Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom address this vital question directly in their article in the February issue of Commentary. The importance of this question is well summarized in a quote they provide from Daniel Pipes: “radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam the solution.” That is, it is wrong to treat all the followers of the Prophet as if they were terrorists or their supporters (the way Samuel Huntington and Sir Bernard Lewis do); it is equally mistaken to view Islam as a religion of peace, which is sometimes “hijacked” by terrorist to justify their act (as President Bush pronounced). It is an empirical fact of considerable ethical and political import that Muslims—like followers of all other major belief systems, religious and secular—differ greatly from one another. Some could make good allies; some, sadly, are unavoidable enemies. The key question is: who is who?
To proceed, it is essential to define the line that separates those Muslims we can readily live and work with (especially to hold at the bay the dangerous ones) from those we cannot. Muravchik and Szrom draw the line between moderates and radicals, which is good enough until they utterly blur that line by drawing it at different ideological divides; sometimes within the same sentence, often in the same paragraph. The issue is not that the editors at Commentary were asleep when they failed to ask for minimal clarity–muddled articles are all too common. The issue runs much deeper. It reflects the authors’ (and the publication’s) support for the Neo Cons’ major thesis: that one cannot be a Partner in Peace without being a liberal democrat.
The major line that divides moderates from extremeists is between those who support terrorism, the invasion of other nations, and military nuclear programs, and-- those who reject violence but do not necessarily favor a Western-style democracy and the full plethora of human rights or secular regimes. Indeed, many of these moderate, non violent Muslims favor religious life and polities. (For detailed statistical evidence showing that the majority of Muslims in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Algeria—some of the largest Muslim countries—are moderate but devout, see Part III of Security First).
In short, if one seeks peace and security, but believes that we can live with nations that have different regimes and sets of beliefs than Western ones (e.g., China and Cuba), the definition of moderates as non-violent (but no more) is essential. This does not mean that one ought to stop promoting democracy and human rights by non lethal means, however the basic litmus test is forswearing the sword, not the word.
With this in mind, let us visit what Muravchik and Szrom have to say. Sometimes the authors seem to be right on, such as where they state:
…when we speak of moderate Muslims as a counterweight to extremists…what we seek has nothing to do with the ardor of their religious convictions. …Muslims may still hope and pray for the eventual recognition by all mankind of the truth of Muhammad’s message…but they may not take up the sword to hasten the advent of that goal or pursue disputes among or within countries by violent means.
However, they fall off track where they propose a six question test that must be passed in order for any group to merit US cooperation and support. Still, two of these questions are on the right track (e.g., “does it eschew violence in pursuit of its goals?”; “does it condemn terrorism?”). The other four, however, depart from this mode of thinking: “Does it both espouse democracy and practice democracy within its own structures?” “Does it advocate equal rights for minorities?” “Does it advocate equal rights for women?” “Does it accept a pluralism of interpretation within Islam?”
To set the bar that high is to leave most Muslims on the wrong side of the divide. At least one should separate the minimal demands (no support for violence) from the much more demanding ones (embracing our kind of values and politics).