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November 1, 2010: Moderate Muslims or Not?

March 1, 2011

I have decided here to visit a subject that I’ve been struggling with for some many weeks now.  It began when I reported on a talk here in Jerusalem by Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum.  To combat radical Islam, he said, we must deny legitimacy and forums to radical Muslims and those who front for them, and at the same time give legitimacy to, provide forums for, and promote moderate Muslims.
No way!  cried many of my readers.  Is he kidding?  What “moderate” Muslims?
Now, Daniel Pipes is one very sharp guy; although I had hesitation with regard to what he said, I was not prepared to discount his position without further investigation.  And so, I have read a good deal of material and dialogued with several persons more knowledgeable on the subject than I.  It was important to me to achieve some sort of clarity for myself, and for you, my readers.
My conclusion at this point — with regard to whether there are moderate Muslims — is both “Yes and No.”  This is a matter of enormous complexity. 
Broadly, on an international scope, what we are looking at when we talk about radical Islam is the Arab world, plus Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We’re dealing with Shia Islam and a radical, fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism. Even Hamas right here in Gaza is Islamist and seeks an international caliphate governed by Sharia law.
But these places I’ve just alluded to do not constitute the whole of the Islamic world — which is not a monolith.  As one expert I communicated with put it, there are actually several different Islamic worlds, or spheres, which differ in their nature.  It had already been apparent to me that Israel is forging excellent relationships with Muslim states in Central Asia — part of the former Soviet Union. Such states as Khazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  But I’ve learned more: that, for example, Morocco has passed a law against polygamy even though this is permitted by Sharia law.
This is ultimately encouraging information.  It tells us that a more moderate Islam is possible. It comes, however, with a qualifier: The question is whether the existence of these more moderate Muslim nations remotely impacts the radical Islamic world with which we must contend.  And the answer, as far as I can see, is that it does not.  Neither the mullahs of Iran, nor Nasrallah of Hezbollah, nor Mashaal of Hamas, etc. etc., are even marginally influenced by Muslims in Central Asia or northern Africa.  We must deal with this radical bloc of Islamic states as if it were a monolith, and with utmost seriousness and stringency.
As to Muslims in the US, there are people — such as the courageous psychiatrist and author Wafa Sultan (originally a Muslim from Syria, today religiously non-practicing in the US) —  who say there are no moderates.
But a more nuanced view is possible. The expert I cited above, who is from a major US think tank and spoke on background, began by pointing out that many Muslims in the US come from places such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where a radical perspective prevails.
However, perhaps more pernicious, he said, is “the hijacking of the Muslim ‘voice’ writ large in the US.  This has a great deal to do with the emergence of Muslim Brotherhood fronts like CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations, which acts ostensibly as a ‘Muslim civil liberties organization’] and their activism.  Simply put, there is no alternative Muslim voice here in the US currently, so the Muslim Brotherhood ideology rules the day by default. 
“I think there is a great deal more plurality in the Muslim population in the US than meets the eye. However, drawing out these difference requires us to break the monopoly currently held by the Muslim Brotherhood…
“There’s much more that can be done on this score, but it’s very much a trickle down phenomenon. After all, it’s bound to be difficult to discourage Islamist political action groups – or to encourage moderate ones – when Islamists are getting appointed to government office and being feted by the FBI, State, etc.”
And here, my friends, we have essentially the point of view embraced by Daniel Pipes.  It’s a more optimistic view than that of someone who says no Muslim is a moderate. Some hope, however dim at the moment, does exist.
But, if the situation is to change, there is much required of conscientious,aware and concerned Americans.  As long as “Islamists are getting appointed to government office and being feted by the FBI, State, etc.” the attempt to bring moderates to the forefront will be stymied.
Americans cannot allow themselves to be intimidated any longer by political correctness, which at present has run totally rampant in the US.  I cannot think of any situation more shameful than what happened at Fort Hood:  Doctors at the hospital knew the radical views of terrorist Major Nidal Malik Hasan but were afraid to speak out; because of their fear, people died. 
What is dangerous for American freedoms and heritage must be recognized.  Those who have associations with or provide a front for groups that are dangerous must be identified.  Where radical Muslims work within the system, they must be exposed.  And when elected official provide a cover of legitimacy for those associated with radicalism, they must be called to accountability.
And then, presuming we would like to encourage the moderates, how do we actually identify them?
Seems a simplistic question, but most assuredly, it is not.
I myself was caught not long ago.  I had written about Raheel Raza — a Muslim woman who is a member of the board of the Muslim Canadian Congress — after seeing a video of a talk she gave.  She had seemed great — voicing opposition to the Ground Zero mosque and embracing rights for women.  Surely a moderate.  But someone familiar with the Muslim Canadian Congress wrote to tell me it is anti-Israel: supports boycotts and participated in a hateful anti-Israel march. 
Uh oh.  Is it possible to be a “moderate” Muslim and anti-Israel?  One lawyer I communicated with, who had experience in anti-terror work, thought perhaps yes.  But Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch says absolutely not — that this is part of the Jihad mentality.  And in the end, I would concur. 
Spencer went on to speak about another influential member of that same Congress, whom he would not trust at all.  Because I then googled him, and found what seemed to be impressively moderate credentials, I was left aghast at the absolute complexity of what we are dealing with here.  These people are highly skilled at dissembling.
I share here comments from an article — entitled “Rep. Keith Ellison, the Islamists Man on Capitol Hill” — found on the website of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), established and directed by anti-terrorism expert Steve Emerson:
“As a U.S. representative, Keith Ellison’s primary responsibility is to represent his constituents in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.

“The first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison, a Democrat, also seems to feel an obligation to be the voice of Muslim Americans in Washington. That alone would not be an issue. But in his two terms, he has established a disturbing record of promoting and defending radical Islamists who hide beneath a veneer of moderation.

“When those organizations are criticized, Ellison often jumps to their defense. He also travels the country to raise money on their behalf. In 2009, Ellison spoke at three fundraising dinners for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and provided videotaped remarks at others…”

And there’s more. For example:

“In November 2008, Ellison, interviewed at CAIR-Tampa’s 6th Annual Banquet by a local radio station, urged support for Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in April 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Evidence in Al-Arian’s 2005 criminal trial showed he was a member of the PIJ’s governing board and that he solicited donations by praising the group’s terrorist attacks.”

This is how far it has come.



Not surprisingly, Ellison is one of those who knows how to play the political-correctness card: According to the IPT article, at a banquet during which Ellison touted “Muslim finance” as a solution to the US subprime mortgage crisis, he also stated that “Americans should ‘thank God’ for groups like CAIR who were working to safeguard their liberties against a reprise of the Salem witchcraft trials.”.


I have become convinced that there are Muslims who are genuinely opposed to terror, but support the institution of Sharia law.  Spencer certainly says this is the case — although he hastens to caution that such persons, who certainly appear more moderate than Muslims advocating violence, are not moderates.  Understood.  Those promoting Islamic law would dispense with the liberal democracy that is America and replace it with a repressive, authoritarian system.

Who, then, are moderate Muslims?  Definitions would vary, but I would suggest that they are persons who:

[] Support rights for women

[] Are opposed to terrorism and do not lend support to groups that do advocate terrorism

[] Do not seek to institute Sharia law and will honor the law of the land in which they reside

[] Are genuinely pluralistic — honoring the rights of other religious and cultural groups without intention to impose their beliefs and practices

[] Are not anti-Israel



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