Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Time to throw away the “Moderate Muslim”

There are times when—after it becomes evident one is groping about and moving one’s limbs into pretzel contortions of logic and avoidance of evidence—one simply has to say goodbye to a term or phrase long in use.

The “moderate Muslim” is just such a term. Its usefulness—if it ever had one—is outweighed by its incoherence and its misleading implications.

In a Jihad Watch post today in which Robert Spencer delves a little into putative differences between himself and Daniel Pipes about the existence and extent of the “moderate Muslim”, one can see Spencer’s language twist and turn as it tries valiantly to retain this term when it would be more merciful—for himself and for his readers—to put the “moderate Muslim” out of its misery with a deft slit of an Occam’s razor to its figurative throat.

Spencer is concerned to assure critics that he is not, in fact, a purveyor of a comprehensive condemnation of all Muslims that would in turn dispose his followers to go down the slippery slope of genocide—and the problem begins when he goes with the general flow by availing himself of the term “moderate Muslim” in order to articulate his assurance. Spencer seems to think that as long as he acknowledges the existence of the “moderate Muslim” as well as the broad demographic extent of the “moderate Muslim”, then he will be let off the hook—by anyone of reasonable intelligence and good will, that is—of the charge that he condemns all Muslims as unjust and dangerous.

I suppose Spencer is correct; though apparently there are no Spencer critics out there of reasonable intelligence and good will, since it doesn’t seem to matter how many times he reiterates that he does not condemn all Muslims and that he in fact believes not only in the existence of the “moderate Muslim” but also in the broad demographic extent of the “moderate Muslim”: his critics persist in tarring him with the brush of prejudicial quasi-genocidal bigotry.

So not only is the term “moderate Muslim” illogical and torturous (as we will show), it also doesn’t seem to work! It’s not doing the job it’s supposed to be doing—to wit: the job of getting Spencer’s critics to stop misunderstanding him!

To illustrate the problem with the term, let us examine Spencer’s well-meaning contortions:

I believe that it is possible for a devout Muslim could both be pro-American and anti-Islamist [i.e., ipso facto, “moderate”], if he is unaware of or ignores or denies the jihad imperative.

It is entirely possible for a Muslim to be unaware of it or to ignore it, or even to believe that it is Islamically illegitimate, given that in various areas of the Islamic world that imperative had been deemphasized and even forgotten for centuries until the contemporary Salafist movement has revived it. A Muslim can pray five times a day and even recite the Qur'an without ever confronting the necessity to make war against and subjugate the infidelsparticularly if Arabic is not his first language. And for the less devout, this is even easier.

Here Spencer is unduly diluting, if not redefining altogether, the term—unless he is cleverly avoiding the actual word “moderate” in order to have plausible deniability should someone come along with a critique like mine. Let us assume Spencer is not doing this, but is, in fact, in the passage quoted above, explicating the nature of the “moderate Muslim” . What becomes readily evident is that he is defining “moderation” wholly in passive, negative terms: The “moderate Muslim” is one who is ignorant and/or passive with regard to the Islam about which he is putatively “moderate”. This is not really moderation, but simply describes (degrees of) inactivity in relation to the prescribed (and proscribed) deeds of Islam, as well as (degrees of) nescience of the doctrines of Islam. Moderation properly speaking would involve a conscious decision to water down and smooth out the rough edges of something, not the accidental result of sheer ignorance and laziness.

When I say that moderation involves a conscious decision, I don’t mean that all religious moderates are going around every minute of the day consciously deliberating about their religious thoughts and choices. Many of them—particularly when we think of the modern Western religious moderate (Jewish or Christian)—may in large part be thinking and acting relatively unthinkingly, having been raised moderates or having gone through a long slow process of a percolation of moderation into their psychic bloodstream, as it were. Also, we must not forget the forest for the trees: namely that, in the modern West, the surrounding sociopolitical cultures are overwhelmingly structured and saturated by secularism and modernism in various wayssome subtle, some aggressive. Nevertheless, even though there is a degree of passivity, even in the modern Western religious moderate, there is also a level of conscious receiving, sustaining and participation in his or her moderation.

Needless to say, the vast majority of Muslims do not have the privilege, as the vast majority of Westerners have, of being surrounded by sociopolitical cultures that are overwhelmingly structured and saturated by secularism and modernism in various ways. Indeed, there is in Muslim societies precious little of the secularist atmospherics that Westerners take for granted. Thus, even more for the Muslim moderate than for the Western religious moderate, the moderation will perforce be more of a conscious choice, and a conscious process; for his surrounding society in a variety of ways will continually remind him of his unusual nature.

This is not all. Spencer felt obliged—because of the obtuseness of his latest critic, a Republican named Shawn Steel—to make sure he did not support the view that, as Steel put it, “the core theory of Islam is inherently violent and anti-Western, [and] therefore moderate Muslims are a minority”.

This last particular bit of solicitude on Spencer’s part might be the most surprising to many of his admirers, as he hastened to protest that:

Of course, I've never said—much less implied—anything remotely like this.

Which part of it is Spencer careful to distance himself from? Is it that the core theory of Islam is inherently violent and anti-Western”? Or is it that “moderate Muslims are a minority”? I cannot be sure, but I suspect that Spencer is more prone to conceding the former, and that he fell for Steel’s linkage of the two with his sneaky little “therefore”—as though the belief that “the core theory of Islam is inherently violent and anti-Western” inexorably leads to the belief that “moderate Muslims are a minority”. And so, Spencer felt obliged to deny both charges, when he would have been wiser to detach the two, and only deny the latter.

But: even if he had done so, the term moderate” still poses a problem, as we have argued, for it connotes at least the role of a conscious, relatively intelligent awareness, if not a decision sustained day after day. To affirm that the majority of Muslims in the world are moderate” in this more active, conscious sense would be counter-indicative. It is far more likely, as we argued above, that the majority of Muslims are simply “not immoderate” out of passivity, sloth and ignorance.

I therefore recommend a new term to replace the hackneyed “moderate Muslim”: My new term is the AHM—the “Apparently Harmless Muslim”.

The advantage of this new term, the AHM, is that it can bridge the gap between Spencer and his more vigorous followers who might feel he is being a bit too soft on Muslims. That is to say, even most of the most passionate anti-Jihadists among us can feel comfortable conceding that the majority of Muslims in the world are apparently harmless. This does not mean they will remain so; but it does definitely imply that we passionate anti-Jihadists are not knuckle-dragging rednecks who feel compelled to assume that all Muslims have horns, a tail and breathe fire: for, you see, we can concede that, as far as we can tell, for now, on the surface at least, most Muslims are indeed apparently harmless.

The perfect ambiguity of the new term—the Apparently Harmless Muslim—allows us to show that we recognize that most Muslims are, as far as we can tell, not doing anything bad at all; while at the same time it gives us plenty of leverage to maintain suspicion about any and all Muslims, should an indeterminable number of them be either lying to us, or be sincerely harmless today, but succumb to some form of “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” tomorrow.

It’s not too late, I hope, to throw out the old, and ring in the new: So let’s discard that tired useless term, the “moderate Muslim”. And let us christen a much more useful term for the deadly decades ahead of us: the AHM: The Apparently Harmless Muslim.


Anonymous said...

A heartfelt request from moderate Muslims: won't you please just shut the fuck up!

Erich said...

Sorry, muslims against sharia, I can no longer do that. For one thing, the request you iterate emanates putatively from "moderate Muslims" -- but as I argued above, the "moderate Muslim" no longer exists for me (except, of course, as a persistent myth sustained by PC MC). All that exists now is the AHM: The Apparently Harmless Muslim.

In order for a Muslim to be truly moderate, he would have to

1) alter the Koran and reject most of the Hadiths, as well as reject and condemn most of Islamic history and most Islamic states today.

2) completely separate Religion and State.

I know that the "muslims against sharia" project on their website are producing just such an alteration of the Koran: but a human alteration of the Koran is a crime in Islam worthy of death, and furthermore, there is no place on Earth where Muslims abound where such the persons pushing such a project would survive without a mortal lynching (let alone by official punishments).

As for separation of Religion and State, I noticed that the folks at "muslims against sharia" could not comprehend my point about how Muslims have to reject the idea of "self-defense" as an Islamic ideal. The fact that they could not comprehend it shows how deeply rooted that disease of fusion of Religion & State is in the Muslim mind.

Anonymous said...

"A heartfelt request from moderate Muslims: won't you please just shut the fuck up!" --from a self-declared moderate Muslim.

Moderate Muslim,

You express a desire that is all too consistent with the policies of sharia. If you had the power to shut Erich up, wouldn't you do so? It sounds to me like you agree with at least one aspect of sharia in regards to dealing with Islam critics. If not, what are doing to help defend Erich's right to express his criticisms and concerns about Islam?

I've had exchanges with many, many Muslims on these issues. They all, without exception, become irate when Islam is criticized. They, like their PC counterparts, all conspicuously fail to provide an example or an inkling of what they regard as acceptable criticism of Islam by non-Muslims. This leads to the hypothesis that "moderate Muslims" and their PC counterparts do not consider any criticism* of Islam by non-Muslims to be acceptable.

*And by criticism I don't mean complaints that the ummah isn't doing enough to spread the da'wa, etc. I mean criticisms of the core propositions of Islam itself as contained in the Quran and accepted as true and morally right by most Muslims world-wide.

Nobody said...

muslims against sharia

Going to your page, I noticed that you mention your location as Afghanistan. Assuming that as true, I honestly think you are barking up the wrong tree by coming here and trying to get Erich to clam up about the usage of the term 'moderate muslim'. Instead, your time would be better spent pushing for exactly the same reforms in Afghanistan that you advocate on your website. I don't blame you for not going that route, given that like Abdul Rahman, you and your comrades would face a lynching, despite the fact that the Taliban is no longer in power and you have NATO troops in Afghanistan.

A word of advice - if your group is genuinely against shariah, first do what you can to undermine shariah within Afghanistan itself, and after you've made appropriate headway, then come and tell us what to believe.

Erich said...

Kab and Nobody,

To be fair, the muslims against sharia website has published comments I have made there and has not censored them, a couple were quite critical comments.

Kab, you might want to take a look at their bowdlerized Koran. They are inviting anyone to look at it and recommend further adjustments, deletions.

Of course, changing the Koran is not a realistic way to address the problem of Islam, so ultimately my problem with groups like muslims against sharia is that they are too impractical to do us any good.

Also, I think they recently refuted the claim that they are a movement within Afghanistan. Supposedly, it's a rumor being purveyed by Muslims who don't like them.

Nobody said...

Yeah, I noticed that. Also, I never knew that you too were into Quran editing as a hobby - you could share some of your suggestions with our good pal Tom Haidon ;-)

Dymphna said...

I've been looking around at Muslim groups and there is one, founded by a guy in Arizona who was disturbed by the politicized nature of the sermons he was hearing at the local mosque. His complaints fell on deaf ears, so the man started (I think this is the name) American Muslims.

What will save us from Islam is an energy rescue. Then the ME will go back to its former obscurity. And all those lovely buildings will fall down because the work ethic in the ME is appalling. Except for the Jews, of course.

BTW, while the Shah was still in power in Iran, it was quite secular. When that changed, the people who could simply fled.

I know an Iranian exile (woman) who is trying to get an activist group going, the other exiles simply aren't interested. They got out; that's enough.

The current louts in power wouldn't even let this woman in for her mother's funeral.

I think AHM sounds kinda paranoid. But I can't think of a better term right now.