“Where are the moderates?”

In her comment on one of my previous posts, blogger Teresa said, “How many moderate Muslims have you seen speak out against 9/11 and other terrorist attacks? I have not seen many Muslims speak out.”

Teresa expresses the sentiment of many Americans who are dissatisfied with the “moderate” Muslim response to the terrorism and violence perpetrated by extremists.  They claim, “How are we supposed to believe good things about Islam when the only Muslims we see and hear from are supporting violence?  True, many American Muslims are not openly supporting terrorism, but they aren’t condemning it either.”  As it was expressed in a hurtful forwarded email I received a few years ago, many believe that the “silent majority” of the Muslim population is passively supporting aggression committed by fellow Muslims.

Despite their absence in the mainstream media, many moderate Muslims have indeed been speaking out.

There was little coverage of the many, many leaders who were making clear that the Muslim community in the U.S. far from supports the 9/11 attacks or terrorists’ actions.  The little reporting that was done was hard to find unless you were intentionally looking for it.

The main-stream media failed horribly in it s duty to fully inform American citizens.  In order to boost ratings and profits, the media chose to only cover a few violent or extreme events happening on the fringe, rather than focusing on the things that the majority of Muslims were doing and saying.  This poor coverage gave Americans the perception that American Muslims were unwilling to stand up to the terrorist acts committed by other Muslims.

I assumed that, as more moderate Muslim voices entered the national discussion and received more coverage, people would no longer have an excuse and the issue would go away.  But it didn’t.

In the midst of the Park 51 controversy, we’ve heard a lot from one moderate Muslim in particular–Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim leader of the project.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

He and his wife have been all over T.V. promoting and explaining the new Islamic center, a place that is “attempting to prevent the next 9/11.”  Rauf’s career has been spent working for better understanding between the Muslim world and the West.  Under Bush and Obama he has worked as a key diplomat, hoping to heal the wounds between the U.S. and majority Muslim nations.  His book, “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America,” discusses the good things that Islam and America have to offer one another and the factors that have made their relationship so strained.

So the problem should be solved, right?  We’re hearing from the moderates like we wanted to.  These Muslims are condemning terrorism and even working to prevent another 9/11!  But people still aren’t satisfied.

Rauf and other moderates are finally “speaking out,” but their status as moderates is now in question.  Does Rauf support Hamas?; did his father have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamist organization that began in the 1930s?; does he support shariah law?; does he think that the U.S. deserved to be attacked on 9/11?  (For answers to these questions, check out this comprehensive and detailed summary by the New York Times.)

These kinds of questions began swirling around the imam.  Americans, egged on by soundbite-producing media with its own biases, began to discredit the imam, claiming that he wasn’t a moderate at all.  Rather that being seen as a moderate, he was painted as and understood by Americans to be a quiet extremist whose family ties and former statements discredited his stated goals to foster peace, reconciliation, and understanding.

True, Imam Rauf might not have been the kind of “moderate” that Americans were looking for.  They were probably seeking secular Muslims who would encourage their fellow believers to abandon their Islamic beliefs, culture, and way of life and whole-heartedly accept the entirety of “superior” Western culture.  They probably wanted to hear from someone who would condemn all of Islam, even the parts that don’t harm and (I would argue) enrich American culture.  Finding a “moderate” who would fit this definition would allow Americans to hold onto their negative view of Islam, without having to pay attention to or try to understand the religion.

But his kind of “moderate” is not a moderate at all.  That person would be an “extremist” in a sense, because he or she would occupy the other end of the spectrum, the side without any religion at all.  And the term “secular Muslim” is an oxymoron–how do you expect a religious person to abandon his or her faith?

It quickly became clear that the call for moderates was just an excuse, a way for Americans to justify their belief that Islam was a religion of violence.  No one really wanted to hear from the moderates; rather they just wanted to be able to give a reason for their ignorance or negative view.  The lack of moderate voices in the mainstream provided that.

Now that we’ve heard the moderate voices, people have lost their excuse and are in need for a new one.  They claim that Rauf and moderates weren’t even moderates to begin with; they dismiss the moderates as being “radical” and thus allow themselves to hold tight to their long-standing and uninformed views.

It’s time to stop making excuses.  Only when we accept the truth can we begin the process of fixing this mess.  Lying to ourselves only makes things worse.

“You still hear from a lot of people, ‘Why aren’t the moderate Muslims speaking out?’ And…at some level you …feel like, I’ve lost my voice from speaking out.” Omid Safi, George Washington University, 2001

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About jdenari

Research Fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
This entry was posted in Islam, Islamophobia, Journalism, News, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Where are the moderates?”

  1. Saladin says:

    The sad thing is that some people will never be satisfied. Meet one criterion, another pops up. This happens across the political spectrum and I think stems from the fact that people don’t want to modify THEIR positions. “X is obstructionist and never wants to dialogue…okay, they want to talk but they drink Coke Zero, so they’re evil!”

    Great for drama and Jerry Springer, bad for shaping the world.

  2. You’d really like Dr. Mubarak Awad, he spoke at Marquette and is very passionate. http://www.american.edu/sis/faculty/mawad.cfm

    He is a is a Palestinian-American psychologist and an advocate of nonviolent resistance. Basically an amazing testimony to how peace can be achieved through non-violence.

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