Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Nathan Lean is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (2012). His latest post, “Stop Saying ‘Moderate Muslims’. You’re Only Empowering Islamophobes” is characteristically frustrating, leaving the reader (or this one at least) uncertain whether he is (mostly) making sense or succumbing to a dangerous moral relativism.
After sketching events at a recent Heritage Foundation panel in which Brigitte Gabriel clashed with a young student, Saba Ahmed, Lean explains:
That prompted much hand-wringing, primarily on cable news, about the supposed silence of “moderate Muslims” in this supposed age of Islamist extremism. What no one on either side of the debate questioned, though, was the legitimacy of the phrase “moderate Muslims” itself.
Fair enough, I think. Most Muslims will tell you that their version of Islam is simply correct – not “moderate Islam’, just Islam. The Muslim whose views will probably strike most non-Muslims as “moderate’, because broadly compatible with secular and liberal norms, is unlikely to see herself as following a watered down version of the faith. Instead she will view both violent extremists and theocrats as wedded to a perverted and distorted form of Islam.
You could argue that “moderate Muslim’ has a subtext of “doesn’t take her religion seriously, thank goodness’. I believe that’s what Baroness Warsi was getting at in her rather incoherent 2011 speech on Islamophobia. (Obviously many “moderate Muslims’ will have no special problem with that label, but you can object to it and still be perfectly “moderate’.)
Nathan Lean then makes some points it seems easy to go along with. Brigitte Gabriel thinks no practising Muslim can be moderate, Sam Harris asserts that moderate Muslims are those that “express skepticism over the divine origins of the Quran and “surely realize that all [sacred] books are now candidates for flushing down the toilet”, and Pamela Geller thinks that today’s moderate is tomorrow’s mass murderer.
But just when I’m feeling perfectly well aligned with Lean against a bunch of bigots he says this:
To be fair, it’s not just the wackos. [M]any have used this phrase to describe Muslims who fit a certain preferred profile. Many Muslims themselves have bought into this dichotomy, if only to distance themselves from the so-called radicals and extremists to assure paranoid non-Muslims, in other words, “I’m not “that” kind of Muslim.”
Now, even the most irreproachably moderate Muslim might feel irritated at being constantly required to condemn things which have nothing whatsoever to do with him. But what on earth does Lean mean when he refers to “so-called radicals and extremists’? Does he mean terrorists and those who believe adulterers should be stoned to death? Lean’s failure to define his terms makes it impossible to know what he is actually arguing here.
This passage is very satirical, but I don’t mind admitting that I feel implicated in his sketch of the Buffalo wings customer.
How is it that we talk about Muslims much like we talk about Buffalo wings, their “potency” being measured not by some objective rubric but rather by our personal preferences? It’s the mild ones that we seem to search out: not so spicy in their religious practices that they burn us, yet not so bland that they dilute our religious diversity altogether.”
I feel no compunction in condemning those who think apostates and blasphemers should die. But I have no problem with Muslims who pray, fast, and choose to conform to their own understanding of sexual morality and modesty. (Later in the article Lean sets up a straw man, implying that that Muslims who observe Ramadan are viewed as “flirting with extremism’. This – unless you are some kind of counter-jihadist wingnut – is rubbish.)
Lean completely occludes non-violent extremism in his analysis, even though the views held by some entirely non-violent and law abiding Muslims are more extreme than those of the most lurid far right parties.
Even if a mere 1 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims is committed to violence, why is it that we haven’t seen 16 million violent attacks?
With rhetorical sleight of hand he darts back to those who set the bar unfairly high for “moderation’.
Proving one’s “moderation” is a trap, anyway. The only way to do it is to meet the criteria set forth by the person making the demand. For Gabriel and others, it’s by supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets. It’s why a figure like Zuhdi Jasser, a darling of the Republican Party and Peter King’s star witness in the “radicalization” hearings, is held up like a trophy while Saba Ahmed is mocked.
What does “rejecting certain Islamic tenets’ mean? There is little consensus about what Islam “is’ so I am completely at a loss as to whether Lean has in mind lashing blasphemers or believing there is no God but Allah. There’s an awful lot of middle ground between Zuhdi Jasser, who opposed the so-called Ground Zero mosque, and the terrorists who created Ground Zero in the first place. As Lean fails to acknowledge this, his post is ultimately meaningless.