us up, but let us try to “gobble” them up. Let them fear us to!

    The situation now is: Islamic dictatorial countries expand in citizenry AND export a lot of citizens to Democratic countries, 2 big disadvantages for us, especially without any “democracy-contract”.

  18. Hi Demsci,

    I agree with the general thrust of your comment. We should try everything possible to wean people from Islamic dictatorship. I am not sure about the colonization idea – I would need to think a bit more about it and perhaps you could clarify it yourself.

    But I do have a question for you to consider: What would happen if an Islamic democracy wished to execute an Islamic dictate?

    What if a muslim majority nation which has something like a democracy were to go all Jihadi on us? Think Iran and think Palestinian Authority (with Hamas being the elected rulers). What then?

  19. Re Democracy—Hamas is a democratically elected government. ’nuff said.

    It’s amazing to hear that we shouldn’t worry about how collateral damage will affect…people. It will affect them by making them join our enemies to get revenge. I would. So would you. When you say “collateral damage”, what you mean is killing innocent civilians. Uhhh, the reason we don’t like terrorists is precisely because they kill innocent civilians. If we are going to become terrorists ourselves, it’d be a lot simpler to just become muslims.

    I don’t know where you get the idea I reject military action. I do however, insist that military action have a coherent and realistic goal, not just dick waving. What exactly is the military expected to DO?

    Suppose the military set and met a goal of killing every single member of Hamas. You can’t seriously think that people wouldn’t simply elect new ones. The popular support they enjoy effectively means that every man woman and child in Gaza is a member of Hamas. So logically, the military should kill everyone. This is an achievable goal, however in my view it would simply attract jihadis from all over the world, and nothing would change. Before we “take robust action” and “be merciless” and “finish the job”, we had best say what the job is.

    This is a battle of ideas, as is every conflict, even WWII. The idea held by religionists, muslims or christians alike, is that everyone should follow rules set by their leader. The idea held by secularists is that everyone should follow rules set by mutual negotiation amongst all parties. Law enforcement deals with those who refuse to participate.

    Of more than 600 terror groups active since the 1960s. police work resolved nearly all of them, military action less than 10%. Non-state groups like the Taliban or Ku Klux Klan arise to fill a need (most often created by military action). They provide something people want. We didn’t defeat the KKK by calling in air strikes and artillery, nor will we so defeat islamism. We’ll only win by getting their followers to think differently. The role of the military is a very minor one, too often misused and self-defeating.

    • Uzza,

      Thanks for your detailed note. I could clearly see the nobility of your intent (and I sincerely mean that) but I would hasten to add that that does not constitute merit.

      At no point have I advocated militiristic swagger (AKA – dick waving). You are ascribing a non-existent character and motive to my argument. Denouncing that does not add any substance to the conversation.

      I have ALWAYS argued in favor of military strikes directed at terror groups and their operational zones. This is not the same thing as “wiping xyz off the map” or “killing every muslim” as you seem to be implying my argument is.

      You rightly demand a clear enunciation of the “job” so I will do it for you: The job is to eliminate/liquidate existing terrorists and their operational capability in such a debilitating manner that makes it untenable for it to rise again.

      Don’t tell me that military action does not achieve anything. The Germans and Japanese, who until then had a considerable appetite for world domination, lost interest in it because the allies unleashed spine-breaking retribution upon them. Try and visualize what the world would look like today if we were to flinch from that dreadful action during WWII. Undoubtedly, this came at a HUGE human cost. But it did break the spine of an otherwise determined and messianic adversary.

      The Germans did not just go and elect themselves a new Feuhrer and the Japanese did not just go and get a new naval fleet. The ferocity of the retribution made them snap out of the certainty about their divinely ordained destiny as the overlords of the world.

      I fully agree that these are repugnant propositions and I salute your admirable sentiments but when you say that military action simply sets the stage for continued hostility, I’m afraid history does not bear witness to that claim.

      Now let me give you 3 specific examples where I advocate (or advocated) deliberate and concerted and forceful military action:

      a. Afghanistan (by NATO / US forces).
      b. Palestine/Gaza (by Israel)
      c. Pakistan-administered Kashmir (by India)

      I want (or wanted) the relevant military forces to bomb every known or suspected terror camp or haven in these areas. Undoubtedly there will be civilian deaths – but these would be un-intentional – but unfortunately unavoidable due to the nature of the conflict.

      It is silly to equate that with INTENTIONAL murder that Jihadis want to commit when they bomb a subway or a bazaar or a hotel or a railway terminus. It is disingenuous to suggest that we are driven by blood-lust akin to the Jihadis. That is just crap!

      Collateral damage occurs because we are constrained by the means available to us with which to visit retribution on our foes. In other words, if we could bomb only the Jihadi and not the peasant who happens to be in his vicinity, we would. That is in stark contrast to the Jihadi intent of actually TARGETING the innocent.

      The primary difference between us and the Jihadis does not lie in only the act but in the INTENTION behind the act.

      Now for your assertion about 600 terror groups since 1960s…. and military action only addressed 10% of the cases and the rest through police-action…..

      The default action against ALL undesirables is police-action coupled with public sentiment. But when the threat level crosses a certain threshold, it goes beyond the capacity and mandate of those options and it enters a zone that is traditionally the reserve of the armed forces (military). Your assertion about 600 terror groups etc does not say anything interesting. All it says is that only 10% of the cases were large or hazardous enough to warrant military action. That does not mean that military action – by definition – is a failure.

      The KKK were (and possibly still are) violent and repugnant – but the treat they pose is of a level that police-action can contain and/or quell. If you think police-action can quell the Hamas or contain the Taliban then you probably know something that nobody else does.

      In conclusion, I have stated time and again that every attempt must be made to use non-lethal force (diplomacy, commerce, education…..) but even after we have expended all of those options, we are likely to left with a significant amount of Jihadis who are simply beyond engagement and can only be tackled with force. It is in confronting this rather large segment that we must not by hamstrung by the inevitable collateral damage. I urge you to keep in mind that I AM NOT ADVOCATING military action as either the first or the only response. However, I am saying that there is a role for the military where everything else fails. And in performing that role we should accept that tragic human cost will need to be borne.

  20. Hello, website-keeper,
    Well, about Islamic Democracies as opposed to Islamic dictatorial countries. Iran is definitely NOT an Islamic Democracy. I agree that HAMAS did come to power democratically, but it maintains only a very weak democracy.

    I like us to go for strong democracy over as many people as we can, but to defend ourselves against all dictatorships, with military force if need be. Now what if a democratically chosen government, really held accountable by her parliament and free press, were to attack us? Then we fight it out, go down maybe, I don’t know anything better than that right now.

    But I do know that real, strong democracies never fought each other! America + Britain only fought dictatorial countries. I do know that the % of casualties from murder and war is dropping all the time, for hundreds, tens of years now. The % of men growing into their 80’s is higher than ever and rising. Note that they were not killed in murder or war if reaching 80.

  21. I appreciate your reply very much. The colonization-idea is based on contracts for the keeping of democratic rules. On the soil on which we live not being so important as the system we live under. On the idea that as much free migration as possible, only with contracts, is yet one more democratic principle, because people can then vote with their feet.

    Look if we were not so conscious of how much worse the Islamic dictatorial system is in comparison with ours, why would we bother in the first place? But we can become ever more conscious about our system’s advantages. We can try to expand it, advertise it.

    Land can be found somewhere on the Earth. The ancient Greeks already colonized the Aegean, America was colonized, initially by Europeans. The crux is the money, the starting of the economy. Many people do not jeopardize the livelyhood of them + their family, so aiming for yet more prosperity on earth is good for us too.

    Islam behaves in a way outrageously in the 57 Islamic countries. There are apostacy-laws, prohibition of missionary work of other religions, huge one-sided propaganda. This is monopoly, outrageously unfair competition. That alone we should never tire to tell the Muslim community in the West. In the end they either reject Islamic favoritism or be our opponents. The same goes for all laws and customs that make women 2nd rank citizens. It is dangerous and unacceptable for us them choosing that over our system. That is why I don’t want to hear some “moderates”, but Muslims’ unequivocal support of all democracies over all dictatorships.

  22. You personally I didn’t mean to accuse of dick-waving, as you’re far too intelligent. Still you have to admit that a large portion, I would say the majority, of calls for military action are just that; driven by jingoism, vengeance, even blood-lust. My concern is to weed those out of any discussion.

    You misrepresent my position by ascribing it nobility. I did not claim that military action is by definition a failure, nor that it doesn’t achieve anything, nor that military action sets the stage for continued hostilities. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. For every success like WWII, one can cite failures like the Hundred Years War. Criticizing the failures does not make me some starry eyed idealist, nor does it equate to blanket condemnation of all military action. I agree that there is a role for the military, and wouldn’t even stipulate that it be a last resort where everything else fails. I only insist that it be used effectively, so that it doesn’t backfire. The interesting thing about the statistics is that military action only resolved 10% even though it addressed far more.

    We disagree that intentions justify actions. I don’t want my children to be killed, and it makes no difference if the bomb that kills them comes from Osama or Obama. Whether you are trying to save me from Islamic theocracy or Western immorality, apologies at the funeral don’t mean shit. That, however is not the argument I am trying to make. Better than getting sidetracked into discussions of morality that never go anywhere, is to focus on results. Bombing a known terror camp is generally appropriate. Bombing a suspected terror camp, or attacking anything on suspicion, is inadvisable on strategical grounds. There is the slippery slope argument, and blowback. A distinction between state and non-state actors is probably important.

    We also disagree on the utility of retribution. When someone kicks your ass, human nature is to fight back, not to lie down and give up. The Axis did not surrender because they were cowed by the ferocity of the Allied offensives. The Japanese laid down their arms when the Emperor got on the radio and told them to. The Germans did when they no longer had a leader telling them to fight. Since Islam has no Pope, neither of these examples is very relevant. Better examples might be Israel’s most recent thrubbings of Hezbollah, and Hamas, or OSB’s of the US, all of which made the recipients stronger. That’s the danger in inappropriate use of the military that we must recognize and avoid. To liquidate the terrorists and their operational capability is good as a military objective, but pointless if they will simply be rebuilt. Whether it is done in a debilitating manner or some other is pretty much irrelevant, it has to be done in a manner that will be permanent. Military force can only achieve the temporary part, and that is what makes this a war of ideas. These discussions are interesting and fruitful. I’m sending this just before I leave but I’ll check for updates when I can.

  23. Uzza,

    Its a delight to debate you. I know you need to take some time off and attend to other pressing issues. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you get back.

    In the meanwhile, I want to tabulate things that we agree and disagree on so that we do not get bogged down parsing semantics in non-contest areas:

    Where we agree:
    1. There is a legitimate role and place for military action.
    2. When all else fails, military action is appropriate and necessary.
    3. Military action MUST be goal-oriented and not driven by testosterone-fueled-jingoism as often seen in the media chatter.

    Where we disagree:
    a. Ethics of collateral damage.
    b. Ethics of Retributive / Punitive action.

    Ethics of Collateral Damage
    Today Pakistani forces are fighting a pitched battle against hardened Taliban (after the collapse of a pathetic truce that they call a “peace-deal”) in the Swat valley . Thousands are said to be killed and/or wounded. Almost a million civilians have been displaced.

    When artillery fire is directed at militant holdouts, innumerable civilians also die or are wounded. Moreover, when gunfire is directed at a site, the authorities can never be ABSOLUTELY certain that it is a militant hideout. In other words, they can only act on “reasonable suspicion”.

    Western pressure notwithstanding, Pakistan is fighting a bloody insurgency and fighting it determinedly. The goal (at least publicly stated) is to “Eliminate” the Taliban. I would eagerly support that goal knowing full well that it will extract a HUGE and TRAGIC human cost. And here is the reason: I do not know of a better alternative!

    If there were a bomb that would only detonate in the presence of terrorists or restrict the blast-radius to only liquidate the Taliban and leave the civilian un-harmed, I would want it used. But since there is no such thing, the next best alternative must be pressed into service – knowing full well that this “next-best-thing” is a (relatively) dumb incendiary device that only follows the physics of detonation and not human morality.

    If collateral damage were to be a disqualifier then I am left with no option but to succumb to the Taliban. Since this is not an acceptable option, I choose the only option available – i.e. military force. I have no trouble in calling this a pragmatic position and I’m fairly sure you would not call this “Jingoism”.

    Ethics of Retributive action.
    You may not like the sound of it – but retribution has a primal feel to it and hence it endures as a motivator and de-motivator. ALL of humanity responds to it in one context or another. Yes the emperor asked Japanese forces to surrender but he did not do this because of the milk of human-kindness surging in his heart but because of ferocious retribution. I would argue that not doing so might have invited further indignities which he found eminently avoidable. In short, retribution squeezes the balls enough to bring about a change in heart.

    Yes its true that Islamists don’t have an emperor or a Pope. But its also true that the Japanese Emperor did not reach this conclusion through his own wisdom. He was advised by the very same war-machine that its time had passed. My point is that the war-machine knows when its ass is being kicked and so will the Taliban, Al Qaeeda, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Lashkar-e-Tayebba, Jaish-e-Muhummad, Hamas, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad ………

    Our problem is that we want 2 mutually incompatible outcomes:
    a. We want to be “proportional” in our response.
    b. We want the results to be permanent.

    When we fight messianic maniacs, we have to understand that if we want permanent or lasting results we need to use measures that are “overwhelming” enough to be enduring.

  24. You say “Its a delight to debate you.” Thank you, the feeling is mutual. I’m back, so…
    Where we agree:
    Mostly right, with one caveat on #2. Military action is a useful tool, and like any tool, it performs certain tasks; In my toolbox are saws for use [in cutting wood], and hammers for use [in driving nails]. There is no tool for use [when all else fails]. Putting it that way implies you don’t know what task it’s for, and/or it shouldn’t be used at all. On the contrary, when the task for which it is appropriate appears, it should be the first thing to be used.

    Where we disagree:
    You insist on talking about ethics even though from the first I have said I see no point in discussing them. I’ll skip to ‘what we want’:

    b. If by permanent we mean so there are no more fanatics ever, then no, this is not a goal because it is not possible. This simple minded fantasy only fits the the cartoon version of reality held by immature cowboys like George Bush, killing the bad guys brings any problem to a happy ending. OTOH, if by permanent we mean a permanent ongoing program that ensures fanatics lose rather than gain power —by arming themselves, gaining recruits, etc—then yes we want results to be permanent.

    a. For two things to be proportionate it must be possible to measure them in the same coin. There can’t be equal proportions of democracy and lemon juice. Asking if your response is proportionate presupposes that you respond in kind, in a currency set by the aggressor. Since you are allowing your opponent to define your response, you’ve already lost. So no, I want the question of proportion, which is mostly ethical anyhow, to be irrelevant. I want results to be EFFECTIVE.

    c. What we do NOT want is a response motivated by primal feelings of revenge, and justified by ethical rationalizations.

  25. I realize now too that democracy can come only after education, honest information and rationality are at a sufficiently high level for it. So these 3 we should endeavour to enhance everywhere, among men AND women. And it is already happening on a large scale. Fortunately Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have realized that letting their populations stay uneducated is not a good policy.

    This thread is about “moderate Muslims”. But to me “moderate” is a useless misnomer. It describes Muslims who have less Islam in them. Just as “A-theist, or A-gnost” describes a person by what (s)he is NOT. I prefer terms like “Broad-minded Muslims and “Freethinkers”.

    Also, when we see, fear, dislike Islam, subconsciously comparing it with other ways of life, we tend to have desires and goals to let people who were born in it, or converted to it drop it. In a way we ask them to “fall down from Islam”, to lose much, like meaning, friends, security and what not.

    But I like a different approach. We could begin by saying: 1. There are worse ways of living than the Islamic one. 2. We assert that Mohammed was NOT a prophet sent by God, but that he may be considered, if so wished, of possessed of some wisdom, valuable guidance.

    Then we can continue to say: You can keep those parts of Islam, that are unobtrusive to the rest of mankind, those parts that you find valuable. But in this world, in its history, much valuable guidance from elsewhere is available. And since Allah did not speak through Mohammed, it is perfectly OK for everyone to follow much other guidance, from other wise, loving men/ women. This way, people can gradually and gently “rise up from Islam”, considering their Islamic start OK.

  26. […] Does robust critique alienate moderate muslims ? […]

  27. Hey. I know this is a very late (and possibly completely irrelevant!) reply, but I’ve just been hanging out on the Muslim Ummah fb page, which made me think of this article. I now regret accepting my so-called friend’s invitation to the page, but I went along thinking there must be ‘moderate’ Muslims SOMEwhere in the world. But nope, I’ve not encountered one there who doesn’t hate me for being American, who doesn’t twist everything I say into what I completely did NOT say, who doesn’t accuse me of doing all the things they do (evading questions, not trying to understand, being full of hate, etc), who doesn’t tell me there’s no such thing as a Muslim terrorist (those people are not even Muslim), who doesn’t get offended at my use of the term ‘moderate muslim’ (there are no moderate muslims because Islam is itself moderate…hey, maybe I shoud try Demsci’s words ‘broad-minded’ and ‘Freethinking’ instead), who doesn’t condemn people who write ‘JIHAD ON THE KAFIRS’ and other sweeping hate talk, etc etc etc.

    I think the only moderate Muslim in the world is Nadeem F Paracha, a columnist in Pakistan who is very wise and apparently very hated, although he must have a following or he wouldn’t continue to be published. And maybe one or two other bloggers I’ve happened upon. Nope…I lived 2 years in Pakistan amongst locals and not on any enclave, I’ve been to many sites Muslims frequent, whether it be a Muslim forum or something about Darwin, where a Muslim always sticks his head in to laugh at us for believing we come from modern-day monkeys, and I’m still searching for one of these Moderate Muslims.

    So I’m not sure we should worry about robust critique alienating moderates. If they exist, they are in a pretty quiet minority. If they’re truly moderate/freethinking, then they won’t mind what we say and will probably agree with some, if not much, of the critique. I have not encountered any real moderation when it comes to discussing Islam or even geopolitics with Muslims and can’t say I believe there is a sizable proportion of freethinking (you’re right, D, that really does fit better) Muslims. If ever I encounter one, my heart will sing to know what a rare privilege it is, and I’ll be sure to take photos/mark the day in my diary.

    I’m thinking unicorns…

  28. […] have counseled a gentler tone so as to not alienate “moderates”.  I have previously debunked the validity of that proposition and hence I will not being doing that here. Still others have urged me to consider that Islam is […]

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