By Iain Buchanan
Who gets to decide what a “moderate Muslim” is? In this extended piece, Iain Buchanan
argues that as the West demands Muslims fit themselves into its
definition of the moderate Muslim, it ignores that it has itself failed
to abide by its own standards. The way to initiate true dialogue between
moderates, he says, is for the West to take steps to address its own
This is a tiresome time for Muslims.
Especially in the West. Collectively, they are seen as wild,
narrow-minded, and unevolved; a relic society still stuck in the Middle
Ages. They are the world's biggest troublemakers, a demographic
time-bomb in the heart of Europe. So Muslims have a great deal to
account for, a great deal to live down. Of course, there are many
Westerners who are happy to accommodate Muslims in the world they both
share -- even cheek by jowl in the same city or state. But there is a
quid pro quo. To be accepted by civilised society, Muslims must declare
their peaceful intentions, their integratedness, their moderation.
"Moderate Muslims", as it were, must wear on their arms the badge of a
But what, exactly, is a "moderate
Muslim"? Our definition of what a "moderate Muslim" is will depend on
our definition of many other things. Firstly, it will depend on who
demands the definition, and what they want from it. Secondly, it depends
on the definitions of the two extremes between which "moderate" sits.
Thirdly, it depends on the qualities – social, political, ecological,
religious – that are being calibrated and tested for "moderation". So it
is, perhaps, a thankless exercise. There can be a great many
definitions of just what a "moderate Muslim" is. And there will never be
agreement between all these definitions -- or those who make them.
After all, we make of words exactly what we want to make of them.
"Moderation", like honesty, should
be a virtue we can all agree upon, whatever our religious calling. It
is, after all, the mark of a good human being – treating others fairly,
making modest demands on our fellow beings and on the rest of God's
creation, whether it be the land we occupy, the trees we use, the
creatures we eat. Moderate people do not exploit, over-eat, abuse living
things, waste resources. Moderate people are sympathetic,
understanding, and calmly disposed. Moderate people do not make war,
torture, or oppress ...
We could go on. But it would be
evading the real issue. And the real issue is not a question of moderate
human beings. It is a question of moderate Muslim human beings – and a
question, ultimately, of geopolitics. And, ultimately, the issue is the
right of the Christian West to pass judgement on others, and to demand
their submission to a view of the world that the Christian West holds.
For the growing demand for Muslim moderation is not so much a Muslim
initiative, for Muslim benefit-it is much more a reactive demand to
Western pressure, which seeks definitions and undertakings that please
the Christian West.
At a simplistic level, there seems
little to argue about. Christian Westerners, for the most part, consider
a "moderate Muslim" to be the kind of Muslim they can live with: one
who is quiet and unassuming, loyal, predictable, law-abiding,
unthreatening in any way. This sounds reasonable enough, at least within
the Christians' own lands. But the world is much bigger than the
Christians' own lands: there are Muslim lands, and the lands of many
others, often with very mixed populations. And the Christians have long
had a decisive (and often very destructive) presence in all of these
lands – as well as an unfortunate tendency, still, to want their writ to
run over every single one of them. And so, at the very least, if
Muslims accept a Western-defined "moderation" for themselves, perhaps
they should examine more carefully the credentials of their definers.
Historically, of course, there is a
problem. Whatever Christianity is as a religion, its followers have all
too often been anything but "moderate" in their dealings with one
another and their dealings with everyone else. For well over a thousand
years, Christian history has been defined by the unholy marriage of
power and the Bible. All too often, the gospel of the poor and needy has
been suppressed, and Christians have shown themselves to be brutal,
greedy, and war-mongering – and have justified their actions on the
basis of holy scripture. Perhaps this only proves that human beings
devise their holy scriptures to serve human ends – and that those ends
are sometimes good and sometimes bad. Or perhaps it demonstrates that,
however virtuous and well-intentioned their scriptures, human beings
will usually be led by their baser instincts, and will readily
misinterpret the book they claim inspires them. Clearly, there is a
disconnection between what people say they believe, and what they do.
And that disconnection has been particularly strong in European (and
And the reason is not hard to see.
Over the centuries, as European (and eventually American) culture came
to dominate the world, its use of the Christian gospel as motif and
justification expanded dramatically. As powerfully as its secular
patrons, the Gospel came to represent the hegemony of an imperial
culture over a diverse but subservient world. In profound and complex
ways, the Christian gospel became so institutionalised, as part of the
dominant culture, that it became hard to tell where the West's secular
personality ended and its spirituality began. And this conflation has
had the direst effects -both on the integrity of Western and non-Western
cultures alike, and on the reputation of the Christian gospel itself.
Above all, it is essential to recognise that, all too often, what is
seen as the Christian way is in fact the way of Western culture – and
what is seen as Western culture is often, in many a mangled form, the
Christian way as well.
Read the article HERE
lain Buchanan is the author of
Fatimah 's Kampung (Consumers Association of Penang, 2008) and The
Armies of God (Citizens International, 2010).