Identifying Muslim Moderates
f "militant Islam is the problem,
moderate Islam is the solution."
As I often argue, how does one
differentiate between these two
forms of Islam?
It's a tough question, especially con-
cerning Muslims who live in Western
To understand just how tough it is,
consider the case of Abdurahman
Alamoudi, a prominent American fig-
ure associated with 16 Muslim organi-
FBI spokesman Bill Carter described
one of those, the American Muslim
Council, as "the most mainstream
Muslim group in the United States."
The Defense Department entrusted
two groups (the Islamic Society of
North America and the American
Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans
Council) to help select Islamic chap-
lains for the armed forces.
The State Department thought so
highly of Alamoudi, it six times hired
him and sent him on all-expenses-paid
trips to majority-Muslim countries to
carry what it called "a message of reli-
Alamoudi's admirers have publicly
hailed him as a "moderate," a "liberal
Muslim" and someone known "for his
Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle
East Forum. His e-mail address is
starting with diversion.
By rights, President George W.
Bush should face tough questions
from voters about his conduct of
the war in Iraq, the flagging battle
against international terrorism and
the sorry state of the U.S. econo-
Ditto Republican congressional
leaders, whose huge tax cuts are
already reducing services for many
needy Americans and whose energy
and Medicare bills were packed full
of goodies for big corporations.
An aggressive campaign against
gay marriage could divert attention
from those issues, mobilize a key
GOP constituency — the
Christian right — and fill party
coffers. It will also put the
Democrats, the opposition party in
this all-GOP governnient, in the
uncomfortable position of defend-
charitable support of battered women
rorist groups such organiza-
Is takfir (condemning fellow
and a free health clinic."
tions as Abu Sayyaf, Al-Gama'a
Muslims one has disagree-
But this image of moderation col-
al-Islamiyya, Groupe islamique
ments with as unbelievers) an
lapsed recently when an Alamoudi-
armee, Hamas, Harakat ul-
endorsed chaplain was arrested and
Mujahidin, Hezbollah, Islamic
• Self-criticism: Do you
charged with mishandling classified
accept the legitimacy of schol-
material, when Alamoudi himself was
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Al
arly inquiry into the origins of
arrested on charges of illegal commerce Qaida?
Islam? Who was responsible
with Libya, and when Alamoudi's
• Modernity: Should Muslim
the 9-11 suicide hijack-
Palm Pilot was found to contain con-.
women have equal rights with
tact information for seven men desig-
men (for example, in inheri-
• Defense against militant
nated by the U.S. government as glob-
tance shares or court testimo-
Islam: Do you accept
Comm entary enhanced security measures to
Distinguishing between real and
Is jihad, meaning a form of
fight militant Islam, even if
phony moderation, obviously, is not a
warfare, acceptable in today's world?
this means extra scrutiny of yourself
job for amateurs like U.S. government
Do you accept the validity of other
(for example, at airline security)? Do
religions? Do Muslims have anything
you agree that institutions accused of
The best way to discern moderation
to learn from the West?
funding terrorism should be shut
is by delving into the record — public
• Secularism: Should non-Muslims
down, or do you see this a symptom of
and private, Internet and print, domes- enjoy completely equal civil rights with bias?
tic and foreign — of an individual or
Muslims? May Muslims convert to
• Goals in the West: Do you accept
institution. Such research is most pro-
other religions? May Muslim women
that Western countries are majority-
ductive with intellectuals, activists, and marry non-Muslim men?
Christian and secular or do you seek to
imams, all of whom have a paper trail.
Do you accept the laws of a majority transform them into majority-Muslim
With others, who lack a public
non-Muslim government and unre-
countries ruled by Islamic law?
record, it is necessary to ask questions.
servedly pledge allegiance to that gov-
It is ideal if these questions are posed
These need to be specific, as vague
ernment?-Should the state impose reli-
publicly — in the media or in front of
inquiries ("Is Islam a religion of
gious observance, such as banning
an audience — thereby reducing the
peace?" "Do you condemn terrorism?") food service during Ramadan?
scope for dissimulation.
have little value depending as they do
When Islamic customs conflict with
No single reply establishes a militant
on definitions (of peace, terrorism).
secular laws (e.g., covering the face for
Islamic disposition (plenty of non-
Useful questions might include:
drivers, license pictures), which should
Muslim Europeans believe the Bush
• Violence: Do you condone or con-
administration itself carried out the 9-
demn the Palestinians, Chechens and
• Islamic pluralism: Are Sufis and
11 attacks); and pretense is always a
Kashmiris who give up their lives to
Shi'ites fully legitimate Muslims? Do
possibility, but these questions offer a
kill enemy civilians?
you see Muslims who disagree with
good start to the vexing issue of sepa-
Will you condemn by name as ter-
you as having fallen into unbelief?
rating enemy from friend. ❑
ing a minority many in America
fear and despise.
The Democrats aren't eager for
this particular fight, mostly
because they understand that fear
and anger are hot sellers in today's
political marketplace. But they
won't say what needs to be said:
that while gay marriage is a signifi-
cant issue for many Americans,
and certainly shouldn't be ignored,
it is hardly the matter of grave
national importance that the tele-
vision preachers and their buddies
in Congress say.
The Democrats, fearing trouble
from the civil and gay rights lob-
bies and women's groups, will get
sucked into a fight they can't win,
at least in the frenzied environ-
ment of a national campaign, and
which will take attention away
from their strongest arguments
against the Republicans.
No Jewish Consensus
Jewish groups remain divided on
the issue — which isn't just about
a new kind of marriage.
The Reform movement supports
gay rights, and applauded the
Massachusetts Supreme Court
decision; Orthodox groups quickly
joined Christian conservatives in
blasting it. The Conservative
movement, as usual, is somewhere
in the amorphous middle.
Many Jews have qualms about
gay marriage, but believe strongly
gays and lesbians should have
equal rights when it comes to
things like survivorship benefits,
life insurance rights and the tax
advantages enjoyed by married
Many middle-of-the-road Jewish
groups have an acute understand-
ing that much of the attack on gay
marriage from the religious right is
outright bigotry. The "defense of
marriage" argument covers many
other motives, including one of the
oldest in politics: the manipulation
of hatred to rally voters.
And many Jews see in the gay
rights movement echoes of the
ona b oina b fight against anti-
But in the context of the 2004
election — and the deliberate
overkill of religious and ideological
extremists with a vested interest in
stirring up hysteria on the issue,
not the sober debate and reflection
it demands — the gay marriage
debate can only distract a nation
that has serious decisions to make
on much more pressing issues. ❑