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Myopic Builders and Elusive Moderates PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Louay Safi   
Apr 16, 2007 at 07:00 PM

Building Moderate Muslim Networks is RAND Corporation's second attempt at devising a strategy to help prevent "some Muslim societies [from] falling back even further into patterns of intolerance and violence." And to do that RAND reassigns Caryl Benard, the author of the first report Civil Democratic Islam, to join three more scholars for preparing its new report.

The present report makes little improvements over the previous one, and suffers from the same faulty assumptions and flawed analysis. The new report moves away from overtly relying on "lifestyle" for distinguishing friends from foes, and shifts the emphasis to a set of political values. RAND's new research team uses a list of 10 criteria to separate moderate and radical Muslims. The emphasis is less focused on religious practices, as attention turns to ideology and commitment to free and open society.

The current study recognizes that the entrenched authoritarian governments and the decline of civil-society institutions in much of the Muslim world "have left the mosque as one of the few avenues for the expression of popular dissatisfaction with prevailing political, economic, and social conditions." Yet the authors seem less concerned with the need to withdraw support from authoritarian regimes responsible for destroying civil society in much of the Muslim world. Rather, the authors are exceedingly obsessed with the goal of marginalizing social groups, even the most moderate of them, that appeal to Islamic values as the basis for sociopolitical reform. I have already discussed at length in my response to RAND's early report why this obsession is counterproductive and will only feed into political radicalization, and have nothing to add to this point here.

One cannot help but notice that the report consistently places the blame on Muslim societies. It refuses to assign any responsibility for the radicalization of Muslim politics to the cynical strategies advocated by foreign policy experts. These strategies call for freedom and democracy simultaneously as they continue to urge support to friendly authoritarian regimes.

In discussing the Danish cartoon saga, for instance, the report directs the blame for this sad and unfortunate episode to the "Danish imams," who the report asserts "caused the cartoon controversy to spiral into an international conflagration." No blame is placed at the door of the newspaper that published the offensive cartoons, despite the fact that the newspaper was implicated in deliberate efforts to demonize the emerging Danish Muslim community. Blaming the Danish imams is the equivalent of blaming the Rutgers University women's basketball team for complaining about Don Imus’s racial slur and abuse, and for making their indignations known to the public, leading to his ousting from his job.

Among the many faulty assumptions on which the report builds its recommendations is that the Muslim World's Moderates, defined as secularist and liberal Muslims, lack the resources they need to dominate Muslim societies. Moderates, the report asserts, "do not have the resources" they need to create viable networks to counter the radicals. They lack the skills to do that themselves and require an "external catalyst." The United States can, the report continues, serve in the role of catalyst by utilizing the experience it gained "during the Cold War to foster networks of people committed to free and democratic ideas. The United States "critical role" consists in leveling the playing field for moderates."

The reality is that radicals in most Muslim countries constitute small and fringe groups whose impact far exceeds their numbers because they are willing to employ shocking violence in pursuing their goals. Further, many of the Middle Eastern regimes are ruled by elites who are socially secular and liberal, but politically autocratic and authoritarian.

The radicalization of politics in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq was the result of deliberate efforts by Muslim secularists to impose modern practices on Muslim societies. The reliance on force and iron fist policies to impose “modernâ€
 institutions and practices by socially "moderate" but politically radical secularists, who held and continue to hold power in many Muslim countries, has led to the destruction of public debate, the disappearance of civil society, and the radicalization of politics. For instance, the use of violence by state security agencies to silence opposition during Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat of Egypt has paved the way to the rise of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s.

The report's efforts to take a principled approach to defining the "moderate" proved to be elusive. For even though the report acknowledges that some Islamists satisfy the "moderate criteria," it eventually sides with those who counsel against engaging Islamists. Moderate Islamists, the report contends, should only be engaged as "interlocutors," but never supported even when they espouse democratic values.

The report concludes by giving several examples of moderate Muslims, and surprisingly they include prominent Islam bashers. The list includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Irshad Manji, Basam Tibi, etc. Ultimately, it is not commitment to democratic values and practices, but proximity to Islam, that sets moderates and radicals in the eyes of the authors of the recent RAND report on moderate Islam.

It is not surprising, therefore, that RAND's recommendations feed into the arrogant and unilateralist policies advanced by the neoconservatives in the last six years, policies that resulted in more chaos on the world stage and misery within Muslim societies.

This artricle has appeared in the following publications: Media Monitor Network, Aljazeera.com, Middle East Online, Official Wire, Middle East Time, The American Muslim, iView.com, Milli Gazatte, Islamonline.com, and others



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By Editor @ I J T E M A, at April 19, 2007 8:43 PM  

Why do these so called 'experts' write this condescending rot against Islam? Until I converted to Islam, I used to look at Muslims and wonder, what is their problem? After I converted to Islam, I often find asking myself 'what was my problem?’

The answer is quite simple. As a white Anglo-Saxon Christian, I was vain, proud and arrogant about my colour, my lineage, the achievements of my white race and the beauty of the land to which I belonged and the fact that Christianity was the superior religion, after all it had more white adherents, and hence being a 'white' religion we had to be better than the religion of the poor like Islam whose followers were mostly the poor people in rags and generally had dark skin and wore strange clothes and ate strange food.

In these 4 years since I have been a Muslim I realised that I can only see as far as God allows me to see, I can only breathe, eat and live to the extent God allows me. So why would God allow my affair with myself and my race to go on if it was wrong? The answer I think is so that I could come to the understanding and realisation I have today. I now look back and see what a complete idiot I was and I look upon others making the same mistake and feel sad that many will never see the reality.

All this arrogance and haughtiness.. for what ? Because tomorrow you die and will be buried in the same earth as all others, no matter what their colour, religion or creed. Will I walk then before God holding my head high or in humility hoping for his forgiveness? I see now all these fools falling in the same trap as I did. This arrogance is what caused the devil to loose all his years of piety and devotion and change them for an enternity of doom.

I see now Islam traverses all boundaries of race and colour. I once looked upon awe at the rich and powerful; I now desperately seek the company of the poor and the humble.

Fredrik Gyllstad

By Fredrik Gyllstad, at April 27, 2007 9:48 AM  

Muslims should not say sorry or apologize anymore for following Islam. Muslims should counter all the false information with being respectful to other views.

Islam has no problem but it is the followers call them Muslims. Be strong as a Muslim and defend Islam intellectually by establishing as professional person as a doctor, engineer, businessman, lawyer in the West.

Follow the basics as the first word came from God to the prophet "Iqra" = Read. If Muslims go back to the roots of learning all the problems of ignorance, prejudice, hatred will disappear. You have a billion people = billion mind = billion people market = billion wealth of natural resources so the future is yours, the West knows that so they are crying wolf. Be a proud Muslim and stand for it. Defend it as your fore fathers did but now it has to be in the forms of 21 century = intellectually.

Take back your Islam from all the extreamists inside and outside of Islam, only you can do it because God designed you naturally as a moderate = true Islam. Peace

Roger Smith

By Anonymous, at April 27, 2007 9:51 AM  

Interesting how these "intellectuals" remain silent on the fact of rape, torture and murder of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British soldiers, who at best get a few months in jail for genocide and other heinous crimes. Even the most vocal Women’s Rights groups are suddenly quiet, no matter how many women and children get raped or butchered by our soldiers- after all they are only Muslims, right? How wonderful our Western justice is? The only reason we boldly do what we do is because we have the military might and the Muslims, in spite of being a force capable of being reckoned with, are disorganised and busied fighting their ethnic and tribal wars- of course with a lot of help from us to keep the flames of ethnic strife well stoked. A time will is coming when we will have to pay for our indiscretions and all our military and economic might will not help a bit.

M Baxter

By M Baxter, at April 30, 2007 6:37 PM  

Informative article..it feels so good to hear from people who converted to Islam write such good points. The solution in the end is always education..

I see the Saudi Goverment...UAE ..Iran...Iraq..they only concentrated in educating their children in foreign land and did not give them incentive to move back home and open state of the art Universities, school and colleges and on the other hand so much more salary..incentives are given to foreigners..maybe they are afraid that once we understand how much money they spend on booze, women, their palaces, we would revolt and some of us who do understand are too comfortable in our homes and our lives to change anything..

I am ashamed of myself for tolerating and changing very little in life and I know I wont leave this world a better place though God gave me everything.


By Tanseem, at April 30, 2007 6:41 PM  

Dr Safi writes "In discussing the Danish cartoon saga, for instance, the report directs the blame for this sad and unfortunate episode to the "Danish imams," who the report asserts "caused the cartoon controversy to spiral into an international conflagration." No blame is placed at the door of the newspaper that published the offensive cartoons, despite the fact that the newspaper was implicated in deliberate efforts to demonize the emerging Danish Muslim community.".

This is disingenous. The same cartoons also appeared in an Egyptian paper on the fron page and in Arabic. Guess what, nothing happended. Problems arose 3 months afterwards after the meeting in Saudi Arabia. So, the spark came from elsewhere.

Dr Safi also writes "Blaming the Danish imams is the equivalent of blaming the Rutgers University women's basketball team for complaining about Don Imus's racial slur and abuse, and for making their indignations known to the public, leading to his ousting from his job.".

This is again disingenous. Don Imus lost his job, not his head (contrary to expectations, there is no job entitlement in the business world). During the cartoon demonstrations how many hundreds were killed and wounded, and how mauch was the property damage.

From the article, I am unable to determine if Dr Safi can identify a 'moderate' muslim or if he is even looking for one.

Romesh Chander

By Romesh Chander, at April 30, 2007 6:48 PM  

Who can be called a "moderate Muslim.... well this is actually a big question that is receiving much attention today. why?

I believe taht providing a definition for a "moderate Muslim", in my point of view as a Muslim, is no more than a defensive and apologetic sort of action if done by Muslims. I myself have been looking for an answer for a while untill I realized that there is no such a thing called a "moderate muslim", the classification must lie within the scope of citizenship only with regard to people. No one has the right to evaluate "the quality" if I may call it, of a muslim, Allah can only do so.

However, the citizenship of an individual can be questionable on the other hand. Unfortunately, today the term is being politically manipulated by Muslims and non-muslims alike.

Thank you

By Asma, at May 01, 2007 10:48 AM

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