The moderate Muslim: Unicorn, coelacanth, or ivory-billed woodpecker?

(Note: the following is an expansion of a comment I left over at The World Wide Rant. Click here for the full context.)

The War On Terror could be more accurately called “The War Against Militant Islam,” but that’s a bit too on-the-nose for most people. Our enemies are often described as “Muslim extremists,” but is that really a fair characterization?

I’m not so sure. At some point, it becomes necessary to re-define what exactly constitutes an “extremist.” When the vast majority of a group subscribes to a set of beliefs, then the “extreme” is the mainstream, and the “moderates” become the extremists. We’re seeing signs of that among the Democratic party here in the US, for example.

But is that the case with Islam? I’m starting to suspect it is.

Let me make a prediction: the next time we have some atrocity committed by men shouting “Allahu Akbar!,” there will be soft words of condemnation from Muslim organizations, followed immediately by rationalizations and justifications and citations of other “offenses” done to Muslims. (Citing the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine is a perennial favorite, but now the aforementioned “Koran desecration” is rising fast. They used to have “Western troops in Saudi Arabia, home of the two holiest sites in Islam” to kick around, but Bush pulled the rug out from under that one.) And if there is an anti-terrorism rally that denounces the deed as un-Islamic, it’ll be sparsely attended and vastly outnumbered by those rallying to say “you can’t blame us in any way for their actions” and citing a long laundry list of alleged “anti-Muslim” offenses committed in the wake of 9/11. (This is based on the actual events in DC a couple of weeks ago.)

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that while the actual number of extremists in Islam might be a minority, they have the support of a large element within Islam. It is the moderate elements that really deserve the term “extremist,” as they are the ones that are far from the mainstream of contemporary Islam. (I can’t bring myself to use the term “modern,” as they seem hopelessly trapped in the First Millenium.)

I’m not much of a Biblical student or Jewish scholar or Christian historian to fully explain what caused the “maturity” in Judaism or Christianity that ended their conquest phases, but I have a few theories:

1) Judaism was very aggressive in its early stages in conquering and settling the Promised Land, but their goal was clearly defined and met. They had no desire to “bring the Word of God” to the world; they simply wanted their place, and the rest of the world could go hang. The idea of an “evangelical Jew” is an oxymoron, and they make converting to Judaism a real effort.

2) Christianity’s greatest age of conquest was when it was monolithic, under the Catholic Church. When the Church grew too concerned with worldly matters, it grew so corrupt that it prompted the Protestant Schism and permanently shattered much of the Church’s temporal power. The rise of individual freedoms and the notion of separation of Church and State (formalized here, but common to various degrees in most Western states), along with the fragmenting of Christianity, has kept the Church from regaining anything resembling the power it held in Medieval times.

Islam has yet to have a similar experience. They have no clearly limited goal — the world is divided into Dar Al-Islam, the House of Islam (the Islamic world) and Dar Al-Harb, the House of War (the rest of the world), and Dar Al-Islam must defeat and conquer Dar Al-Harb. And the schisms within Islam (Sunni, Shia, and the like) have not prompted a separation of Church and State, but instead a bitter rivalry that seems to promote atrocities against each other that rival those committed against us infidels. They’ve never learned how to “agree to disagree” as the major denominations of Christianity have to a large degree.

I don’t know how to bring about this “Reformation” of Islam, but judging by history, two solutions work: 1) let them achieve their goals, and then move on, or 2) shatter their temporal power and force them to work on achieving their goals in a non-violent, non-conquering fashion. The former worked for the Jews, but Islam’s stated goal is to bring their Faith to the whole world, and that’s too high a price to pay. Pending a credible third notion, that leaves only the latter choice.

And that seems to be pretty much in line with what the Bush administration’s current policies seem to be doing.

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