Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Taxonomy of Moderates

This article is based on correspondence in response to the following statement:
"the idea of defining Islamism in terms of the priority of common/sharia law is *very* elegant."
Defining Islamism: A Necessary Condition?
The definition of Islamism in terms of the priority of Sharia over the Secular State and the Rule of Law (or their equal co-existence) is a useful definition of Islamism, and provides a necessary, but insufficient condition for defining "moderates", as explained below. This definition can also be subverted by relativistic arguments, limiting its rhetorical value.
The State is Not Allah
Arguably, the main purpose of the US right to bear arms is as a countermeasure in the event where the state becomes something that the people can no longer tolerate. Obviously, there is some "self-evident truth" that to some Westerners at least sits above the state itself. We are not a secular theocracy, with the State as god. That is Fascism/Communism. We are still a nation of individuals, and we value our individuality more than the contracts we create to facilitate it, though we value these quite dearly indeed. Out of these contracts we forge a state.
Anticipating Trouble
This does not to refute the definition of Islamism provided previously, which is in fact useful. I am merely anticipating the inevitable and flawed counter argument, which is already leveled: that our societies are evil and corrupt, even by our standards (so many lefties are all too ready to agree here) and that in challenging our law with their Sharia Muslims are no more guilty that any "freedom fighters" in the past. Yes, I know that this is an odious argument, and that there is a huge difference between Sharia and any Western notions of common law, or even leftie notions of an ideal utopia (of a non-relativist variety). This counter argument does not hold substance, but consists of the kind of rhetorical sludge that no logical razor can hope to cut, at least not in any effective, eloquent way, one that that would unambiguously end the argument in the eyes of "Joe Average-Intelligentsia" ("Joe Chardonnay-Sixpack...") And so the relativistic rot of our society continues...
Islamists, Literalists and the Mainstream
Some facts worth remembering who considering the definition above: It is not axiomatic. It derives naturally from mainstream Islamic adherence to the Koran as the complete, final, perfect and literal word of God, the person of Muhammad as the perfect example, and Islamic jurisprudence of 300 years after his death as the only source of interpretation. The definition is thus subsumed by the definition of "literalist". This means that all mainstream Muslims are Islamists by this definition, and those that are not Islamists are sinners, heretics or traitors by the basic standards of their culture.
"Negative Moderates"
This is well worth remembering, because it means that "moderates" may be merely lax in their faith, or ignorant of its tenets. As we have seen countless times, this means that in times of crisis, where they turn to their family, community and culture for strength, they must turn against the supremacy of the Secular State and its Rule of Law. This is an important point: the "moderate by default" is a potential Islamist, and this is the path of many a suicide bomber, who were seen to be assimilated, westernised and hedonistic, but suddenly turning towards their faith (with the support and acclaim of their families and communities) and then taking the next logical steps that piousness, holy texts and religious leaders demand. Lets call these poor or lax moderates "negative moderates". Most of the "youths" rioting in France last November or Sydney beaches last December would be "negative moderates". So would many members of FATAH, or Iraqi Baathist insurgents, and any number of unveiled, fashionably dressed Al Jazeera reporters. Negative moderates are not necessarily our friends.
"Positive Moderates"
"Positive moderates" would be a small minority of moderates indeed, those who are educated in Islam, and take a clearly non-literalist, pro-Enlightenment stand. This may include some members of sects like Ahmaddiyah and more tolerant Sufis, as well as a number of prominent individuals. Sadly, these are all considered heretics and worse by the Muslims mainstream. There is even a handful of prominent positive moderate religious leaders. These tend to be disenfranchised, and their claims of wider mainstream appeal false and counterproductive. Probably unintentionally, they legitimise the Islamists (ie the Muslim mainstream) by claiming far more acceptance within the Ummah than they actually receive, and providing the well-meaning Western intelligentsia with the evidence of the kinder, gentler, friendlier Islam that they so desperately crave. The leadership and Islamic bona fides of such people are not taken seriously by the overwhelming majority of their "fellow" Muslims, because almost none of them want to challenge the supposed perfect, literal, complete and final nature of the Koran, nor to tolerate any such challenge from others. Having said this, Irshad Manji's stand in the Manifesto against Islamism is courageous and commendable, as are the tiny "Free Muslims Against Terror" in the US, the emerging Democractic Muslim movement in Denmark, and "Ni Putes ni Soumises" in France.
It should be mentioned that the most Positive of Positive Moderates are not Muslims at all, but rather ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina and Salman Rushdie. Perhaps Positive Moderates are in the last stage of denial...
Uses and Challenges
The above definition of Islamist is thus a useful benchmark for the determination of true moderate Muslims. It falls short of a sufficient condition for "moderation". It also fails to provide an easy method of distinguishing positive moderates from negatives. It may not be a sufficient condition, but it certainly serves as a necessary condition: anyone who sees a role for Sharia law in society, and at any point puts it above the rule of law of a secular state is not a moderate. Sadly, the definition is also complicated by the practice of taqiyya.
Is Tariq Ramadan a moderate by this definition alone ? Possibly, especially with a selective reading. Is this really his agenda ? Are there examples to the contrary ? Indeed. Is he an Islamist ? In my book, certainly. The counterargument is that there are plenty of Christians who are guided by their religious sentiments in their activism and lawmaking. This is true, but we never call these people "moderates", and are often quick to call them "fundamentalists", sometimes unjustly. This is not a complete argument, unless one wants to label all religiously motivated legislators, judges and activists as "fundamentalists".
A more difficult and subtle argument would return to the sub-legal basis of Western culture: to me it is obvious that there are aspects of Reconstructed, Post-Enlightenment Western Secularism, as well as mainstream Protestantism, Catholicism and Ashkenazi Judaism which dovetail naturally with Western notions of common and natural law, while Sharia does not. Exploring this topic in detail is a task beyond me, but one I leave open to the great legal and philosophical minds out there.
Kufr Aleikum !
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