Elusive Moderates

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Muslim World, Rand Corporation Views: 4496

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.

Dr. Louay M. Safi writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. He is the author of eight books and numerous papers, including Tensions and Transitions in the Muslim word, published by University Press of America, 2003. His commentaries are available on his blog: aninsight.org

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Muslim World, Rand Corporation
Views: 4496

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Older Comments:
Interesting how these "intellectuals" remain silent on the fact of rape, torture and murder of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British soldiers, who at best get a few months in jail for genocide and other heinous crimes. Even the most vocal Women's Rights groups are suddenly quiet, no matter how many women and children get raped or butchered by our soldiers- after all they are only Muslims, right? How wonderful our Western justice is? The only reason we boldly do what we do is because we have the military might and the Muslims, in spite of being a force capable of being reckoned with, are disorganised and busied fighting their ethnic and tribal wars- of course with a lot of help from us to keep the flames of ethnic strife well stoked. A time will is coming when we will have to pay for our indiscretions and all our military and economic might will not help a bit.

Fredrik. Your post is to be commended my brother.
I have read RAND report and have not seen any worst dribble from so called experts who must be paid millions for such work which can only be described as 'crap'. Why can't they ask a few Muslims from the streets of Islamic countries. They will soon get a good picture of how treat Muslims. This is if they truly want to be civilised as they claim to be. But I know a civilised person does not have to go to so much expense to know that the answer is very easy and logical. Just treat others like you wish others to treat you. In short: with kindness, respect and equal status. These 'experts' want Muslims to be subservient to them instead of letting people live the way they want to live. A muslim is just that, a muslim. There is no such thing as a good or bad muslim, but only a good or a bad person. When they get this simple understanding they will allow the very huge penny to drop into their small and empty brain. Does this sound like the parable that Jesus gave of the camel and the needle when referring to the rich man not being able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Perhaps it does but let us not loose hope for God works in mysterious ways. Glory be to HIM who changes but HE does not change for all things happen to us for a very good reason.

WARNING: Muslim Extremism will be met by Christian zealotry worldwide.

Informative article..it feels so good to hear from people who converted to Islam write such good points. The solution in the end is always education..I see the Saudi Goverment...UAE ..Iran...Iraq..they only concentrated in educating their children in foreign land and did not give them incentive to move back home and open state of the art Universities, school and colleges and on the other hand so much more salary..incentives are given to foreigners..maybe they are afraid that once we understand how much money they spend on booze, women, their palaces, we would revolt and some of us who do understand are too comfortable in our homes and our lives to change anything..I am ashamed of myself for tolerating and changing very little in life and I know I wont leave this world a better place though God gave me everything.

The promoting democracy, by the west in the muslim world looks and feels alot like what was done during the cold war with communism. Muslim world is much more complex than communism, muslim world has its own democracy within islam that address all aspects of life in a society,minus those dictators,autocratic rulers that forced creation of underground activities of few that cause sensational events.


I am quite disappointed by RAND and co. All these intelect? can come up with this old medeival divide and rule idea.

No wonder we have a new rising Euro dollar and a new EU. Where are they, the creative minds of america? what happened to 'em?
seems like there is more to worry about than just a declining dollar.

Does US have an identity crisis. maybe Rand & co. needs to figure that out, earlier the better. Europeans along with the rest of the world certainly belive that they do.

Why do these so called 'experts' write this condescending rot against Islam? Until I converted to Islam, I used to look at Muslims and wonder, what is their problem? After I converted to Islam, I often find asking myself 'what was my problem?' The answer is quite simple. As a white Anglo-Saxon Christian, I was vain, proud and arrogant about my colour, my lineage, the achievements of my white race and the beauty of the land to which I belonged and the fact that Christianity was the superior religion, after all it had more white adherents, and hence being a 'white' religion we had to be better than the religion of the poor like Islam whose followers were mostly the poor people in rags and generally had dark skin and wore strange clothes and ate strange food. In these 4 years since I have been a Muslim I realised that I can only see as far as God allows me to see, I can only breathe, eat and live to the extent God allows me. So why would God allow my affair with myself and my race to go on if it was wrong? The answer I think is so that I could come to the understanding and realisation I have today. I now look back and see what a complete idiot I was and I look upon others making the same mistake and feel sad that many will never see the reality. All this arrogance and haughtiness.. for what ? Because tomorrow you die and will be buried in the same earth as all others, no matter what their colour, religion or creed. Will I walk then before God holding my head high or in humility hoping for his forgiveness? I see now all these fools falling in the same trap as I did. This arrogance is what caused the devil to loose all his years of piety and devotion and change them for an enternity of doom. I see now Islam traverses all boundaries of race and colour. I once looked upon awe at the rich and powerful; I now desperately seek the company of the poor and the humble.

If the Judeo-Christian cabal are not killing you with their bombs they send you a barrage of pompous intellectual dissertations, essentially informing you how to interpret your religion, your history and your culture, and that you are basically an animal and should be vanquished. Muslims have simply got to understand that these monsters have a plan. The plan is not only to murder, massacre and slaughter Muslims but degrade, humiliate and insult them and their religion, take over their countries, divide up their land, sell off their oil and resources and stoke up ethnic and religious hatred to keep the natives fighting and killing each other, while these beasts look happily on from well fortified turrets in 'Green Zones'. These filthy bloodthirsty hypocrites spent 50 years clamoring to bring the wall down in Germany and yet have eagerly built walls in Mexico, in Palestinian lands and now Iraq. They openly support each other's viciously racist agenda. I wonder if succeeding generation of Muslims will be as complacent as their parents and turn the other cheek and grin and bear these outrages and this monsterously evil Judeo-Christian plan, which by the way has been termed by the Americans as the 'New World Order'. One day this will all come back to haunt them.

Peace be upon you all reading this nice article. Yes this is sad the west always points "snow" on Muslim home's roof but ignores "mud" in their own bedroom.

They divide Muslims in various category of this community of over a billion people like Sunni or Shia, terrorists or fundamentalists, extreamists or moderates. Media has told us enough lies about most of these categoris now comes the new term "moderates". If you observe the nature of this category to qualify as a moderte muslim you have to be a model muslims like Fareed Zakaria of the Newsweek magazine - drink wine and write nice wine reviews, be a practicing lesbian like Irshad Manji, or be Tashlima Nasreen - the shameless woman blames all her failures to her multiple husbands in a male dominated conservative society like Bangladesh, moke an ancient religion to get attention for his 4th class novel - this is Salman Rushdie, we all know the self confessed lier Hirsi Ali, - yes these are few samples of moderate muslims.

So basically to be a qualified as a moderate Muslim one has to undo Islamic rules. They cry wolf without understanding the basics.

In reality there is only one true community of Muslims all other category is anything but Islam.

That's why they are failing every where and it is bound to be so "Muslims are moderate by the nature of the faith" but defination of "moderate" is not extreamism in any form or shape like following too much strictly or too loosely. Read the Quran and understand the life of the principal teacher - the prophet, true is in the middle. Muslims knows that adversaries of Islam "will not stop untill follow them as their way". This dividing categories has been in the past it will continue till the last day. It is not going to change Islam because you can not change the nature.

You know a tree by its fruit, Islam is the fastest growing religion through conversion in the west and among all fruits few are bad ones we know that too. We still eat apples. P

They plot and plan and Allah(swt)too, plot and plan, and Allah is the best of planners.... You see this the factor that the non-believer never see. Allahu Akbar!

Where are those muslim "moderates" that write articles in Islamicity? You've been grouped together with hypocrites like Manji and co by those who categorise (in the first place) muslims into such groupings as "moderates", "traditionalists", "fundamentalists" etc.

So time has come now for muslims to be ware and differentiate the genuine from the fake. The truth is one. There is only one Islam no moderates, traditionalists, fundamentalists or any known grouping by anybody. If you consider yourself to belong to any group, well you are on your own! The final abode is to Him and He shall ask you about your conduct in Islam!

Lailaha illal-Allah Muhammad arrasulul-Allah

There is no deity worthy of ALL forms of worship except Allah (and) Muhammad is the messenger of ALlah.
=> Islam

There is no obedience in doing any act of worship except as decreed by Allah through his noble Messenger Muhammad (SAW), in this we will believe until the last day in sha-Allah.


Dr Safi writes "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.".

This is disingenous. The same cartoons also appeared in an Egyptian paper on the fron page and in Arabic. Guess what, nothing happended. Problems arose 3 months afterwards after the meeting in Saudi Arabia. So, the spark came from elsewhere.

Dr Safi also writes "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.".

This is again disingenous. Don Imus lost his job, not his head (contrary to expectations, there is no job entitlement in the business world). During the cartoon demonstrations how many hundreds were killed and wounded, and how mauch was the property damage.

From the article, I am unable to determine if Dr Safi can identify a 'moderate' muslim or if he is even looking for one.