February 8, 2006
Still Waiting For Moderate Muslims....

By Tom Bevan

Six days after September 11, President Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., to deliver a message to a shocked, grieving nation: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” “Islam,” the President continued, “is peace.”

Five years later, after bombings in Bali, Turkey, Madrid, London, Israel, Iraq, and Amman (to name a few), the savage killing of Theo van Gogh, the murdering of children in Beslan, the burning of thousands of cars in Paris, and now a global conflagration over a few lame cartoons published in a Danish newspaper months ago, it is more than understandable the world is starting to question whether President Bush’s proclamation was more wishful thinking than fact.

The current crisis over the Mohammed cartoons helps illuminate another threat that is every bit as dangerous as terrorism: the cultural assertiveness of Islamic fundamentalism. The people we see rioting in London and around the world are not all willing to strap bombs to themselves in the name of Allah. But they’re clearly demonstrating a sympathy for the fundamentalist cause – whether manipulated or not- and a willingness to use threats of violence as a form of cultural intimidation. That is an ominous sign.

We keep hearing about how the vast majority of the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world practice the religion of Islam peacefully. That is certainly true, though not terribly important. What is important is where the trend is heading between the majority and the minority. This is a process without stasis; every day each group within Islam is either gaining or losing ground. One group is exerting more influence and control and the other is exerting less. Few would dispute that over the last five years, with few exceptions, the fundamentalist minority within Islam has been the group making strides.

The problem, of course, is that while the West is the target of Islamic fundamentalism and terror, the West is not in control of the outcome of the battle. Ultimately, that responsibility rests in the hands of moderate Muslims. No amount of appeasement, or bombs, or isolation, or troop withdrawals by the West is going to change the core dynamic of the struggle between those who want a modern, tolerant version of Islam and those who want to impose a 9th century version of sharia.

Every religion has its fundamentalists – Christianity no less than Islam. The difference between the two (as well as other major religions) is that over time and through much struggle Christians developed an external, peaceful tolerance toward those who would offend or insult their faith and, just as importantly, an internal discipline and intolerance toward members who would commit heinous acts of violence against innocent people in the name of their Lord. Islam, for the most part, still has that equation backwards.

And so we wait and continue to wonder: where are the moderate Muslims today? Where have they been for the last five years? We saw protests against terrorism in the streets of Amman last year – but only after the horrendous suicide bombing of a wedding shocked the consciousness of Jordanians. Aside from that, we’ve seen nothing demonstrating the magnitude and seriousness one would expect from hundreds of millions of people outraged over the fact their religion’s good name has been hijacked and distorted by a small group of fundamentalists.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn: moderate, peace-loving Muslims are either unable to win the battle against fundamentalism, or they are unwilling to win it. We are fast approaching the day when the continued lack of demonstrable effort on the part of moderate Muslims serves to disabuse the West of the notion that Islam “is peace.” That would be a terrible thing, and it would make the struggle of moderate Muslims that much more difficult in the end. The time for action is now.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics.

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