Saturday, January 14, 2006

Moderating Islam

Manny asks if Islam can be moderated.

I would suggest some further questions to consider including:

What do we really mean by moderate ? Is it up to the Islamic world to define this term, or do we need our own definition ?

How influential and enfranchised are true moderates ? What does the Islamic world think of the likes of Irshad Manji ?

Does Islam even WANT to moderate ? Are the segments of the population that want to moderate large, influential, prepared to face the dangers that a movement to true moderation would require ? Would a truly moderate segment even remain of the same religion as the rest, and which way is the influence stronger (experience shows "moderates" becoming Wahhabi suicide bombers. Have seen less extremists becoming moderates. This is consistent with the radicalisation of the Islamic world since the relatively secular 60s)

Does it help to moderate even 50%, if a remaining 50% remain as they are, or radicalise further ? Is moderation in Algeria and Morocco sufficient if a nuclear armed Pakistan and Iran radicalise even further ?

What if the moderates are already a majority, but they allow radicals to pose as their spokesman, to act as their religious leaders and scholars, and they all identify politically on key issues, and worse, present as a united block for voting purposes in Western countries ?

What if the moderation process is occurring, but far too slowly ?

What if the only impetus for true moderation is external ? How do we IMPOSE moderation ?

A final thought: The most robust critics of Islam are ex-Muslims.(Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina,Salman Rushdie)

There are far fewer truly vocal and honest moderate reformers. The disenfranchised, irrelevant Irshad Manji comes to mind. So does the well-meant but extremely poorly attended "Muslims Against Religious Terrorism" march in Washington, boycotted by all major Muslim organisations in the US. Stephen Shwartz, Sufi, is certainly no radical, and undrestands the need for reform. A well meaning apologist for Islam, he addresses the problems of the radical side, but could be more honest about the inherent fundamentalist nature of the religion, and the inflexible attitude resulting from it, combined with the rather disturbing Koran passages that are enshrines as the literal, final, perfect and eternal word of God.

I have not seen any of these reformers taken seriously by mainstream Muslim religious figures. I have however seen them derided and rejected by many rank and file Muslims. They would probably not be very safe in much of the Islamic world. The works of would-be reformers like Manji and Schwarz are largely for Western consumption.

The net effect that such Western-based would-be reformers have is thus rather negative, however well meant. All their efforts go towards convincing us that there are these interesting, vibrant moderate reformers in the Islamic world. None of their efforts affect the Islamic world itself. They are thus effectively propagandists and apologists for unreformed Islam, if only because the only audience they have is a Western world desperate to see evidence of the moderate Islam that it wants to believe in.

History shows that the most effective moderator of Islam was Kemal Mustafa Ataturk. He was neither kind, nor understanding, but rather militantly, aggressively secularist and Westward looking. Perhaps this is where any moderation process would need to start. I would also suggest that Ataturk did not go far enough to address the divinely literal nature of the Koran. He addressed the social issues, but not the theological ones, thus paving the way for the current Islamist resurgence, and the current Islamist government. Perhaps externally imposed, government mandated theological reform, and aggressive secularisation may be the only realistic, effective option.

[Update: 15/1/2006]

A timely article by the relentless Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch: "What is a Moderate Muslim?"
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