Islamic moderates find a voice

In the past few months, a number of “moderate” voices have begun to be heard within the Muslim world community and, indeed, among Muslims in this country, men and women who are either increasingly frustrated by the impression that too many of their fellow religionists seem bent on making the “clash of civilizations” real or embarrassed by the association with terrorist extremism.

In the past few months, a number of “moderate” voices have begun to be heard within the Muslim world community and, indeed, among Muslims in this country, men and women who are either increasingly frustrated by the impression that too many of their fellow religionists seem bent on making the “clash of civilizations” real or embarrassed by the association with terrorist extremism.

This is good news. Since Sept. 11, Muslim spokesmen have been critical of the tendency of many to lump them with the Saudi-based Wahhabist nuts, but very few have seemed all that anxious to criticize them. Given that state of affairs, it’s hardly surprising that many in this country who know next to nothing about Islam and have never met a Muslim accept the view that we are involved in a war against an entire religion and its billion or so followers.

No one wants to believe that. The president has taken great pains to make distinctions, and many Muslim nations have stood with us in the fight against extremist terrorists marching under the banner of their religion.

Still, people wonder. If Osama bin Laden and his buddies are, in fact, but a small extremist band out of step with the Muslim mainstream, why haven’t dozens of Muslim spokesmen been condemning them and their beliefs?

There are, it turns out, a lot of reasons for the silence. It doesn’t take a majority to silence a people, and the Wahhabists are a determined and dangerous minority prepared to silence those with whom they disagree by whatever means necessary. So one has to assume that there are more than a few scared Muslims out there who might like to speak out but are afraid to do so.

The conformity of the Wahhabists is being enforced in some nations today at the point of a sword. As Saudi aid has moved into the Balkans, so have the thugs who are part and parcel of the Saudi Arabian kingdom’s view of its religion. Moderate Muslims in Bosnia today are under attack. They are being beaten, killed and driven out of mosques by extremists who will broach no disagreement with their peculiar view of the demands of their religion.

Islamic extremists may talk of killing Christians and Jews, but their real enemies as they have demonstrated time and again are those who read the demands of their religion differently than they. Hundreds of thousands have perished within the Muslim world already and millions more have gone silent.

And then there’s the money. The Saudis take much of what we pay at the pump for gas produced from their oil, launder it in one way or another and use it to subsidize the Wahhabi virus within their religion. As a result, the Wahhabists provide money for the mosques that have sprung up in this country and elsewhere and provide them with imams who are Saudi-trained and -salaried.

Finally, however, things may be changing. Moderate Muslims are not only speaking out but demonstrating in favor of the United States and against the gangsters that are hijacking their faith. There may not be many of them yet, but it is a good sign and may be the harbinger of a future in which the Muslim world shakes off these extremists in the way the Christian world separated itself from its jihadists centuries ago.

I say they may be changing because we don’t really know at this point if those speaking out really do speak for millions who are remaining silent or whether they are representative of little other than an entrepreneurial response to the desires of non-Muslims.

The publication in recent days of a number of books by moderate Muslim writers raises this question. These are books published in the West by publishers seeking to satisfy the appetite for such books among non-Muslim readers who hope the authors have gotten it right. We all do, but we don’t know that they have; at least not yet.

There are hopeful signs. The elections of the past few months in Iraq and elsewhere have been encouraging simply because they took place, but the results in Iran tell us that it may be the nuts rather than the skeptics who enjoy majority support in some Islamic nations. Elections can be hijacked, as they were in Germany in the last century by demagogues with an easy external answer to a people’s fears. They give people a chance, but in nations under the sway of such people they guarantee neither freedom nor justice.

I don’t know how many people these new moderates represent, but I know one thing: Their future and ours may well depend on whether what they have to say resonates within their world so that one day they will represent the majority of those who pray to Allah.

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