On “Moderate Islam”
Steven Cook has an excellent article in Foreign Policy on the mistake that Western policymakers make when they urge “boosting moderate Islam”.
Given the wildly different criteria for what constitutes “a moderate,” policymakers will run in circles trying to determine who is a moderate and worthy of support, and who is not. One person’s moderate is another person’s radical, and another person’s moderate is little more than a patsy of the West. A policy built on support for moderate Islam is only asking for trouble.
A smarter position is to avoid theological discussions altogether. As with all faiths, there will be heated debates between competing groups within Islam over the proper interpretation of sacred texts and the relationship between religion and politics. Yet because these arguments are so opaque to outsiders, policymakers should resist the urge to jump in. Given that moderation is in the eye of the beholder, Washington should not have an ideological litmus test for whom it wishes to engage. Rather, policymakers should focus on identifying those who can contribute pragmatic solutions to the many problems we confront in the region, “moderate” or not.
This is one of those insights that is just blindingly obvious, yet doesn’t actually appear to be part of the debate. It’s definitely something worth thinking about. Read the whole thing, especially its descriptions of “moderate” Muslims who aren’t really friends of the West. It also really gets to the point that we should be focusing on trying to persuade unfriendly governments to support our policies, and work on infiltrating and dismantling terrorist organizations–not trying to encourage the dominance of one religious sect over another.
(link via Andrew Sullivan)