Stop Saying “Moderate Muslims.” You’re Only Empowering Islamophobes.

June 25, 2014

Last week’s Heritage Foundation panel on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi was bound to be an ugly affair, what with the presence of panelist Brigitte Gabriel, a self-described “terrorism analyst” with a laundry list of offensive statements about Islam and Arabs. Sure enough, when attendee Saba Ahmed, an American University law school student, explained that not all Muslims are terrorists, Gabriel retorted that “the peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

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.

The idea of a “moderate Islam” or “moderate Muslim” is intellectually lazy because it carves the world up into two camps: the “good” Muslims and the “bad” Muslims, as Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani hasnoted. (Saba Ahmed herself used the word “bad” in her remarks at the Heritage panel.) Until proven good, or in this case “moderate,” all Muslims are perceived as “bad,” or potentially extreme. We certainly don’t spend our time searching out “moderate” Christians or Jews, but rather reckon that the Westboro Baptists, Jewish Defense League, and others are aberrations. And sure, Muslims give us plenty of bad examples, but it’s our own fault if we allow those examples to constipate our ability to perform basic logic.

In order to arrive at a more peaceful and equitable place in our society, we must divorce ourselves from the notion that we are authorities on the faith traditions of others and as such are entitled to prescribe how they must interpret them in order to be welcomed. The diversity within religious traditions is just as important to the pluralistic fabric of America as the diversity of religious traditions. Carving up our Muslim compatriots into categories that fit our idea of what they should be isn’t going to get us there.

Heritage’s ugly Benghazi panel

June 16, 2014

Representatives of prominent conservative groups converged on the Heritage Foundation on Monday afternoon for the umpteenth in a series of gatherings to draw attention to the Benghazi controversy.

But this one took an unexpected turn.

What began as a session purportedly about “unanswered questions” surrounding the September 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya deteriorated into the ugly taunting of a woman in the room who wore an Islamic head covering.

The session, as usual, quickly moved beyond the specifics of the assaults that left four Americans dead to accusations about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the Obama administration, President Obama funding jihadists in their quest to destroy the United States, Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton attempting to impose Sharia blasphemy laws on Americans and Al Jazeera America being an organ of “enemy propaganda.”

Then Saba Ahmed, an American University law student, stood in the back of the room and asked a question in a soft voice. “We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam,” she told them. “We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.”

Panelist Brigitte Gabriel of a group called ACT! for America pounced. She said “180 million to 300 million” Muslims are “dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.” She told Ahmed that the “peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and she drew a Hitler comparison: “Most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result, 60 million died.”

The panel’s moderator, conservative radio host Chris Plante, grinned and joined in the assault. “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he demanded of Ahmed.

“Yeah,” audience members taunted, “yeah.”