The term Moderate Muslim is a misnomer, because it is the equivalent of describing him as a Secular Catholic or a Liberal Conservative. Muslims who pride themselves on sticking to the Koran view extremism as a virtue, not a fault. Islam's reform movements that succeeded were not movements that made Islam more liberal, but that made it stricter, harsher and more unfeeling.
And so what the West's pursuit of moderate Muslims really does is push them toward more extreme views. A Muslim ruler who develops closer ties with the West is forced to compensate for it by moving further to the extreme in order to avoid being vulnerable to domestic charges that he is a bad Muslim. It is no surprise then that Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Muslim world, is also the most extremist Muslim country on the planet, that is behind the growing push to the extreme around the world.
The Saudi Royal Family's balancing act trades American support for them and their oil off by supporting the expansion and spread of increasingly radicalized mosques and imams. This is supposed to hold future Bin Ladens at bay. Meanwhile American politicians praise the country where women aren't allowed to drive and non-Muslims can't even set foot in Mecca for its commitment to moderate Islam.
The Western pursuit of moderate Muslims alone helps create more enthusiasm for pushing Islam further to the extreme. Once Western leaders define a Muslim group as moderate, new more extreme groups are quickly spawned in order to set a new bar for "True Islam", as opposed to the compromise variety that the infidels praise. For example when Israel and the US announced that they had successfully made a deal with Arafat, the rise of Hamas was all but assured. When the UK or the US tries to treat Islamists as mainstream, not only do the Islamists become more extreme, but they develop new and more extreme rival groups.
So the pursuit of Muslim moderates not only pushes them into even greater extremes, but it spawns a host of new more extreme groups looking to capitalize on setting an even more extreme standard that will be praised for its faithfulness to the Koran. While the West tries to pretend it is bringing Muslims in from the cold, in fact it is turning up the heat.
While the term "Islamic Extremism" is commonly bandied about, the fact of the matter is that Islam possess an endless reservoir of "extremism", simply because it's always possible for a cleric to dig up more stringencies, and denounce those who don't keep them as heretics. Somalia and Afghanistan, where Islamists beheaded Muslims for watching soccer games, teaching girls to cut hair, men for not having beards or for playing music-- demonstrate just how boundless the reserve of extremism is. With historical bans on everything from playing chess to owning a dog to playing a musical instrument-- there is always a new extreme to push toward.
The tragic case of Israel's attempts to make peace with its Muslim neighbors should have served as the "canary in the coal mine" for Western leaders. Because each time Israel has tried to make peace with neighbouring countries, it has actually driven them further away. Sadat's cleverness at putting the cold peace that existed between Israel and Egypt on paper in exchange for land several times the current size of Israel, masked by friendly rhetoric, cost him his life. Mubarak, like virtually every Arab Muslim leader who maintains relations with Israel, must do so heavily disguised, and in between blasts of hateful rhetoric you might expect from Der Sturmer. The alternative would be to follow Sadat to the grave, or risk a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the country.
Since the peace treaties were signed with their respective countries, the populations of Egypt and Jordan now hate Israel and Jews more than ever because they feel "humiliated" that their countries maintain any relations whatsoever with Israel, instead of constantly trying to destroy them. This is not the view of some tiny minority of extremists, or even huge majority of extremists. It is the virtually universal view in both countries, cutting across all political boundaries, from left to right. It represents an absolute consensus. Because the only thing Muslims, both devout and secular, can agree on, is the destruction of the infidel.
In the 90's, Israel attempted to resolve the terrorist campaign and the Palestinian Arab issue by signing a peace accord with Arafat. Not only did Arafat not keep the accord, but he actually dramatically ramped up the violence against Israel, once he was in power. Not only that he introduced a radical curriculum which helped create an entire generation of suicide bombers and terrorists who were taught and raised by the Palestinian Authority to hate and kill Jews. But for the mere fact that Arafat negotiated with Israel, even though he never kept his agreements and continued to engage in terrorism-- Hamas became popular as the true voice of Islam, for its refusal to even negotiate with Israel. Once Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas took over and said that it was willing to have a temporary truce with Israel, after which it would once again resume trying to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. At which point, Al Queda opened a local office and denounced Hamas for selling out to the Jews, and promised to represent the true voice of the Islamic resistance.
There could be no better illustration of the self-destructiveness of trying to negotiate not only with terrorists, but with Islamic ones in particular. Even the process of trying to negotiate with them, increases both the violence and the extremism on their side.
While liberal commentators and pundits writing about the War on Terror frequently claim that fighting terrorists creates more terrorists, killing terrorists actually reduces the overall number of terrorists. By contrast trying to negotiate with terrorists, actually creates large numbers of them, and promotes the spread of terrorism in far more devastating ways, because it promotes increased extremism, gives rise to new terrorist groups and does nothing to actually thin out their ranks.
Islam cannot be mainstreamed, because it does not accommodate itself, it expects to be accommodated. To the true believer, Islam exists as a force over the lives of men, or it is nothing at all. For the Muslim, living in a country without Islam law means living in a country with injustice. And living in a country with Islamic law, means that the injustice that does exist must be blamed on a watered down version of Islam, to which the solution as always is the sword, the cane and the rule of the Religious Police. There is no moderating such a mindset. Not when religion is indivisible from seizing power to enforce the most rigid version of the Islamic code available at a given moment.
But any attempt to mainstream Islam makes it appear compromised. A Muslim leader who is willing to shake hands with an infidel is already suspect in the eyes of many, for he appears to be accommodating an infidel, and thereby humiliating Islam. So a Muslim leader who does shake hands with an infidel, must be careful to denounce infidels loudly and thereby prove that he is more extreme than the extremists. This creates two-faced "moderates" who say one thing in English and another thing in Arabic, trying to play both sides at the same time. And the result leaves many Western leaders baffled, or incapable of believing that the same charming fellow they had tea with last week, just endorsed the Taliban and suggested that it's time to bring back stoning for adultery in the UK. In the liberal model the two seem to be worlds apart. But in the Muslim model, they're just realpolitik.
Western pundits and politicians who insist on applying their model of extremism and moderation to Islam are as foolish as an explorer trying to find a straight line route through a cave system. Western countries have socially and politically enacted a thermometer style model of beliefs that are lukewarm, not too hot and not too cold, which are mainstream and accepted. Within Islam the socially accepted part of the thermometer is as hot as you can get. But even more perversely, "hot" is defined relative to any attempt at moderation. So every time, Western countries attempt to cool down Islam to a more moderate temperature, they only succeed in making it hotter.
Moderation in Islam has never come from without, but from within, from Muslim rulers who were worried about the destabilizing effects of Islamism on their power. But such a state of affairs has never lasted, because sooner or later, Islam returns to its roots, and channels anger, dissatisfaction, greed and power into a weapon. Because those are the roots of Islam, to serve as the private army of Mohammed, to make war on the world in the name of imposing its will on it. There can be no peace with Islam. Only temporary truces. Ages of weakness. But in the end the tide goes out again. And the storm comes. And with it war.
(note to readers, due to the final days of Passover, this blog will not return to normal functioning until Tue night on the 6th)