Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Elusive Moderates - LSafi

Moderator: Indeed, the nec-cons need some moderates to help them define their policies about who is a moderate. Let there be single universal principle that the group define themselves who they are, and not be defined by the others. Mike Ghouse

Myopic Builders and Elusive Moderates
Louay Safi

Building Moderate Muslim Networks is RAND Corporation’s second attempt at devising a strategy to help prevent “some Muslim societies [from] falling back even further into patterns of intolerance and violence.” And to do that RAND reassigns Caryl Benard, the author of the first report Civil Democratic Islam, to join three more scholars for preparing its new report.

The present report makes little improvements over the previous one, and suffers from the same faulty assumptions and flawed analysis. The new report moves away from overtly relying on “lifestyle” for distinguishing friends from foes, and shifts the emphasis to a set of political values. RAND’s new research team uses a list of 10 criteria to separate moderate and radical Muslims. The emphasis is less focused on religious practices, as attention turns to ideology and commitment to free and open society.

The current study recognizes that the entrenched authoritarian governments and the decline of civil-society institutions in much of the Muslim world “have left the mosque as one of the few avenues for the expression of popular dissatisfaction with prevailing political, economic, and social conditions.” Yet the authors seem less concerned with the need to withdraw support from authoritarian regimes responsible for destroying civil society in much of the Muslim world. Rather, the authors are exceedingly obsessed with the goal of marginalizing social groups, even the most moderate of them, that appeal to Islamic values as the basis for sociopolitical reform. I have already discussed at length in my response to RAND’s early report why this obsession is counterproductive and will only feed into political radicalization, and have nothing to add to this point here.

One cannot help but notice that the report consistently places the blame on Muslim societies. It refuses to assign any responsibility for the radicalization of Muslim politics to the cynical strategies advocated by foreign policy experts. These strategies call for freedom and democracy simultaneously as they continue to urge support to friendly authoritarian regimes.

In discussing the Danish cartoon saga, for instance, the report directs the blame for this sad and unfortunate episode to the “Danish imams,” who the report asserts “caused the cartoon controversy to spiral into an international conflagration.” No blame is placed at the door of the newspaper that published the offensive cartoons, despite the fact that the newspaper was implicated in deliberate efforts to demonize the emerging Danish Muslim community. Blaming the Danish imams is the equivalent of blaming the Rutgers University women's basketball team for complaining about Don Imus’s racial slur and abuse, and for making their indignations known to the public, leading to his ousting from his job.

Among the many faulty assumptions on which the report builds its recommendations is that the Muslim World’s Moderates, defined as secularist and liberal Muslims, lack the resources they need to dominate Muslim societies. Moderates, the report asserts, “do not have the resources” they need to create viable networks to counter the radicals. They lack the skills to do that themselves and require an “external catalyst.” The United States can, the report continues, serve in the role of catalyst by utilizing the experience it gained “during the Cold War to foster networks of people committed to free and democratic ideas. The United States “critical role” consists in leveling the playing field for moderates.”

The reality is that radicals in most Muslim countries constitute small and fringe groups whose impact far exceeds their numbers because they are willing to employ shocking violence in pursuing their goals. Further, many of the Middle Eastern regimes are ruled by elites who are socially secular and liberal, but politically autocratic and authoritarian.

The radicalization of politics in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq was the result of deliberate efforts by Muslim secularists to impose modern practices on Muslim societies. The reliance on force and iron fist policies to impose “modern” institutions and practices by socially “moderate” but politically radical secularists, who held and continue to hold power in many Muslim countries, has led to the destruction of public debate, the disappearance of civil society, and the radicalization of politics. For instance, the use of violence by state security agencies to silence opposition during Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat of Egypt has paved the way to the rise of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s.

The report’s efforts to take a principled approach to defining the “moderate” proved to be elusive. For even though the report acknowledges that some Islamists satisfy the “moderate criteria,” it eventually sides with those who counsel against engaging Islamists. Moderate Islamists, the report contends, should only be engaged as “interlocutors,” but never supported even when they espouse democratic values.

The reason for refusing to embrace moderate Islam, the report insists, is that “the Muslim world moderate and liberal groups are organizationally weak and have been as yet unable to develop substantial constituencies, for the West to bypass these groups in favor of Islamist interlocutors would simply perpetuate these weaknesses.”

Perhaps the only significant contribution to stimulating democratic debate among grassroots organizations and groups is the one led by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), despite serious limitations in their resources. The majority of the initiatives carried out by other democracy promoting organizations were confined to academic and official debates. Participants in CSID programs involve democracy and civil rights activists that represent the political spectrum in the Middle East, including Islamists committed to democratic governance.

The report concludes by giving several examples of moderate Muslims, and surprisingly they include prominent Islam bashers. The list includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Irshad Manji, Basam Tibi, etc. Ultimately, it is not commitment to democratic values and practices, but proximity to Islam, that sets moderates and radicals is the eyes of the authors of the recent RAND report on moderate Islam.

It is not surprising, therefore, that RAND’s recommendations feed into the arrogant and unilateralist policies advanced by the neoconservatives in the last six years, policies that resulted in more chaos on the world stage and misery within Muslim societies.

Commentaries by Louay Safi on Islamic affairs and issues relating to human rights, social and political reforms, American Muslims, globalization, democracy, and world peace.

Reader’s comments reflect the opinions of their authors alone and are not necessarily those of Louay Safi. Comments containing abusive language maybe edited or removed.

Louay Safi has published extensively on such issues as socio-political development, modernization, democracy, human rights, and Islamic resurgence, including eight books and numerous academic papers.

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.