The Quest for “Moderate” Islam[i]
Dr. Yvonne Haddad, Professor at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, spoke at Al-Hewar Center on February 18, 2004, about "George Bush and the Muslims After 9/11: The Search for Moderate Islam." The event was moderated by Mr. Mazhar Samman, and was co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia. The following is Dr. Haddad's presentation:
The attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have refocused the preference of American policy makers for “moderate” Islam, one that has been promoted by certain sectors in the American establishment for over a decade and adopted by President Bush since 9/11. The Bush administration, in its attempt at public diplomacy, to blunt Arab anger at it policies in the Middle East, has launched several initiatives to foster, nurture and empower “moderate” Muslims. At the same time the Justice Department under John Ashcroft has promoted legislation and measures that allow search, seizure, and incarceration of Muslims and Arabs in the United States without evidence or recourse to legal advice, in an effort to weed out those suspected of being extremists/fanatical/fundamentalist/suicidal Muslims.
Most of the Muslims who immigrated to the Untied States came after the repeal of the Asia exclusion Act in the 1960s. They entered an America that had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Immigration Act of 1965. It was an America going through an identity crisis, one that was uncomfortable with its racist past, one that had begun to tolerate hyphenated identities and increasingly considered itself as a pluralistic society. Casting around for a model of organization for the survival of their identity, the Muslim leadership decided to emulate the Jewish community. They noted that although the Jewish community constituted less than 3% of the American population, this fact had not impeded its shaping policies and exercising equal power in a society that increasingly defined itself as Judeo-Christian. In the process, they sought equal representation hoping for a day when the United States would define itself as Christian-Jewish-Muslim. They emphasized difference and distinctiveness as the mark of being Muslim, perceived as a means of ensuring survival of the community and the perpetuation of its faith in the next generation.
Early Islamic activism in the West had been related more to circumstances in the countries left behind. Some of the immigrants came because they feared persecution on account of their affiliation in Islamic movements. They found the United States hospitable to their goals and were afforded the opportunity to work for opposition groups seeking an Islamic alternative to governments overseas.[ii] American interests overseas that promoted Islamization facilitated their activities and encouraged their enthusiasm and eagerness to establish Islamic institutions and to foster Islamic states to act as a firewall against the spread of Communism.[iii]
With the fall of the Soviet Empire, the Clinton Administration lost its zeal for supporting Islamist groups and nations. During Clinton’s second term, several Muslim states were identified as “rogue states.” Even Pakistan, which had been a consistent and reliable ally since the 1950s, was being shunted aside in favor of India. American Muslims became increasingly aware that their marginalized reality has empowered ideologues who waste no opportunity to paint Muslims as terrorists and a threat to the United States. Islamophobes such as Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes became the goad that spurred Muslims to respond and challenge the veracity of their charges.[iv]
The Clinton Administration made some symbolic gestures of inclusion towards Muslims, such as hosting the first Ramadan iftar (breaking the fast) dinners in 1992. Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at -Large for Religious Freedom, held regular Roundtable meetings with leaders of Muslim organizations starting in February 15, 1999 to discuss issues of mutual concern. Even the Postal Service issued a special commemorative Eid stamp on November 13, 2000.
While some in the Muslim community celebrated inclusion and symbolic access, others were apprehensive about policies simultaneously adopted in the 1990s by various agencies of the federal government that targeted Muslims in the United States, in the process restricting their human and civil rights. These laws were particularly harsh in relation to Arabs and Palestinians. For example, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 the media coverage precipitated a backlash against innocent Arab Americans which led to scores of injuries, incidents of harassment and physical abuse, and attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions. While President Clinton appeared on television and warned Americans not to blame or target the Muslim community, he signed into law HR 1710, the Anti-Terrorism and Affective Death Penalty Act of 1995 passed by Congress after the Oklahoma City bombing. The bill gave the right to the American government to try and incarcerate Arab Americans without evidence. It also sanctioned, among other security measures, airport profiling of potential terrorists. The profile was not of a Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, but of an Arab or a Muslim. Clinton also signed Executive Order No. 12947 on January 23, 1995 which banned contributions to Palestinian charitable institutions by American citizens, depriving orphans, widows and the needy of American financial assistance. It also allowed for seizing the assets of any American citizen who donated funds to NGO’s and civic organizations on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, including those that support Palestinian relief agencies such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, libraries, women’s organizations and community centers, in the process curtailing Arab civil liberties and human rights.
President Bush and American Muslims
With the election of the Bush-Cheney ticket, the leadership of the American Muslims community expected better relations with the White House since they had endorsed and voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket. However, from the start, Muslims noted the absence of even symbolic Muslim participation during the inauguration ceremonies while other religious communities were represented by their leaders. When the administration was notified of this "absence," a Muslim from Michigan was included at President Bush’s announcement of his faith-based voluntary work initiative which he hoped would be undertaken by churches, synagogues and mosques. This belated gesture of including Muslims was openly condemned by the reverend Jerry Falwell, leading some Muslims to expect a Presidential condemnation of “hate speech.” None was issued. Other Muslims doubted the President’s ability to do so, given his dependence on the Christian Right. As one Muslim put it, “The administration was only keen in seeking token participation of Muslims without involving them in the decision-making process.”
A few voices in the American Muslim community were increasingly asking: "What has the Muslim community gained from the Bush-Cheney team? Broken promises and more broken promises."[v] While some hesitated to pass judgment on the policies of the new administration regarding issues of deep concern to Muslims as well as on its reluctance to implement meaningful Muslim participation in the political process, others were wondering whether they had been hoodwinked into endorsing Bush for president. The question then was whether the Bush administration had decided that even the politics of symbolic access initiated by the Clinton administration were unpalatable to its supporters in the Christian Right and the watchdog groups of the pro-Israel Lobby, which it needs to placate if it harbors any hopes for a second term.
President Bush and American Muslims after 9/11
This policy of ignoring the Muslims changed after the catastrophic attack of 9/11 that shattered America’s sense of security and self sufficiency. President Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington, DC in an effort to calm public anger and retribution against Muslims and to demonstrate to Muslims overseas that the administration is not the enemy of Islam. To the consternation of many of his supporters, he declared Islam a “religion of peace.” The government now sought engagement with the Muslim community for a price. Not only did it demand their repeated denunciation of revolutionary groups overseas, it asked for what was perceived by Muslims as a rejection of some of the basic tenets of their faith, namely a restructuring of their Islamic organizations and a recasting of their faith as “moderate Islam.”
The attacks of 9/11 appear to have resolved the internal debates among policy makers in the United States that were initiated after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a growing number of political and religious officials cast around for a new enemy. Some of them had found it convenient to designate “fundamentalist Islam” as the imminent threat, “the other” that needs to be eliminated. Israeli leaders for several decades had been identifying Islam as “the enemy.” The attacks of 9/11 revealed a growing consensus among many of the Beltway pundits in Washington D.C. as well as the press. Israel and America were morphed. They were depicted as co-victims of Islamic hatred of Judaism and Christianity.
The events of 9/11 brought further restrictions on the Arab/Muslim community. The Bush Administration initiated and the Congress passed HR3162, commonly known as USA PATRIOT (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of October 24, 2001. It basically lifted all legal protection of liberty for Muslims and Arabs in the United States. It sanctioned the monitoring and surveillance of Muslims without notification, a policy assessed as violating the Constitution by the American Bar Association, the American Librarians Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. Arabs and Muslims have noted that while the Anti-Terrorism Act had sanctioned the incarceration of Arabs and Muslims with secret evidence, the Patriot Act as implemented by Attorney General John Ashcroft has sanctioned their incarceration with no evidence. Two hundred and forty seven cities and towns, including a New York Borough a few blocks from Ground Zero, have gone on record rejecting the legislation and its extensive powers.
The security measures adopted by the Bush Administration are perceived both overseas and among many in the Muslim community in North America not as anti-terrorism but as anti-Muslim. It appears that these measures reveal a fundamental challenge to the Muslim definition of the role of women in society that many Muslims deem as prescribed by God in the Qur’an. Some have questioned whether the goal of the US government is not in essence to liberate women from Islam and its values.
Another measure adopted by the American administration that has been interpreted as a part of a war on Islam is the monitoring by CIA agents at American embassies overseas of Islamic textbooks for anti-western, anti-American or anti-Israeli content. This monitoring has enraged some Muslims who have accused President Bush of becoming a “Mufti,” the arbiter of what true Islam is. Wajih Abu Zikri, writing in al-Akhbar, published in Cairo, reported that President Bush sent personal messages to Islamic scholars, including Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, asking them to “delete those verses and sayings that Bush sees ‘inappropriate’ from the Qur’an.” He went on: “President Bush pushed far his crusade, thinking that Islamic education must stop. The Islamic religion should be abolished from all school curricula. The Islamic religion schools should even vanish from the world, and the verses of the holy Koran, that he believe incite the defense of Muslim dignity and respond tit for tat to aggression should be struck out. Bush wants to teach our children to turn the other cheek, and the back to be kicked at will.”[vi]
Muslims have been deeply disturbed at the decision of the Bush administration to monitor NGOs, civic, charitable and religious organizations, both overseas and in the United States. The government has also published a list of suspect organizations whose assets have been frozen. In effect, the American government is perceived by Muslims to have assumed a veto power over zakat (tithe), one of the basic tenets of the Islamic faith by monitoring charities and organizations that support orphans and widows in an effort to curb the transfer of funds to terrorist organizations. Leaders of Islamic organizations have met with the administration asking for clarification as to what and who is considered by the American government as a legitimate recipient of such charities.
Another action by the Bush administration that has eroded Muslim confidence that the declared war is really on terrorism and not Islam itself is the raiding by several federal agencies the homes and offices of the national Muslim leadership in Northern Virginia. Muslims see this as a demonstration by the US government that it is now looking for a new Islamic leadership. The raids came as a major surprise to many Muslims who had previously criticized this leadership precisely because it was cooperating with the American Government. Such action raised serious questions about what kind of Islam America will now tolerate.
A few individuals have stepped up and volunteered to “lead the Muslims into moderation.” Several have been supported and funded by various agencies of the United States government. Their mission is to provide new reflections and interpretations of Islam. They have opened offices and are in the process of leading others into “right thinking.” To date, they appear to have few followers since they are perceived as agents of the effort to undermine Islam.
American policy makers tend to see the world in polarities, a fact that is evident in war rhetoric and policies engaged in by the American administration. The War on Terrorism bifurcated the world into good and evil, civilized and uncivilized, democratic versus despotic, of free versus held hostage, at the same time insisting on policies that were the antithesis of the American ideals of democracy, tolerance and civilization that the American elite were claiming were the target of the terrorists. The United States, while claiming that its goal is the creation of democratic governments in all Muslim nations, is demanding that these same governments demonstrate their Islamic moderation by prosecuting, if not persecuting, suspected terrorists. As Aihwa Ong observed, “By sharply drawing a line between moderate Muslim leaders and radical Muslim rebels, the US-orchestrated war on terror has increased the power of authoritarian Asian regimes. It has allowed them to brand a spectrum of local opposition or separatist groups as terrorist or al-Qaida-linked.”[vii]
The Bush administration has made it clear that it expects “moderate” governments to implement other measures to assure American interests. These include curbing free speech, called “inflammatory” if it is directed against American or Israeli policies. [viii] Various administration officials have weighed in on how to promote moderate Islam. Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense said in 2002 at the Brookings Institutions Forum, that “In winning this larger struggle, it would be a mistake to think that we could be the ones to lead the way. But, we must do what we can to encourage the moderate Muslim voices. This is a debate about Muslim values that must take place among Muslims. But, it makes a difference when we recognize and encourage those who are defending universal values. And, when we give them moral support against the opposition they encounter, we are indeed helping to strengthen the foundations of peace.”[ix]
The two strongest lobbies in Washington, the Christian Right and the Zionists, have had a field day since September 11, 2001. The demonstrated ability of the Muslim community to organize, register voters and get them out to vote a particular candidate concerned supporters of Israel. “I worry very much from the Jewish point of view that the presence and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims…will present true dangers to American Jews.”[x] Pro-Israel journalists such as Martin Peretz referred to Muslims in the United States as a “fifth column.”[xi]
Pro-Israel lobbies have worried and stalked Arab and Muslim activists and organizations for several decades. After 9/11, they swung into action and shared their files with reporters and the media in order to facilitate the investigation of Arab and Muslim individuals and organizations. Solomon Moore reported in the Los Angeles Times on November 3, 2002, that such organizations, as “the Anti-Defamation League, The Jewish Defense League, the Middle East Forum think tank have provided news organizations with reams of official documentation on Muslim leaders in recent weeks.”[xii] Pro-Israeli lobbies were instrumental in derailing the nomination of Salam al-Marayati, founder and director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, to the National Commission on Terrorism. His views were exposed by the “Zionist Organizations of America in coalition with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, AIPAC, The American Jewish Congress, The American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League.”[xiii] They also protested the nomination of his wife Laila al-Marayati to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
A detailed litmus test of moderate Islam was provided by Daniel Pipes, the Presidential appointee to the US Institute of Peace. He is perceived by Muslims as the pro-Israel provocateur who has initiated a relentless campaign against “militant/extremist/terrorist Islamists,” in the process calling for what could be considered a new Inquisition reminiscent of what obtained in Spain during the 15th century. His views on what constitutes “moderate Islam” are noted for their inconsistencies. Many dismiss him as a “designated demonizer,” since he set up Campus Watch asking students to report on faculty who expressed ideas that disagreed with his orthodoxy. The President of the United States appointed him to the Institute despite vigorous opposition from the Muslim community as well as some Christian and Jewish leaders who saw him as a divider of the nation when what was needed was a healer, and despite opposition to his nomination by scholars and intellectuals as well as members of the senate committee that was approving his appointment. Whether Bush’s insistence on appointing him during the Congressional recess was based on a shared view of “Islamists” or due to the pressure of the pro-Israel lobby is hard to tell.
In an editorial in the Jewish World Review, Pipes sets out to distinguish between “real and phony moderation,” which he asserts cannot be divined by “amateurs like U.S. government officials.” He notes that “The best way to discern moderation is by delving into the record, public and private, Internet and print, domestic and foreign, of an individual or institution. Such research is most productive with intellectuals, activists, and imams, all of whom have a paper trail. With others, who lack a public record, it is necessary to ask questions. These need to be specific, as vague inquiries (‘Is Islam a religion of peace?’ ‘Do you condemn terrorism?’) have little value, depending as they do on definitions (of peace, terrorism).”[xiv]
For Pipes, there is a need to question Muslims regarding their views on a variety of issues including their attitude towards violence, whether they condone or condemn resistance fighters who “give up their lives to kill enemy civilians.” They need to condemn by name a list of organizations that he provides. He also challenges the Muslim view of modernity, expecting them to renounce specific teachings of the Qur’an regarding women and the right to resist occupation by foreign troops who expel Muslims based on religious discrimination, in the process denying their right to choose and identify their own religion and culture: “Should Muslim women have equal rights with men (for example, in inheritance shares or court testimony)? Is jihad, meaning a form of warfare, acceptable in today's world? Do you accept the validity of other religions? Do Muslims have anything to learn from the West?”[xv]
Under the rubric of secularism, Pipes asserts that to be considered moderate, Muslims have to renounce certain teachings of their faith. What is peculiar is that the questions he posits regarding Islamic laws have parallels in Israel, a state he generally defends as modern, democratic and secular: “Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims? May Muslims convert to other religions? May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men? Do you accept the laws of a majority non-Muslim government and unreservedly pledge allegiance to that government? Should the state impose religious observance, such as banning food service during Ramadan? When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws (e.g., covering the face for drivers' license pictures), which should give way?”[xvi]
Pipes is also eager to question Muslims about their understanding of pluralism, whether they consider Sufis and Shi'ites as fully legitimate Muslims (hence admitting to his targeting of Sunni Muslims.) “Do you see Muslims who disagree with you as having fallen into unbelief? Is takfir (condemning fellow Muslims one has disagreements with as unbelievers) an acceptable practice?” Furthermore, he provides a category for “self-criticism” in which he implies that anyone who does not question his/her faith is not moderate. “Do you accept the legitimacy of scholarly inquiry into the origins of Islam? Who was responsible for the 9/11 suicide hijackings?” [xvii]
As for defense against militant Islam, Pipes wants to interrogate Muslims on whether they accept being singled out for suspicion, profiling, incarceration or expulsion. “Do you accept enhanced security measures to fight militant Islam, even if this means extra scrutiny of yourself (for example, at airline security)?” He further demands that they acquiesce to measures that impede their right to religious freedom based on accusations without evidence. “Do you agree that institutions accused of funding terrorism should be shut down, or do you see this a symptom of bias?” Finally, he demands that they renounce any missionary activity in the West. “Do you accept that Western countries are majority-Christian and secular or do you seek to transform them into majority-Muslim countries ruled by Islamic law?” That he demands an Inquisition is in the text of his opinion piece, “It is ideal if these questions are posed publicly — in the media or in front of an audience — thereby reducing the scope for dissimulation.”[xviii]
Anti-Islamist Muslims that Pipes approves of include “freethinkers or atheists. Some are conservative, others liberal.” Among those on his favored list are Abdelwahab Meddeb of the Sorbonne “who wrote the evocatively titled Malady of Islam, in which he compares militant Islam to Nazism,” Ibn Warraq, a self described convert from Islam who attempts “to embolden Muslims to question their faith,” and Ayaan Hirst Ali of Holland who has called Islam a ‘backward’ religion.”[xix] Others include Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam: A Wakeup Call for Honesty and Change,[xx] as well as a slew of journalists and authors including Saadallah Ghaussy, Hausain Haqqani, Salim Mansur, Khaleel Mohammad, Tashbih Sayyid, Stephen Schwarts, Khalid Duran and Tahir Aslam Gora.[xxi] Also on the list of “moderate Muslims” is Shaykh Mohammad Hisham Kabbani who in a January 1999 address at the Department of State warned against the imminent danger to America from Islamic extremists armed with 20 nuclear bombs. He also warned that 80% of mosques in the US have been taken over by extremists who have an unhealthy focus on the struggle of the Palestinian people.[xxii] Pipes has also published a list of approved Islamic organizations.[xxiii]
It is clear that the attacks of 9/11/2001 have had a major impact on the presidency of George Bush who has declared that it has “changed America forever.” The question continues to be whether this change is to be marked simply by increased vigilance and security measures by Ashcroft’s Department of Justice, or if it serves as an historical demarcation leading to a permanent shift in American foreign policy. Muslims wonder if it has led to what amounts to a declaration of unrelenting war on the Islamist interpretation of Islam, or whether that war is aiming at undermining mainline Islam. A visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Husain Haqqani, himself a self-proclaimed moderate, recently urged the United States and other Western powers to revise their definition of what constitutes extremists and moderates in the Muslim world. Rather than considering moderates only as those who "toe the line," he said, moderate Muslims should be defined as those who want to engage as equals with others in the contemporary world and believe that violence, force and coercion are not appropriate ways in which to respond. Moderate Muslims, he said, are those who “need to be embraced and strengthened.”[xxiv]
The Muslim world wonders what President Bush meant when he declared “The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”[xxv] Will this peace include a resolution of the Arab and Israeli conflict such that Palestinians can live in dignity without fear of Israeli repression? Or is President Bush marching to the drum of Pope Urban who declared a Crusade over a millennium ago, or of Napoleon who invaded Egypt proclaiming that he had come to restore Islam to its genuine teachings? Only George Bush knows.
[i] This article is abridged from Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “The Shaping of a Moderate North American Islam,” in Islam and the West Post September 11,edited by Ron Geaves, T. Gabriel, J. Smith, and Y. Haddad, Ashgate, 2004.
[ii]. Omar Afzal, "Learn not Copy: Movements Facing Challenges of the West," The Message, March 1996, p. 23.
[iii].Afzal, "Learn not Copy” p. 23.
Among the most vociferous is Steven Emerson who produced the controversial
documentary “Jihad in America” aired on PBS in which he claimed that
Muslims use mosques for terrorist training. He also appeared before the
House International Committee where he asserted that “Radical Islamic
networks now constitute the primary domestic-as well as
international-national security threat facing the FBI and other law
enforcement agencies.” Steven Emerson, Testimony of Steven Emerson:
Subcommittee of Africa House International Relations Committee, U.S. House
of Representatives, April 6, 1995, p.4. He was one of the first journalists
to ascribe the Oklahoma City bombing to Muslim terrorists as vindication of
his analysis and assessment. He has also published an article and is in the
process of writing a book on the topic. Steven Emerson, “The Other
Fundamentalists,” The New Republic, June 12, 1995, 21-30.
“Has the Bush Administration?” 7
[vi] Wajih Abu Zikri, A New American Religion for Muslims,” al-Akhbar, December 26, 2001. FIBIS-NES-2001-1226.
Aihwa Ong, “A Multitude of Spaces: Radical versus Moderate Islam,” paper
presented at the AAA annual meeting in New Orleans, November 21, 2 9
September 2003. 002, p. 4. 13 pp.
[viii] Farish A. Noor, The Other Malaysia: Panopticon Revisited, November 6, 2002, Malayskini.org.
[x] Daniel Pipes as quoted in Dave Eberhart, “Muslim Moderate Kabbani Firm on Terrorist Nuclear Threat,” Newsmax.com, November 19, 2001. See also Robert I. Friedman, “The Wobbly Israel Lobby; For the Once Potent AIPAC, It’s Been a Very Bad Year,” Washington Post, November 1, 1992.
[xi] Martin Peretz, “When America-Haters Become Americans,” The New Republic, October 15, 2001.
[xii] As reported in the Los Angeles Times by Solomon Moore, November 3, 2002.
[xiii] News Release, January 23, 2002.
[xiv] Pipes, Daniel. “Identifying Muslim Moderates.” Jewish World Review, 25 November 2003 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764. http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1103/pipes_2003_11_25.php3
[xviii] Pipes, Daniel. “Identifying Muslim Moderates.” Jewish World Review, 25 November 2003 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764. http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1103/pipes_2003_11_25.php3
[xix] Daniel Pipes, “[Moderate] Voices of Islam,” New York Post, 23 September 2003. http://www.danielpipes.org/article/1225. The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and C
[xx] Irshad Manji, The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change, Toronto: Random House Canada, 2003.
[xxii] Dave Eberhart, “Muslim Moderate Kabbani Firm on Terrorist Nuclear Threat,” Newsmax.com, November 19, 2001.
[xxiii] These include: The Islamic Supreme Council of America, the Council fro Democracy and Tolerance, American Islamic Congress, Society for Humanity and Islam in America, Ataturk Society and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations. http://www. Jewishworldview.com/1103/pipes
[xxiv] Dannheisser, Ralph. “Islam Compatible With Democracy, Not Monolithic, Muslim Panelists Say.” US Embassy Malaysia, http://usembassymalaysia.org.my/wf/wf0909_islam.html
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