Vague moderate Islam no antidote to extremism


Its ambiguity has made “moderate Islam” a useful banner for conservative Arab regimes to pursue their agendas at home and abroad, argues analyst Annelle Sheline. By buying into assumptions that moderate Islam offers solutions to violence, governments can avoid responsibility for the repercussions of their own policies, she writes for The Washington Post:

Promoting a vague moderate Islam — through international declarations, religious training centers or interfaith initiatives — has not proven an effective antidote to violent extremism. And as long as moderate Islam remains a state-led project, it is unlikely to be seen as credible by citizens. Yet for many governments, focusing on moderation offers real benefits for regime survival: the opportunity to target political opposition, enhance international standing and ensure foreign support.

Ideology: driving force behind radicalization?

The necessity of drawing a clear line between a radical ideology with a political agenda and Islam as a faith was a key theme of a recent European Foundation for Democracy forum on countering jihadist radicalization:

Roberta Bonazzi emphasised the role of civil society in this struggle and the need to empower liberal-democratic actors so as to strengthen resilience of vulnerable communities. She made clear that radicals should not be empowered, whether violent or non-violent, in the same way one would not entrust far-right extremists with de-radicalisation of neo-Nazis.

Contrary to the crude Islamophobic notion that a “martial” ideology embedded in Islam makes Muslims more predisposed to become terrorists, national security adviser, H.R. McMaster’s view of extremist Islamism is far more nuanced than his predecessor, says analyst HA Hellyer. Denying that terrorism is intrinsically Islamic has two major advantages, he adds:

  • The first is that your partners in Muslim communities, whether indigenous ones who are a part and parcel of your societies, or international partners with whom you coordinate, do not feel they are being targeted as part of “the problem.” Rather, they become part of the solution….
  • The second advantage is the denial happens to be accurate. If terrorism were essentially Islamic, then a much larger number of terrorists would exist and Islamic scholars at large would not condemn the ideology of groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Of course, those groups want that religious authenticity to be granted to them — why any of us should grant them that propaganda victory, especially when it is patently false anyway, is beyond stupidity.


Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably, according to the Pew Research Center:

More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq. In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% say they are often justified.

Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. ….For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely. Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of sharia law.


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