The Search for Moderate Islam: Part II
If it doesn't exist, then what?
When people speak of moderate Islam as the solution to radical Islam, they mean that there is a modernizing core within the Muslim community capable of transforming it into a civilized member of the world community. They foresee that the dar al-Islam, the Realm of Islam, will cease to be at war with the dar al-Harb, the Realm of War, and particularly with that part of the Realm of War known as the West. I describe these ideas as the "ecumenist" school of Western-Islamic relations, because to believe in the existence of moderate Islam is to believe that the two civilizations can erase their mutual divisions and get along as friends—even mingle together, as some urge, in a single, shared civilization.
Based on my analysis of the writings of Daniel Pipes, one of the chief advocates of the moderate Islam idea, I argued in the first part of this article that moderate Islam does not and cannot exist. Yet its proponents still feel a deep need to go on believing in it, since the only alternative they can envision is unending civilizational warfare. It would be a war waged not only between the Western and Islamic parts of the globe, but—because of the huge Muslim immigrant populations already sojourning in Europe and North America—within the West itself. The prospect seems so horrible that the ecumenists cling to the faith in a moderate Islam no matter how unsupported it may be by the evidence.
Notwithstanding these fears, there is a rational alternative to the belief in a moderate Islam. I call it the "civilizationist" school, because, in contrast with the ecumenist school, it not only posits irreconcilable differences between the two civilizations, but grapples head-on with their practical implications. Thinkers of the civilizationist school note essential facts about Islam that make any friendship or cooperation with it suicidal in the long run. These include the Koranic command on Muslims to engage in jihad against non-Muslim societies until the whole world is Islamized; the imposition of the totalitarian Sharia law wherever Islam becomes politically dominant; and the permanent subjection of non-Muslims to the miserable oppressed status of dhimmis.
According to the civilizationists, there is and can be no such thing as moderate Islam, and therefore no solution to the Islamic problem that can come from within Islam, since Islam itself—not "radical" Islam—is the problem. Moreover, the civilizationists do not say these things, as the ecumenists do, because they want Islam to be that way, but because Islam, unfortunately, is that way.
When ecumenists report various moderating trends within Islam, civilizationists respond with skepticism. They point out that the apparent moderateness of any Muslim community consists of either a temporary abeyance of the militancy that defines Islam (and such periods of non-aggression have been an established part of jihad strategy since the days of Muhammad), or simply the natural quiescence of the masses who lead their lives, pray, and don't involve themselves with activist movements. Such masses do not constitute any moderate Islam. They are not forming any organized political body or belief system distinct from and opposed to jihadism. Furthermore, regardless of any reforms that may occur from time to time within Islamic society, the center of the faith remains the Koran, which commands jihad, death to apostates, death to Christians and Jews, the stoning of adulteresses and all the rest of it. The fundamental point is that Islam cannot reform itself in any lasting way, because Islam has no source of authority apart from the Koran. In any debate between hard-liners and putative moderates, the hard-liners will have the Koran on their side and will ultimately win the debate.
Therefore no matter how long an Islamic society has been relatively peaceful, moderate, and perhaps even irreligious, an unexpected social or political crisis can bring radical Islam to the fore again—any spark can re-ignite jihad. Iran, a modernizing if authoritarian regime for decades under the Shah, returned to Sharia and jihad within months of his fall from power in 1979. Turkey, officially secular for eighty years, has recently started returning to Islamic rule. Egypt, the most important "moderate" Arab country, is teeming with fanatical jihadists, whose rantings are published in state-controlled newspapers. More than one Westerner has reported his shock on seeing a thoroughly westernized Muslim woman suddenly show up in traditional Muslim dress and proudly announce that this is who she really is.
For all the above reasons, civilizationists do not place their trust in anything arising from within Islam, whether traditional, modern, or "moderate." Their sympathy for moderate Muslim dissidents and victims as human beings does not lead them to drop their guard against Islam itself.
The cultural "peace" process
Yet Daniel Pipes wrote that we must cleave to the hope of a moderate Islam because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. He thus sidestepped the issue of the truth or falsity of his moderate-Islam theory and made an appeal based on the bad consequences of rejecting it. I think Pipes's remark opens up a useful approach to the issue, if we apply the same analysis to both sides. I shall proceed, then, to address these questions: what are the likely consequences of our accepting the belief in moderate Islam, and what are the likely consequences of our rejecting the belief in moderate Islam?
Let us begin by noting that the practical viability of an idea cannot be separated from its underlying truth. If moderate Islam does not exist, a strategy premised on its existence would be delusional, even suicidal. An example is Israel's decades-long quest for peace with the Arabs, fueled by the repeatedly dashed, repeatedly renewed hope that a "moderate" Arab leadership would somehow emerge that would endorse Israel's right to exist.
There are, in fact, striking parallels between Pipes's half-realistic, half-utopian approach toward Islam, and the Labor Zionist movement's approach toward the Arabs, starting from before the founding of Israel and culminating in the disastrous Oslo Accords. On one hand, the Zionists were tough-minded nationalists who knew they would have to fight and defeat the Arabs in order to secure a Jewish homeland; on the other hand, the Zionists were utopian leftists who hoped (and many of them still hope today, against all the evidence) that once the Arabs had been stopped in their attempt to destroy the Jewish state, they would miraculously turn around and accept Israel's existence, inaugurating a glorious epoch of Arab-Jewish brotherhood. As a result of this way of thinking, each time the Israelis have won a war, instead of pressing home their advantage and achieving real and permanent security for their state, they have launched yet another series of negotiations that has only weakened their position and lost the gains that had been achieved at such cost. In a parallel fashion, Pipes's respect for Islam, his faith in its essential benignity, and his abiding hope (despite all the evidence) that we can ultimately live in complete harmony with it, contradict and undercut his realistic analysis of its dangers.
While the analogy is not perfect (most importantly, the Oslo "peace process" included unrepentant terrorists, while Pipes is firm on the fact that we must have nothing to do with radicals or terrorists), the Oslo process nevertheless demonstrates the kinds of perplexities into which the search for a moderate Islam must lead us. The Palestinian leadership, corresponding in our analogy to the jihadist core of Islam under its "moderate" clothing, never wanted peace on terms that were compatible with Israel's survival. In order to keep the process alive, the Israelis systematically ignored the Palestinians' radical lack of compliance with their obligations under the Oslo Accords and treated them as though they were civilized men engaged in good-faith discussions. The effect of such conciliation was to liberate Palestinian aggression as never before. Within a few months of the signing of the Oslo agreement, the first suicide bombings of Israeli buses began. This initiated a pattern that lasted throughout the years of the "peace" process, in which intensified suicide bombings would be followed by Israeli crack-downs on the Palestinians, which in turn would lead to a quieting of terror, until the Israelis would once again get their hopes up and let their guard down, and the suicide mass-murders would re-commence.
Similarly, if we embrace the idea that moderate Islam is the cure for extremist Islam, we will have to carry out a cultural peace process, in which we strive to build up the "moderate" Muslims (whether in our own country or in the Mideast) and turn them into leaders of the Islamic community. The path is filled with punji traps. In light of Pipes's desolating observation that we often cannot even tell a moderate from a radical, our efforts to raise the influence of "moderate" Muslims—many of whom will turn out not to be moderate—will simply mean giving Muslims qua Muslims more caché and power in our society, with their demands and perhaps their threats ever increasing, while we get more and more entangled in the process of instructing, exhorting, bribing, and (maybe) changing them, even as we keep desperately assuring ourselves that moderate Muslim solution will work in the long run.
Because the search for moderate Muslims requires us not to see the other side as it really is, we must replace truthful speech with politically correct slogans that demoralize us and encourage our enemies. For example, almost every time Pipes criticizes radical Muslims, he must—in order to prove that he's not a bigot and that he still believes in an ecumenic resolution—assure his audience that "moderate Islam is the answer." Varieties of this double message, repeated constantly by the government and the intelligentsia, create deep confusion and ambivalence in the public mind. On one hand we're being told that radical Muslims are a remorseless wicked enemy; on the other hand, we're being told that almost all Muslims are moderate and harmless, and that we are bigoted if we think otherwise. The net effect of these two contradictory statements is to establish the unassailable legitimacy of Islam in our country. But, since there is no moderate Islam, the Islam that gets legitimized will, inevitably, be radical Islam.
The cultural peace process would distract and weaken us in other ways. Instead of spending our energy building up our own society and culture, which is within our power to do, we would be attempting to build up the Muslims' society and culture, which is not within our power to do. We would be gambling our freedom and survival on the chance that we can bring something into existence that has never existed. We would be making our safety contingent on whether the moderate Muslims can be what we want them to be. We would keep gazing expectantly at each Muslim as a potential moderate, and averting our eyes when he turned out not to be one—just as the leaders of Israel and the U.S. kept closing their eyes to the real nature of the Palestinians for all those years and are closing them still. We would have to keep refusing to acknowledge failure, because that would wreck our fantasy of an ecumenic and peaceful world. Regardless of all disappointments, we will still keep telling ourselves that some wonderful "moderates" are just around the corner and that we have to reach out to them.
In the end, our refusal to face the truth about Muslims, our flattery of non-moderate Moslems as "moderates," will convince them that we are saps lacking the wit and will to defend ourselves, which will increase their aggression against us. Like the Marxist dream with its 150 years on the road to nowhere, our dream of a moderate Islam will inevitably collapse one day, and the price might be nearly as high.
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