I’ve written in the past about the challenge of seeking out legitimate moderates in the Muslim world. Now
author Claire Berlinski has undertaken a series at Ricochet called the “Moderate Muslim Watch” which is well worth reading. Berlinski writes here on the challenge of determining true moderates from fraudulent ones:
The question is entirely legitimate. Yes, there is a long-established Islamic doctrine of taqqiya–variously translated and interpreted as “precautionary dissimulation,” “religiously-sanctioned deception,” “keeping one’s convictions secret,” “tactical dissimulation,” “holy deception,” and “lying.” Even if there weren’t, any radical with half his wits about him could see that Westerners just adore the word “moderate.” The very utterance of the word seems to have a soothing, soporific effect on them. So long as you just keep enjoining the words, “I’m a moderate,” a parade of hopeful Western buffoons will assuredly line up on your doorstep with roses and the Barry White mix tapes, eager to embrace you in moist gratitude and admiration even as you face the television cameras and call for their enslavement and destruction. If you do this in a language that your interlocutors haven’t bothered to learn, you’ll be just fine.
What’s more, you can almost always convince the West to do business with you or look the other way if you insist that since you’re a moderate, it is important to engage you or support you to stave off the radicals. If you want evidence of this, look no further than what is apparently our new strategy in Afghanistan: cut a deal with Mullah Omar on the grounds that he represents the moderate wing of the Taliban.
There are certainly risks here. Beyond the obvious cultural challenges at issue, there’s little question allure of bridge-building with the Muslim world has in the past put America in a position of courting “false moderates.” And even though such religious moderates certainly do exist, observers like Reuel Marc Gerecht have questioned whether their words or deeds will, in any way, further the interests of the United States.
Yet one example of a call for moderate engagement that may prove quite profitable for our relationship with the Muslim world can be found in the Malaysian example. While on a trip to New York last month, during which he called for a “global movement of moderates” to retake the center of the international conversation, I asked Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak about the experience in his country.
“We have always taken the position that Islam is an integral part of public policy in Malaysia. By doing so, we have taken the wind from the sails of the extremists. There is no contradiction between being moderate and being Muslim,” Najib told me. “Being moderate, taking the middle path, is fundamental to Islam. It is one of the pillars of Islam. Muslims have rights, but it’s also enshrined in the teachings of Islam to safeguard non-Muslims in your midst. It’s wrong for Muslims to even be unkind to non-Muslims.”
One prominent example in recent months has been the jailing of two Muslims convicted of church arson during a series of religiously motivated attacks earlier this year. They were given five year jail sentences.
“We want to show that we are fair. If you desecrate a church, or a mosque, or a temple, the punishment is and should be the same,” Najib said.
These are the kinds of examples of respecting minority religions that more Muslim nations ought to adopt. While words about moderation, tolerance, and evenhanded justice are well and good, it’s the actions that bear this out.