Searching for moderate Muslims

The Islamic world along with the politically correct is in a snit because Pope Benedict had the bad judgment in an academic forum to quote a Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam’s justification of forced conversion during his time. Islamic spokesmen reacted quickly, asserting that theirs is a religion of peace, condemning the Pope and blaming him as their followers began a new round of torching Christian churches around the world and killing those who attend them.

The Islamic world along with the politically correct is in a snit because Pope Benedict had the bad judgment in an academic forum to quote a Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam’s justification of forced conversion during his time. Islamic spokesmen reacted quickly, asserting that theirs is a religion of peace, condemning the Pope and blaming him as their followers began a new round of torching Christian churches around the world and killing those who attend them.

I am personally agnostic on the question of whether Islam is at its heart peaceful or warlike and I’m reluctant to believe that Muslims like their Christian and Jewish counterparts haven’t changed over the centuries, but cannot fathom why a religion’s leaders claim to be peaceful while so often encouraging or at least condoning violence against all who dare to disagree with them. I know there are moderate Muslims out there, but I must say that they are difficult to find when Muslim extremists take to the airwaves or streets.

The Turkish Prime Minister, though he heads a secular nation, was quick to condemn the Pope, but was much less vocal in his condemnation of those of his countrymen who killed a Catholic priest last year to protest the publication of cartoons in Denmark that Muslims found offensive and therefore intolerable. The demand that others recognize theirs as a religion of peace and tolerance begins to ring hollow in the face of silence when those who kill adherents to other religions or anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities on religious, historic or cultural questions is put under sentence of death or actually killed.

Imagine what would happen if Christian mobs began burning mosques and killing Muslims simply because, for example, Muslim religious and political leaders have been and are continuing to compare the Pope to Hitler. The Pope himself and every religious leader in Christendom would condemn such activities, the extremists responsible would be quickly marginalized, condemned and consigned quite properly to the outer darkness and many would rally to the cause of repairing the damage and hurt thus incurred.

In this country, since 9/11 the president and just about every other politician has taken pains to argue that the Osama bin Laden and his friends are representative not of Islam, but of a lunatic fringe group that must be defeated without identifying it with the mainstream of the religion it purports to represent.

As Muslim extremists were burning churches in the Mideast and Muslim religious and political leaders around the world were condemning the Pope for the “hatred” in his heart and warning all who would listen that his apologies don’t much matter and cannot in themselves do much to dampen the anger that has led to the latest wave of anti-Christian violence in the Muslim world, America’s largest Muslim organization was examining the question of what constitutes a “moderate” Muslim.

The discussion, as reported by the Los Angeles Times and other publications, seemed to center on whether one can be anti-Israel and still be considered a moderate Muslim with both Muslim and non-Muslim commentators focusing on this as a defining characterization of “moderation.”

With all due respect to both sides in that debate, it is not one’s views on this or any other specific issue that defines moderation. It is rather what one is willing or feels justified in doing to advance his or her view or stop others from advancing theirs.

Moderates do not send their kids off to become martyrs or dedicate themselves to the death of peoples they don’t like. A moderate would be perfectly justified in taking exception to Pope Benedict’s comments, for example, but would caution against and condemn violence as an appropriate reaction to those comments.

Since 9/11, more and more courageous Muslims have begun to stand up to the lunatics in their midst, but too many have refused to do so or looked with detachment on the activities their crazier co-religionists.

I have written in the past of the need to avoid stereotyping and the foolishness of equating the fanaticism of Osama’s Islamo-fascists with the beliefs and desires of the millions upon millions of Muslims the world over who want like the rest of us to live their lives in peace, earn a living and to build a better world for their children and grandchildren. We owe these people our support and our friendship, but they owe it to themselves and us to stand up to the fanatics in their world who would hijack their religion and use it for their own purposes lest we take their silence for support.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).