Since the terrorist attacks on the United States and United Kingdom and the disastrous political shambles resulting from the Neoconic vision of world order which led to, among other things, the war in Iraq and the subsequent proliferation of insurgency and extremism, the argument that ‘moderate Muslims or the MM-Factor is the only legitimate defense against Islamic extremism’ has gradually found its way onto the center stage and is now finding acceptance in certain circles.
But, who are these “moderate Muslims”? What is the ideological engine driving them? What indicators are there to authenticate them? And, more importantly, who should interpret the readings of such indicators?
Before an objective debate on these and other such questions could get underway, Neocon activists such as Daniel Pipes have been vociferously spinning the whole MM-Factor in order to push certain handpicked list of what he describes as " Anti-Islamist Muslims".
Not surprisingly, the list included controversial names such as: Khalid Dura’n, a notorious Islam basher who is a friend and an affiliate of Mr. Daniel Pipes; Irshad Manji who produced, according to her website, “the world’s first program on commercial airwaves to explore the lives of gay and lesbian people” and hosted “Queer Television” on Toronto’s City TV; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-declared Atheist who collaborated with murdered film-maker Theo Van Gogh on a controversial film whose most offensive seen which involves Qura’nic verses on a naked female body- a scene that was attributed to Ayan; and Ibn Warraq (pseudonym) who is the author of “Why I Am Not A Muslim”- a book that is highly advertised in many special interest circles.
Granted these are individuals who are exercising their freedom of expression who may want to “shock the system” from the periphery. But neither the shocking nor being in the periphery could moderate the current trend of extremism. Bring back Islam to its original nature of being Diin Alwasata or a middle ground faith, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, would require moderate tone and judicious dialogue.
Lending support and providing platforms to charlatans or individuals considered as pariahs could simply undermine the whole MM-Factor.
Credibility and sincerity is the name of the game.
For anyone to be accepted as a moderate voice and for his or her message to resonate with the broader Muslim population in the US and around the world, one must demonstrate, among other things, the following three main characteristics:
First, that he or she is a devout Muslim with a track record of community service- an individual without any apparent ulterior motive. Second, he or she is an independent person with an independent mind- an individual who is not predictably on the same side of any issue all the time, since neither truth nor justice is predictably on the same side. Third, he or she is a sensitive bridge-builder willing to cultivate peaceful, tolerant community who respects the rule of law, who supports his or her position through Islam’s main authority- the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the legacy of Prophet Muhammad).
Unfortunately, there seems to be a flipside argument that defines one’s level of moderation based on one’s political stance on the Israel and Palestine issue. Not on the now moot question of whether or not Israel has the right to exist, but whether the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and to resist oppression and occupation! And this is what the overwhelming Muslims in America gradually came to understand as being the real litmus test.
Muslim thinkers and activists who are apathetic, oblivious, or are supportive of the status quo are readily embraced as “moderates” while others, regardless of how moderate or liberal they might be, are declared radicals or terrorist sympathizers.
A case in point is the routine harassment of prominent Muslim activists such as Yusuf Islam- formally known as Cat Stevens- who is famous for his peace songs and indeed activism; widely respected moderate Muslim scholars such as Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi who made a career campaigning against extremism and radical literalism who commonly preaches what is known as middle-ground Islam, and “liberal” thinkers such as Professor Tariq Ramadan who is known for being a pioneer in bridging Islamic values and Western culture, all of whom were, in one way or another, denied entry to the US for “national security” reasons.
Along that same trend, recently the US Embassy in Cairo has denied Sheikh Abdul Hamid Al-Atrash, the head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee an entry visa to tour the US and give lectures and sermons at a number of American Islamic centers during the month of Ramadan. Other than being oldest and the most prestigious Islamic university, Al Azhar is ironically considered as the most moderate Islamic institution.
It goes without saying: any such subjective alienation and deliberate silencing of those widely recognized as genuine moderates would only fuel more cynicism, Anti-Americanism, and extremism.
But, if the ultimate goal is to tame extremism and to defeat it in the market place of ideas, both Muslims whose religion has been eclipsed by bloody extremism and the US foreign policy which’s been highjacked by aggressive, one-dimensional ideologues ought to find genuine Muslim moderates to support.
And, until a bona fide definition crystallizes, there will always be the risk of blindly embarking on yet another quixotic foreign policy endeavor!